I couldn’t help reacting this way this morning:
Really? THAT’s the headline on a successful raid? “First American soldier is killed in combat in Iraq since 2011…” https://t.co/LIYjkNO59I
— Brad Warthen (@BradWarthen) October 23, 2015
Yeah, I know: The first American soldier killed in Iraq in four years is definitely news. But, of course, the reason no Americans have been killed is that we haven’t had Americans engaged in combat on the ground for four years. I can see how, if we had been conducting successful commando raids in Iraq every week, and this was the first time we’d lost a man, then yeah, that casualty would be the one fact you would choose for your headline if you could only fit in one.
To me, looking at the big picture here, it seems that the main news is that we sent men into ground combat in Iraq for the first time in four years. See it as good news or bad news, that’s the news. That, and the fact that the action was successful. The loss of a man is important, and terrible, but it is a result of the first thing, which is the big news…
And hey, you couldn’t work in that the raid succeeded in saving 70 people who were about to be killed and dumped into mass graves? No, they weren’t exactly the peshmerga fighters we went in to save, but apparently we still saved 70 people from the bad guys.
I honor Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler. He was a great soldier, as I know from the fact that he was with Delta Force. We — and those people he helped save — owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude. I am in awe of what he did, and his sacrifice.
But I would not have mentioned his death as the only thing worth noting about that raid.
Let’s take ourselves out of our immediate, narrow, 2015 frame of reference and consider another example, from another time…
Lt. Den Brotheridge was the first Allied soldier killed on D-Day. He is known for that, and honored for it. He was charging a German position across the bridge now known as Pegasus Bridge just minutes after midnight, leading his glider-borne platoon that had just crash-landed a few yards away.
But what we remember is that his British unit, part of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, took that bridge, which was critically important to protecting the landings that would begin on the nearby beaches a few hours later.
We remember Lt. Brotheridge for the way he died. He is not forgotten. But we remember the deed, the feat of arms, and why it mattered, more. Stephen Ambrose’s book about that remarkable coup de main operation is named “Pegasus Bridge,” not “The Death of Den Brotheridge.”
But we don’t look at things that way any more, do we?