Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

Showing Us the War

“In my day, we followed every development in the wars America was fighting. Every report on the radio or in the newspaper told us what was happening. And we wanted to know everything, because every family had a father, a son, a brother, a cousin fighting. Now, news of the war in Iraq is treated as an inconvenient interruption of all the entertaining reports on movie stars getting married and pop stars going on trial. As a result, it becomes too easy to forget that kids from this country are dying just about every day in some distant fight that, because of our media, is too easily forgotten.” –Studs Terkel
Amen, Studs! In this era of corporate, conglomerate media, it’s rare to get even a shred of substantive news about the continuing war in Iraq. The big TV news divisions and major dailies have pulled out all but a pittance of their military “embeds” from Iraq. Most of what we are served up at this point is simply cheap, ill-informed and partisan punditry. In fact, a recent review of major U.S. newspapers and the nation’s two most popular newsmagazines shows that the “true costs of the Iraq war are downplayed by the American media, both in print and in photos.” Check out this story on DailyKos Hurray for anyone who cares to hold informed opinions about U.S. policy in Iraq. Hurray for democracy, folks. One of the exceptions to this sad media trend is Phillip Robertson, whose heartrending stories from Baghdad and beyond are being filed these days for, primarily, Salon.com. Robertson’s reports are like coming to an oasis in the desert of what passes for war coverage today. Robertson is freelance and independent, one of a small band of journalists who’ve been spending the majority of their time in Iraq since before the U.S.-led invasion, attempting to document the effects of a war that stateside Americans seem all too willing to forget is being fought in their name. But then again, as Mr. Terkel points out above, it’s damn hard to find any reports of the war, what with all the runaway-bride, michael-jackson and tom-cruise-and-katie-holmes “news” taking up our media space. I got an email the other day from Robertson, telling me of a story he would soon file for Salon. “I found the American sniper who killed a friend of mine. Let’s see; that’s it, other than the fact it’s like living on the surface of the sun out here.” Here is an excerpt, from “The Victim and the Killer”:
“In the Sunni neighborhood of Amariyah in west Baghdad on June 24, a 33-year-old Iraqi man named Yasser Salihee was driving alone as he approached a small number of soldiers from a mixed U.S. and Iraqi patrol. Salihee was driving west. It was midday and most of the soldiers in the patrol had just entered a four-story building on the south side of the street to search for suspected insurgents on the roof. A few stayed down on the street to provide security. On the north side of the street stood two U.S. snipers; across the street an American from the same unit and at least one Iraqi soldier were posted. The street was left open to traffic: the patrol had not blocked off the street with cones and concertina wire, as they normally would for a cordon and search operation. The soldiers decided to stop cars by standing in the street and aiming their rifles at the drivers. As Salihee approached the patrol from the east, another car was turning around in front of him. He began to drive around it to the right. Exactly what happened next is in dispute. What is certain is that as Salihee went around the car, the two U.S. snipers, thinking he was a suicide bomber, opened fire. At least four rounds were fired. One blew out the car’s right front tire; another ricocheted off the ground and pierced the gas tank. The final 7.62 millimeter round pierced the driver’s side of the windshield, entering Salihee’s right eye and shattering his skull. Salihee died instantly. The American troops left the car in the street and moved to a different position. An hour after the shooting, an Iraqi policeman found Salihee’s phone and called his wife, Raghad. Raghad arrived at the scene and found her husband’s body still slumped in the car, and she called an ambulance. Then she sat down on the curb and wept. Yasser Salihee was not a suicide bomber. He was a physician and journalist who was going to his house on his day off to pick up his two-year-old daughter Dania and take her swimming.” (read more at http://www.salon.com/2005/07/27/sniper_2/)
Robertson’s reporting makes me feel like I am there. It makes me feel that I am responsible for what has happened to Yasser Salihee, for what is happening in Iraq to the American and Iraqi soldiers, and civilians. And I am. So are you. That’s why Phillip Robertson deserves an audience–an audience comprised of each and every American who can read, or be read to. Because Phillip Robertson dares to be there and tell the stories, we should dare to do our democratic duty and get informed about this war. I’ve met Robertson because Chelsea Green is publishing a book, called Unembedded: Four Independent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq. He’s written the introduction to this book, because he’s lived and worked alongside the photojournalists who’ve put this book together: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Kael Alford, Thorne Anderson and Rita Leistner. You’ll soon learn more on about that book, and about a developing campaign, called Show Us The War…but you’re hearing it here first. Show Us the War is a non-partisan, unprecedented alliance, forming between unembedded journalists, media reform activists, creative content providers, editorial boards of the country’s leading independent publications and publishing houses, military/military family activist organizations, and others, to create a virtual living room, for the citizenry of this country to gain critical information about the War in Iraq. We intend to force the corporate, mainstream media to start showing the true face of the war, through leading by example. All partners will work together to turn up the volume on the war coverage, analysis and most importantly, the images of the war…so the people of this country can see what the rest of the world sees. Stay tuned. But, we’ll be counting on Phillip Robertson, the Unembedded book photographers, Dave Enders from Motherjones.com and other indy journalists who are willing to risk their lives to bring you the stories and images of what’s going on beyond the green zone. We’ll be counting on you to care enough to check in with them. Hurray for democracy! (I mean it this time.)


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