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During WW2 everyone who went to the movies saw newsreels of Il Duce, der Fuhrer, Panzer Divisions, and of course the courageous men (and some women) in our armed forces fighting for freedom and democracy. It was a controlled media production, often put out by the Office of War Information or any studio with correspondents overseas. All had been pro-war efforts and even when things were going badly, the news was sanitized the best it could be.
Vietnam changed things as the embedded journalists started to see real opposition to the war coming from the front itself. People complained in the European and Pacific theaters and showed every emotion one could display in wartime, but overall the tone was one of defiance and patriotism. In Vietnam, opposition was real and reporting on it was acceptable. Didn’t the White House know the war was lost when Walter Cronkite said so?
What was unique in WW2 was the power of the pen. Newsreels were eye candy but it was the pen of the journalists that most remember back then. One person in particular was Ernie Pyle, the real soldiers’ reporter. Unlike today’s embedded ‘reporters’ whose very lives depend on his/her subjects, and whose stories will thus always be flattering to the mission, Pyle was different. He told the stories of war directly from the point of view of the soldier. When things were bad, he let home know about it. He had an affinity towards the infantry and did not write so flatteringly about the US naval forces for whom he felt had an easier ride of it.
As a child of the post-WW2 era I watched many war movies. I knew about the Stars and Stripes (independent military newspaper), war propaganda, and of Ernie Pyle. I knew that people anxiously waited for his next dispatch. Long before 24/7 cable news, Internet, and phone cameras, the eyewitness had to be someone credible to attain such a lofty position in his/her field. (Incidentally, as I drove around Ft. Meade, MD heading towards the Manning trial, I drove along Ernie Pyle Road, as I did more than 45 years ago with my dad who worked there as a civilian photographer.)
That brings us to today and the one journalist for whom the world awaits daily dispatches from the war zone: Glenn Greenwald. The war zone might not be the blood and guts of an Iwo Jima or the outskirts of a Paris, (leave that to the intrepid Jeremy Scahill) but the war of a brutal empire fighting its own citizens to prevent exposure of its crimes against humanity. I await with incredible eagerness anything he has to say about the Snowden affair. His words are the very soul of truth in journalism, the very reason why we have a 4th Estate. George Orwell said, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” Greenwald at the ISO convention in Chicago last week called out the ‘caviar correspondents’ for their obeisance to the presidents’ consistent foreign policy and the war machines that pay their salaries.
For now, Greenwald stands nearly alone. But often it is the ‘one’ voice that speaks louder than all the pipsqueaks who blah blah blah on Sunday morning, pontificating about things they know nothing about, pretending that they talk to the gas station attendants who pump their gas about what’s going on in this world, all to get the (real) people’s point of view.
Myles B. Hoenig is a veteran ESOL teacher in Prince George’s County, MD.