Sunday’s First Page, Above the Fold, Part II: A Media Surge Against the Military
There’s something sinister about the timing of the Providence Journal’s five-part series about Corporal Patrick Murray. A production this large was most definitely a long time in the making, but issuing part one this week makes it resonate as a response to General Petraeus, and its execution reinforces the impression.
Murray certainly deserves to have his story told in his home state’s one major newspaper, but John Mulligan’s telling overlays a subjective authorial eye. A notably different storyline could have acknowledged progress with the war; it could have highlighted noble and heroic motivations for entering it as a Marine. Instead, it opens with the dramatic day, over a year ago, that Murray was injured, with the first line, “Even the wisecracking Patrick D. Murray was grim with anger and grief as his platoon strapped on armor and helmets to go back out on night patrol.” Either way, it would inevitably be a description of the cost of war, but in Mulligan’s hands, it’s a cost without a benefit.
Readers might wonder what would lead a young college student to put himself in harm’s way. They might wonder whether he is disillusioned, affirmed in his stirring patriotism, or not quite sure whether his injury ought to bear on his larger thoughts about America and the war in Iraq, and the larger war against terrorism. What readers get is this:
The journey began at the dinner table of the Murray’s raised ranch on Haverhill Street one night in March 2003, when their middle child dropped his bombshell.
“Well, Mom, I went up to Boston today to enlist in the Marines,” Patrick said, as casually as “pass the potatoes.”
“You did what?” his mother exploded.
“Well,” Patrick ventured, “Big Joe was at Brown and he enlisted in the Marines.”
Not the wisest comeback from her University of Rhode Island scholar, thought Suzanne Murray, a seventh-grade English teacher in Cranston. The United States is about to invade Iraq, and Patrick brings up his grandfather’s war. Good Lord, doesn’t he remember that Big Joe was almost killed in Korea?
Suzanne began to cry. She wanted to fight this decision, but deep inside she knew it was what Patrick wanted to do. Family tradition was part of it. Patrick’s other grandfather had spent World War II in the Navy. Suzanne’s mom and dad, Joe and Sally Motherway, had both been Marines. Two of Suzanne’s eight brothers and sisters were career military officers. One of her younger cousins was headed for Iraq.
Then there was Patrick’s nature. The Murrays’ only son had taken the Sept. 11 attacks to heart. Suzanne and David Murray had been so proud to see this boy — a young man now, she had to keep reminding herself — channel his anger into action, fixing up care packages to ship to the workers at Ground Zero. And now, four of Patrick’s closest friends were preparing to fight in Iraq.
It took some days, but Patrick’s mother reconciled herself to his decision. “I had to support him,” she said, “but it was the hardest thing in the world.”
In other words, we get an interpretation of Patrick’s motivation from the mother who consulted a lawyer about enabling him to break his contract with the Marines.
The nature of events makes part 2 a little better. Despite a few paragraphs that make it sound as if the enemy held all of the cards, Mulligan does describe a military victory for the Marines. He then goes on to include this very interesting case study in politics’ effect on distant American warriors:
LATE IN JULY, a distant political decision plunged Fallujah into its worst violence since the 2004 battle that dispersed the jihadists and destroyed large expanses of the city. In a goodwill gesture widely portrayed as reparation for the abuse of detainees by American soldiers, the U.S. and Iraqi leadership ordered the release of more than 1,000 men from Abu Ghraib prison. It was the first installment in shutting down the prison by summer’s end.
“Seven hundred of the prisoners came back to Fallujah in one fell swoop,” said Francis J. “Bing” West, a military analyst and author from Newport who was in Fallujah that summer.
The very next weekend “the place just went crazy,” Murray said. It started that Friday, the Muslim holy day. Now “the level of violence just skyrocketed,” Murray said — against Iraqi civilians and police as well as the Marines. Rampant violence continued for the remaining weeks of 1/25’s deployment, and beyond.
“Now every single day, with like a combat patrol, you were expecting something,” Murray said. “We were sure going to get shot at today. Or our friends were going to get blown up. Or there was going to be a sniper out there. Or an IED.”
Perhaps I’ve grown too cynical, but it strikes me as likely that Mulligan had a quote or two from his subjects voicing their opinions of that “goodwill gesture widely portrayed as reparation,” and that he would have included them had they fit the storyline better. We’ll see how the series evolves. In the meantime, if anybody out there has a way of getting in touch with Corporal Murray, I’m sure I’m not alone in my interest in thoughts of his that might not have made it into the story.