In the greenish glow of a night-vision lens in a C-17 military cargo plane, Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division walked up the back ramp of the jet as the last American soldier to leave Afghanistan, ending, we hope, a 20-year war that killed more than 2,400 soldiers.
The image, captured by an unnamed military photographer, illustrated another defeat of this nation, a country that used to claim it never lost a war but now leaves conflicts with their heads hanging to sit among caskets containing too many victims.
Nearly 50 years ago, my camera lenses captured those fleeing Saigon as the Viet Cong closed in to its victory of the Vietnam conflicts. The horrors in the street remain fresh in my memories. Fast-forward about 30 years, and America claimed a victory that wasn’t in Iraq. It was a war based on lies about weapons of mass destruction that a tyrannical leader did not possess, driven by a president who wanted personal revenge.
Twenty years ago, I met a young Marine on deployment to Afghanistan. His father died in Vietnam fighting an enemy that he said, “America never understood the enemy in Vietnam. The same is true here.”
I nodded agreement. Our nation has gone to war against those with different faiths, beliefs and customs. Some are deemed bad simply because they are nor ours. Those conclusions are too often wrong.
The Pentagon Papers, published against threats of jail and even closure by our own government, revealed a toxic atmosphere where lies replaced truth, political desires thwarted patriotism and democracy took a back seat. Decades later, when President George W. Bush spat out lies like verbal diarrhea, the lessons of the Vietnam Papers appeared a lost lesson. Main street newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post accepted a pile of lies as gospel and sent in soldiers to fight yet another enemy we did not understand.
Then America declared “Mission Accomplished” and a victory that did not exist. It took the more objective and questioning attitude of Knight-Ridder News Service and a retired Vietnam War correspondent to dig out the truth, and both the other papers had to issue red-faced apologies for believing the lies.
In the shrinking world of newspapers, Knight-Ridder is no more, swallowed up by another entity that has neither the resources of the desire to dig for the truth. The Washington Post, owed by mega-billionaire Jeff Bezos, continues to grow, thanks to his checkbook and a desire that even manages to earn a profit. The New York Times is growing after years of setbacks, and it now deals with those who drag them into trouble by accepting propaganda as news.
Ten years ago, I would have been ready to grab my “go bag” and cameras, a laptop, a satellite modem and a few clothes and accept assignments like covering the end of the Afghan war these past few days but now, as an aging newspaperman over 70 with artificial knees, a replaced hip and more than a few limitations, I spend my reporting day as a contract photographer and reporter for Lee Newspapers, which became my boss when it took over BD Media, once owned by Warren Buffett. In 23 years working out of the nation’s capital, I have reported on and shot photos for The Washington Post, The New York Times, AP, AFP News and several other media outlets.
Those years include covering presidents, governments, world leaders, wars, 9/11 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, among other national and world events.
Nowadays, I cover local government, circuit courts, shoot high school sports and area music events. At least I’m still working as a newsman. A lot of my friends are either dead or unemployed.
It’s what I have done for most of my 55+ years. It has been a wonderful life and my only regret will be when it ends.