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Reporting Out of Context

Orson Scott Card comments on the MSM's ability to report things completely out of context.

Picking up a third of the way into the article he comments on much publized marine shooting of the terrorist that was "faking death".

Shooting a Possum

Much has been made about the report -- and recording -- of U.S. soldiers who entered a mosque that was being used by the enemy as an outpost. A soldier was heard to call out, "This one's faking that he's dead." Then a gunshot. Then (as the reporter I heard on Fox said it): "Now he's not dead anymore." (Though of course what the soldier meant -- or might have even said -- was "Now he's not faking anymore.")

War crime alert!

Yes, quite possibly.

But the reporter was reporting what he heard, not what he saw.

What might have happened was: A wounded insurgent was lying there bleeding, and an American soldier accused him of faking death and shot him, helpless and unarmed. War crime.

But what also might have happened is: An unwounded insurgent was lying there, his weapon still in his hands, hoping that careless Americans would turn their back on him so he could kill a few Gis before dying himself in the returning fire.

Not helpless. Not unarmed. And in war, you don't wait for the enemy to start shooting. A potentially effective, armed enemy combatant who is not surrendering is always a fair target, even if he's not actually pointing a weapon and shooting.

Faking dead is not surrendering. It is "setting up an ambush."

It's Hollywood morality, not the real world of war, that requires that the bad guy has to shoot first. In war, only leaders who want their men to die would impose such a requirement on them.

The reporter who passed along this "story" was not present -- he was reporting only what he heard. So for all he knew, the insurgent, the moment he heard the American say "This one's faking," might have pulled out his weapon and prepared to shoot. Even Hollywood morality might have been satisfied.

But even if that GI was at close range, and the insurgent who was faking death was not visibly armed, in the midst of a harsh door-to-door operation in urban fighting, advance teams don't always have enough men or enough time to take prisoners. It is one of the cruel realities of war.

You're a squad leader. You only have ten guys, let's say, and for your operation to succeed you need them all with you, alert and concentrating on the situation ahead.

How many of them can you send back to the rear, escorting prisoners?


How many of them can you leave in place, to watch over enemy combatants?


And how many living, healthy enemy combatants can you afford to leave behind, unguarded, as you advance further into enemy-held territory?


When there is zero evidence that an enemy combatant was trying to surrender, it is not only not a war crime for him to be killed, it is not even news.

It is only news if you want to make it appear to noncombatants that American troops are committing war crimes. It is only news if you want to try to incite further hatred of America -- or further American resistance to the war.

Maybe a war crime took place. But it is extremely doubtful. Shooting the enemy only becomes a war crime when the enemy has surrendered and the surrender has been accepted.

If the reporter had known a little history (or cared), he might have remembered the way that German soldiers in the last weeks of World War II, when it was obvious their side was losing, would still keep killing Americans until they ran out of ammunition. Then they would stand up and put up their hands in surrender.

Nobody -- and I mean nobody -- considers it a war crime that some Gis, having just lost a buddy or two to this very German soldier and his meaningless resistance, chose not to accept his surrender. Nobody held war crimes trials. It was regrettable, but it was war.

In that context, what we heard a tape of from Fallujah was not even close to a crime. It would take considerable research to find out whether a crime of any kind was committed, and however unpleasant it might be for noncombatants to hear the sometimes calm-sounding voices of adrenalin-charged men in the heat of combat and the callousness of the dark humor among comrades-in-arms, the fact is that those who are not in combat are not fit judges of those who are.

Not even embedded reporters who are out to get dirt on the war.

If a real My-Lai-style war crime took place, then of course the reporter should report it.

But when he doesn't know what happened and the evidence is such as it was in this case, only malice or self-righteous ignorance of history would cause him to think he even had a story worth reporting.

Read the whole piece here.