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Kevin Sites Replies

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At his blog, freelance journalist Kevin Sites has posted a lengthy justification for the video he shot in Fallujah, framed as a letter to the Marines with whom he was embedded: Open Letter to Devil Dogs of the 3.1.

Sites writes that he doesn’t care about the opinions of “armchair analysts,” but I think his piece can be read as a very good argument against having photojournalists like him along on Marine operations.

His description of the actual incident gives us no additional information beyond what you saw in the video, but the more telling point comes at the conclusion:

So here, ultimately, is how it all plays out: when the Iraqi man in the mosque posed a threat, he was your enemy; when he was subdued he was your responsibility; when he was killed in front of my eyes and my camera — the story of his death became my responsibility.

The burdens of war, as you so well know, are unforgiving for all of us.

Sites puts himself on the same level of importance as the Marines involved in actually fighting the war; his camera is as vital to the operation as the Marines’ armor and weapons and teamwork. In a way he’s right. That camera can do an enormous amount of damage.

The importance of journalists in war can be debated. But if the ultimate objective of any war is to win, then having people like Sites accompany soldiers on life-and-death missions, when his objective is not to win but to record and publicize and play everything “straight down the middle,” is a very dangerous situation. The immediate and ongoing exploitation of the video by Arab news services and internet jihadis for incitement against Americans can in no way be seen as a positive development for the overall war effort. It’s a defeat. It gives ammunition to the enemy on the field of ideas, and it hurts us both here in the US and overseas.

And it’s an almost inevitable consequence when the person operating the camera doesn’t share the goals of the people operating the weapons.

I can’t really blame Sites for releasing the video to the pool. Once it was on tape and others knew about it, what else could he do? But the bigger, entirely pragmatic issue is: if winning is important, why was he even there in the first place?

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