March 27, 2003
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Watching the war unfold

Over the last week the war against Iraq has felt like an all-consuming event that has the potential to dominate daily life. There are news programs to watch, reports from embedded journalists to follow, strategies to digest and debate, Weblogs to read, protests and vigils to attend. It’s hard to keep up with it all and separate fact from propaganda — from all sides.
The shock and awe of the military’s massive bombardment has been followed by the shock and awe of massive military coverage. Round-the-clock coverage by the cable news networks has provided an array of images and some decent reporting.
Journalists embedded with military units have provided striking firsthand accounts of the fighting and battle strategies. At first, this coverage was thrilling and new. We’re getting to see much of the war as it unfolds. In the opening days of the war, the TV news media rushed to update viewers on every nuance of troop movements and bombing. Although, while it is certainly interesting to see soldiers in action, you can only watch tanks rolling through the desert for so long.
Then, however, the intoxicating news of American advances turned to reports of tragic events, and sobriety set in. We learned of accidental deaths, fierce firefights, downed helicopters, prisoners of war. It was difficult not to get emotional when it was reported that a U.S. convoy made a wrong turn and was ambushed. Over the weekend, the tone of media coverage changed, reminding us that these were real people who were getting hurt or killed.
Meanwhile, U.S. war planners have seemed surprised by the Iraqi resistance. Iraqi forces are not folding. American and British forces were knocked off guard by guerrilla-style attacks. Iraq has not yet used chemical or biological weapons against our troops, leading some to speculate about the existence of those weapons. Iraqi citizens are not welcoming American soldiers with open arms and flowers.
President Bush says that the war will be long and difficult, urging Americans to steel ourselves for a tough fight. But we’re also trying to steel ourselves for the cost of this war — in terms of lives and dollars.

—Robert Mihalek