Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, this column appears here, per arrangement with the syndicators, a week after its newspaper release)


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Why do they do that so often? Why do our leaders, both in and out of uniform, find it imperative to take a super human military exploit and embellish it with an exaggerated narrative. Inevitably, they wind up taking shining victories and tarnishing them. They should know that. So is it some sort of compulsion?

Obviously, this is brought to mind by the awkwardness that followed astonishing heroics of the Navy Seals who took out Osama Bin Laden. 10 years of pent up frustration would have exploded into celebration in the same way, without US counter-terrorism chief John Brennan garnishing the saga. Their claim bin Laden was armed when he was shot dead and that he had used one of his wives as a human shield were great drama, but fiction.

They are usually unnecessary and only serve to distract from the national pride. Excuses like “Fog of War” fall flat and leave an opening for the opposition. In this case, GOP Congressman Pete Sessions of Texas had a good question: “Why don’t they just say they don’t know?”

To their credit, Obama administration leaders quickly owned up, which is far better than some of the coverups attewerempted during the Bush years.

Look at the hard feelings that fester still today over the combat death of former NFL star Pat Tillman. His valor was a legend itself, but now his legacy has been turned bitter because of the top level attempts to suppress the truth that he had been killed by friendly fire.

Jessica Lynch was another case in point. In April 2003 she was captured after being seriously injured and captured in southern Iraq. News media at the time bought the Pentagon story Pvt. Lynch had been badly wounded and captured as she blazed away during a fire fight. The truth, as she acknowledged after her release, was that her injuries were the result of a Humvee crash that occurred as she and the others in her unit tried to flee.

At about the same time I was embedded with a Marine combat unit patrolling in the same vicinity. On Palm Sunday, 2003, April 21st, seven American troops, who had been held by the Iraqis as prisoners-of-war were suddenly freed. I roared in to cover it and was inundated with stories from various Public Affairs Officers about the bold actions of the US rescuers. Each time, they expected me to go live on TV and regurgitate the latest version of the derring do. It’s a good thing I waited.

What really happened was that a local policeman had stopped the unit and led them to where the POW’s were being held in a storage shack.

Thousands of miles away, family members who had feared the worst were being seen on my network, CNN, as they reacted to the reports from the desert with indescribable joy. That was the story, an incredible one. It was truly one of the high points of my career to be standing around the world and experiencing their pure emotion. It sure didn’t need any contrived melodrama.

For those wondering why I waited, it’s because reporters get used to this kind of thing. That’s the point. It’s not just that such hucksterism is demeaning, it doesn’t work. All those misguided propagandists accomplish is to trivialize triumph. In the process, they do damage to the national honor they are trying so hard to promote, along with their own careers, I suppose.

The hard feelings can last a long time. Years after his brother’s was killed in Afghanistan, his brother Kevin scornfully. told a Congressional committee”The military saw Tillman’s death as an opportunity”. At those same hearings in 2007, Jessica Lynch summed things up for everyone when she said “The truth is always more heroic than the hype”. Even more important: It’s the truth.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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