Thrawn Rickle 40

Heroism and the Press

© 1993 Williscroft

What is a hero?

Although definitions vary, they all contain the essence of these words: a person of great courage who is admired for his noble qualities.

The conflict in the Middle East is winding down. The men and women of the coalition forces are no longer fighting. Most troop movements have stopped; prisoners of war are being exchanged; and officers in charge at all levels are examining their people to determine who will receive special recognition—who will be singled out as heroes.

Reports from the Middle East arena have indicated that our young men and women performed exceptionally well in this conflict. They were motivated, their commanders had the necessary leeway to their jobs without bureaucratic hampering from Washington, and the American people stood solidly behind the effort. There were those, however, who rose above this generally high level of performance.

When the downed aviators were paraded before world television, some obviously had been subjected to pressures beyond their endurance—we understand and sympathize, for we know that human limits can be exceeded. Nevertheless, a few remained stoic and uncompromising. We don’t know what they underwent, we don’t know what their captors did to them, but we all witnessed the bottom line: heroism. This takes nothing away from the suffering and degradation experienced by their fellow captives—we honor and respect them and their sacrifices. For the heroes, however, we hold a special place in our hearts. They have risen a notch above the excellence around them; it doesn’t degrade that excellence, it simply enhances their special courage and noble qualities, their heroism.

Not all the heroes were soldiers. I am certain that we will learn of many individual heroes among the civilian population of Kuwait, and perhaps even of Iraq.

Remember Bernard Shaw, David Hollinger, and Peter Arnette, who were caught in the first offensive air strike on Baghdad. When one reviews their performance, it is difficult not to think in terms of courage and noble qualities—heroism. This is true whether or not one admires the subsequent broadcasts of Arnette; the Baghdad performance of all three during those first trying hours was astonishing.

During this same general period four other newsmen made a fateful decision. CBS news team members Bob Simon, Peter Bluff, Roberto Alverez, and Juan Caldera decided to ignore military imposed restrictions on media movements within the theatre of operations. They traveled north into the area that we all subsequently learned was the real focus of the land action, although at that time this was unknown except at the highest levels. To ease their passage, Simon donned a military officer’s uniform (or an outfit that would easily be mistaken for one). They were able to penetrate several coalition roadblocks on the strength of Simon’s “rank,” arriving finally at the Iraqi border in one of the most sensitive strategic areas within the entire theatre of operation. They photographed and video-taped a significant stretch of this sensitive region.

All four were finally taken prisoner by an Iraqi patrol, and they were hard pressed to convince their captors of their nonmilitary status. Their treatment was rough—we all regret that. But are these four heroes? Did they demonstrate great courage and noble qualities? Or did their reckless behavior risk the entire operation and the lives of countless real heroes?

Gentlemen, leave the limelight and go about your business quietly in your ignominious shame. Spare us further embarrassment, and make room for the real heroes.