Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Stop-Loss: The timing's right for re-starting the war debate

Posted by John Stoehr on Tue, Mar 25, 2008 at 12:43 PM

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I had a nightmare last night thanks to watching Frontline's comprehensive report on the Bush Administration's justifications for war in Iraq. It's called Bush's War. It comes as we look back over the last five years of anxiety, fear, and inept leadership. Whatever you think about the war, there's one thing no one can refute. We still haven't gotten the bad guy. Osama Bin Laden's in the mountains of Pakistan somewhere. Probably pleased we continue to be distracted by Iraq.

Anyway, since 2003, media coverage of the war has fallen the practically nothing. The Pew Research Center's Project on Excellence in Journalism released a survey, reported in the New York Times, showing one-fifth the amount of media coverage of the war compared to last summer. The report also showed that evidence suggests the number of people following Iraq War coverage is down to 30 percent. The NewsHour interviewed the head of the Pew Research Center. Then this: The AP reported yesterday that 4,000 soldiers have died in Iraq.

NewsHour interview: click here.

Meanwhile, TV critics have been chiming in on Frontline's two-part monster documentary. The Boston Globe praised the filmmakers for their clarity, coherence, and comprehensiveness: By the end "you will know once and for all how this war was created, by whom, when and what went wrong, how, by whom and when." However, the Times expressed skepticism about its worth, especially since most interviews were of those most responsible for it all: policy wonks, intelligence analysts, administration officials, and, importantly, the beltway journalists who covered it all.

While I think there's merit in saying that some sources are probably trying to cover their asses by masking thei culpability in the run-up to the war, I think it's somewhat daft to criticize Frontline for not getting fresh interview material with current and former officials in the Administration, because the filmmakers make clear their interview requests were declined. They had to use old public statements. What's the point of criticizing that?

Moving on: With the loss of media coverage and public interest, perhaps now is the best time for Paramount Pictures to release a new movie about the war, a story told from a soldier's perspective. Stop-Loss, which opens Friday nationwide, looks to me different from the stuff we've had in the past, holier-than-thou cinematic polemics. This one looks like one that will resonate with regular people, especially those who believe in service to country, but who are being told that that service hasn't been enough.

Stop-Loss is about how principled young men and women are being sent over and over again to Iraq. The military is stretched too thin, the war has been waged on the cheap (i.e., not enough soldiers) and there's no draft (i.e., our leaders haven't ask us to sacrifice for the so-called War on Terror). In order to keep waging war on the cheap, the Pentagon forces soldier to go back to Iraq, without any end in sight.

In other words, it's trying to stop the loss of troop numbers by temporarily halting separations and retirement during times of war, deployments, or National Emergency. The Army has issued a stop loss in conjunction with the war on terror. So when the kids' tours are up, the Army tweaks their contract and sends them back to the conflict. Hence, the title. (Thanks to Nick Smith for clearing up the definition of stop loss.)

I hope this movie's good. I hope it addresses the moral duty of a soldier and the moral obligation of a country to that soldier without insulting veterans and their families. Perhaps then we can re-ignite a conversation about this war. Five years is a long, long time.


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