There is undeniably a Blade Runner—like feel to this city. The violence is so pervasive and unfathomable that you wonder what people think they are dying for. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the everyday violence is horrendous, it does not take too many days before the deadly noises and the devastation everywhere seem to become just part of the ordinary landscape. Soon, quite to your surprise, you find yourself paying hardly more attention to the sounds of gunshots than a New Yorker does to the car alarms that go off every night . . . until, that is, someone you know, a neighbor, or just someone you have heard about, gets blown up, shot on patrol, or kidnapped by insurgents.
For more on the press’s role in covering the war, read Embedded: The Media at War in Iraq, An Oral History by Bill Katovsky and Timothy Carlson. In it, John Burns of The New York Times vents his frustration at colleagues who refused to acknowledge the horrors of Saddam’s regime while he was still in power.
Editors of great newspapers, and small newspapers, and editors of great television networks should exact from their correspondents the obligation of telling the truth about these places. It’s not impossible to tell the truth. I have a conviction about closed societies, that they’re actually much easier to report on than they seem, because the act of closure is itself revealing. Every lie tells you a truth. If you just leave your eyes and ears open, it’s extremely revealing. We now know that this place was a lot more terrible than even people like me had thought. There is such a thing as absolute evil. I think people just simply didn’t recognize it. They rationalized it away.
But then Burns, speaking three years ago, offers an assessment of the American invasion’s success that strikes me as chilling in retrospect:
We had the power to end it (the Saddam regime) and we did end it. At a cost of 130 American lives and thirty or forty British lives. So we could that that if you add in several thousand Iraqis—let’s overestimate this and say 5,000 Iraqis—probably fewer people died in the six weeks since this war began than would have died in Saddam Hussein’s killing machine had gone about its daily business. So to my mind, it was always on that basis that the war should have been justified, but you’d have never have known it by reading most of the coverage of the war by those correspondents. Dante Alighieri said, “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain mute in the time of moral crisis.”