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Book Review of I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story

I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story
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Helpful Score: 3

The tale of Jessica's Lynch's capture was a daring feat of fiction, important to the war effort. As Jessica Lynch herself courageously told congressional investigators, the "story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting" was a lie. Unlike Patrick Tillman, she lived to tell at least some of her story herself, but she admitted she is "still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend." To explain why, and in this case how she become a legend, we need to go back to "initial combat operations," to the middle of the invasion of Iraq when a blinding sand storm had stalled the push into Baghdad.

What the war needed at that moment was a stunning plot reversal to propel the war forward. In the wee hours of the morning on April 2, the military provided the much-needed heroic device (with middle-of-the-night footage): the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch was announced to reporters at a 2:00am briefing at Central Command in Qatar. The young Private had been plucked from a Nasiriyah hospital by a crack commando unit that carried her to safety in a waiting Black Hawk helicopter. Greenish night-vision video taken by a member of the rescue team was aired for journalists the following morning. The gripping story was ubiquitously described as a "daring raid" (e.g., CNN 4-8-03; NBC 4-6-03; ABC 4-7-03). For CBS (4/11/03), it was "a story for history, Jessica comes home." CNN (4-1-03) declared, "it was such a lift." As Time magazine put it (4-14-03), the story "buoyed a nation wondering what had happened to the short, neat liberation of Iraq." "Hollywood," the magazine asserted, "could not have dreamed up a more singular tale."

Doubts about the story's authenticity were first raised by the London Times (4-16-03), which reported that Lynch's rescue "was not the heroic Hollywood story told by the U.S. military, but a staged operation that terrified patients and victimized the doctors who had struggled to save her life." Based on interviews with hospital personnel, including Dr. Harith al-Houssona, the doctor who attended Lynch, the Times account described a terrifying assault in which soldiers handcuffed and interrogated doctors and patients, one of whom was paralyzed and on an intravenous drip.

By May the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC2 5-18-03) had thoroughly investigated the incident and concluded that, "Her story is one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived." Though the assault met no resistance, as Iraqi and Baath leadership forces had fled the city the day before, the action was staged by the US military. "It was like a Hollywood film. They cried 'go, go, go,' with guns and blanks without bullets, and the sound of explosions. They made a show for the American attack on the hospital action movies like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan."

During last week's hearing before the House Government Oversight Committee, the committee's senior Republican member, Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, argued in his opening statement that the Lynch rescue was exaggerated by the media, not by the military. It is certainly true that the media did embellish the story, but the story itself was created by the military. No embedded journalist accompanied the raid, and the green night-vision footage of Lynch's rescue was shot by soldiers. As Robert Scheer later noted, "The video was artfully edited by the Pentagon and released as proof that a battle to free Lynch had occurred when it had not."

As the BBC noted in its report on the staging of Lynch's rescue, "The Pentagon had been influenced by Hollywood producers of reality TV and action movies, notably the man behind Black Hawk Down, Jerry Bruckheimer." Indeed, one officer quoted in Time expressly compared the film to Bruckheimer's movie. The rescue, he said, "worked perfectly. It was like Black Hawk Down except nothing went wrong." Like so much of the Bush war rhetoric that was patterned after entertainment fictions, the media would legitimate their own narratives.

The irony is that the Iraqi doctors had worked hard to save Lynch's life, but when they attempted to deliver her to a U.S. outpost the day before the raid, the Americans fired on the ambulance driver, making it impossible to proceed. Following the CentCom briefing, the Washington Post headlined its story, "She was Fighting to the Death" and reported that she had sustained "multiple gunshot wounds" and was later stabbed by Iraqi forces. Only later would it emerge, as Lynch testified this week, that she "was neither shot nor stabbed, but rather suffered accident injuries when her vehicle overturned."

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