Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

Two journalists recently embedded with troops in Iraq spoke to students last Tuesday about their experiences and impressions of war in the first of a series of programs designed to bring key political issues to West Chester students this semester.The first Leadership Unity & Volunteerism/ Image Maker program of the academic year, entitled “Echoes of War: Embedded with the Troops,” featured David Swanson, a photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and David Zucchino, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Swanson was embedded last spring with the Second Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment engaged in combat at Ramadi and Zucchino was embedded with the armored division of the Army’s 3rd Infantry, the first
soldiers to enter Baghdad in the famous “Thunder Runs” at the start of the war.

Both journalists said they went to Iraq to draw attention to the horrors of war and to reveal the true nature of combat to the American public.
Swanson spoke about his experiences embedded with the Echo Company of the Second Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment, that came to be known as “The Magnificent Bastards” for their courage under fire. After witnessing an ambush that took the lives of 12 marines in the Sunni city of Ramadi, 30 miles from the infamous battle ground city Fallujah, Swanson has a tremendous respect for the bravery of the soldiers in combat. He said that he depended on the young marines for his life and came to develop a strong bond with the soldiers, calling them an extended family. “There is no safe place in war,” Swanson said as he described the fateful day of the ambush.

As he watched the soldiers taking hits around him, he thought over his life and waited for his bullet. He recalled another incident where he felt someone quickly pull his arm, and turning around, realized that no one was there, and his arm had been grazed by a bullet. Echo Company commander, Capt. Kelly Royer, shouted to hit the ground as they were under fire, and Swanson remembers thosemoments crawling through a muddy ditch for cover as “the most scared I’ve ever been.” Both Swanson and Zucchino said one loses all sense of perspective as a journalist when embedded. Swanson remembered having no concept of time and only being aware of events happening directly around him. He described a heightening of senses and an adrenaline rush that brought intensity to his work.

Swanson said the troops were receptive to his presence until he wanted to take a picture of the caskets of killed marines as they were carried out of combat. He took the picture anyway, he said, because he wanted the troops to know that he was there for everything, the good and the bad, and if he “didn’t take the picture, their lives would be lost in vain.” Both journalists said covering the war validates the efforts of the troops and serves to remind the public of violence and devastation of war. “If you’re a journalist, you want to be a witness to history. That’s why many of us got into journalism,” Zucchino said.

He said the American public has been conditioned to see the war as cold and clinical, an attitude which fosters many misconceptions about war. “I simply wanted to show what it means to send young American men and women into battle and to ask them to make the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. Swanson said it the public needs to realize the impact of each fatality in battle, and should consider the U.S. death count not as over 1,000 but as one plus one plus one. He urged people to take each life lost into account, as well as the lives of victim’s grieving families. Both journalists spoke about popular misconceptions of the war saying that most Americans think the Iraqis welcomed U.S. troops. Instead of being welcomed with open arms, Zucchino said most Iraqis are very cynical about the motivations behind the war and believe the war is a conspiracy for American oil.

“They can’t understand how the greatest power on earth can’t get the power on,” he said. He said most Iraqis say they love Americans but hate the U.S. government. Many Iraqi civilians believe that the Bush
Administration and Zionism are interchangeable terms, Zucchino said.
Zucchino’s experiences embedded with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division,
the first soldiers to enter Baghdad in April of 2003, inspired him to write his recently published book Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad.

After returning home from Iraq, he was angered by the characterization of the battle in the press as a “cakewalk” because he felt it was a disservice to the troop’s efforts.

Zucchino said that unlike civilians, soldiers don’t have the luxury of questioning U.S. policy. Unlike the army composed of draftees in Vietnam, this is an army of professional soldiers who have been asked to fight by their government, he said. When he asked soldiers why they were fighting, their answers ranged from the war on terrorism to the
effort to bring democracy to the citizens of Iraq. Some, however,
confessed that they didn’t know why they were fighting, according
to Zucchino.

He said that the common feeling among soldiers is that criticisms of the war undermine their efforts, and while he was skeptical of the rationale behind the war, he never expressed his concerns to the troops.
Zucchino said he doesn’t think the President can know the chaos of war, having never been in combat, or he might be less inclined to send troops into battle.
After experiencing the trauma of combat, Swanson said “every day now is desert.” He said that every day he thinks of the marines in Echo Company who sacrificed their lives and feels he came home to tell their
stories.

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