Warrior Scribes

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Oh dear! The unbeatable, the superhuman Herculeses, the Taliban broke and ran like girls, not even bothering to try to win one for the Gipper. What is happening here? We were told by pundits and talking assholes that air power simply doesn't work against these supermen, that sending our boys in against them was almost a crime, like pitting a six-month-old baby against Mike Tyson in his prime.

Dear, oh dear. If I were Seymour Hersh, I'd try something different, like writing an account of Bill Clinton's heroism in the Vietnam War. Hersh wrote that when Rangers came up against the supermen they (the Rangers) were terrified and ran for it. His sources, as always, were unnamed generals and colonels who were in the know. Of course they were, Si.

Mind you, it all evens up at the end. Now I read that Geraldo Rivera is on his way over there as of this writing. Geraldo is squarely on our boys' side. He will undoubtedly report that, although the going has been incredibly tough, our toughs have toughed it out. He will also describe the battles in living color.

Here I need to pause. It was during the Yom Kippur war of 1973 when I had a chance to see a great novelist at work. Charlie Glass and myself were in the Sinai waiting to cross into Africa with Ariel Sharon?in a group comprising 32 journalists?when we saw a young-looking Geraldo describing a battle taking place, a harrowing account of incoming missiles that would have George Patton ducking for cover. To be fair, there were some outgoing, and the noise was enough for Beethoven to notice, but that's about it. I wonder what the great Geraldo will come up with in Afghanistan, especially if he has to broadcast live. The bad news is that, although Geraldo has been quoted as wanting to personally capture Osama bin Laden, Osama is 6-4, so finding someone who looks like him in a nation of midgets will be difficult, if not impossible. My, my!

So much for the quicksand our troops were about to fall into. And so much for the slowness of the war. My concern as always is not with the military or the government, but with the media. How can all the experts (with a few exceptions) get it as wrong as they did? Sure, they were not at liberty to roam freely all over Afghanistan and report to the Taliban where our next strike would be, but to announce that the war was unwinnable just as Kabul fell without a shot fired in anger is a bit like announcing that Bush, in cahoots with the Supreme Court, stole the election, only to find out one year later that the ones who tried to steal it were the Democrats. Let us be up-front for a change. Until a few weeks ago, no one among the experts had ever heard of Mazar-i-Sharif. Now they speak about that godawful place as if they had spent an idyllic childhood there building castles in the sand dunes.

Having said that, and being the first to admit I spent my idyllic childhood building sand castles in Phaleron Bay, the Taliban are not as yet a busted flush. At best they're trying to fill an inside straight. To survive, they will have to resort to long-term guerrilla warfare high up in the mountains, a warfare they have little recent experience of. The B-52 bombers, so maligned by our experts, really came through for us. There is nothing like a B-52 strike?it was called "rolling thunder" in Nam?to induce low morale on the receiving end. I once witnessed such a strike on the outskirts of Hue, in 1972, and believe you me, I felt the way Seymour (Emile Zola) Hersh reported the Rangers felt upon encountering the supermen of the Taliban.

It was May, hotter than Dante's Inferno and extremely humid. Quang Tri had fallen to the enemy, and the hacks were in Hue waiting for the battle to begin. Climbing up a steep hill, I heard a Greek swear word coming from a cameraman behind me. Back then cameras were bulky and very heavy, and as it turned out the Greek-American photographer had just landed from the States. If memory serves, he was from Boston and working with one of the three networks. I felt sorry for him and offered to carry one of the cameras?until I heard him say that he was hoping for a quick North Vietnamese victory so he could go home. It was the end of a beautiful friendship that never had a chance.

Needless to say, the so-called atrocities of the "good guys" took almost as much space as the enormous victory over the baddies. But again, let us be frank. Did the ludicrously tendentious Times feature the atrocities committed by the Vietcong or the Taliban in the manner they highlighted those of the Northern Alliance? Of course not. The massacre of 16 Christians in Pakistan hardly was mentioned by the networks. Imagine the hullabaloo if 16 Muslims had been murdered by the Rangers.

The way I plan to cover this war is as follows: If Seymour Hersh writes that the war will be long, I will give it three to six months. If Geraldo Rivera reports that the fighting is ferocious and the going is tough, I will give it three to six months. If President Bush announces that the war in Afghanistan will go on for another two years, I will give it six months to one year. It is a very good system, really. After all, I was the first "expert" to come out for Bloomberg last year, and look what happened. And he is, at best, Dinkins Lite.

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