The Pentagon concocted a tale about the battlefield heroics of Jessica Lynch, a waiflike Army private then 19-years-old, and fed it to the news media in order to boost popular support for the Iraq War.
Voilá, the dominant popular narrative about Lynch, the conflict’s single most famous soldier.
In invoking the Lynch case, CounterPunch asserted:
“The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan … have severely tested and frequently compromised the U.S. officer corps’ traditional values of duty, honor and country. This is obvious in the selective careerist- and agenda-ridden assertions to portray a false picture of events to the American public about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.”
Several examples followed, including this claim about Lynch: “Americans were told Army Spc. Jessica Lynch fired her M16 rifle until she ran out of bullets and was captured. It was a lie.”
In fact, that statement offers “a false picture of events”: The Pentagon did not put out the story about Lynch’s supposed derring-do in the ambush of her unit at Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq, in the first days of the conflict.
“‘She was fighting to the death.'”
The Post’s report said that Lynch, a supply clerk in the 507th Maintenance Unit, “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting” at Nasiriyah.
The newspaper also said Lynch was “stabbed when Iraqi forces closed in on her position.”
The Post cited as sources “U.S. officials” whom it otherwise has never identified. As it should, to help dismantle the false narrative.
The Post’s sensational report about Lynch was picked up by news outlets around the country and the world.
For example, a columnist for the Hartford Courant newspaper in Connecticut suggested that Lynch was destined to join the likes of Audie Murphy and Alvin York in the gallery of improbable American war heroes. Lynch, the columnist noted, “does share qualities and background with her illustrious predecessors. Like them, she is from rural America, daughter of a truck driver, raised in a West Virginia tinroofed house surrounded by fields and woods.”
But the hero-warrior story about Lynch was thoroughly wrong.
Lynch never fired a shot at Nasiriyah. Her rifle jammed during the ambush. She suffered shattering injuries when a rocket-propelled grenade struck her Humvee, causing the vehicle to crash.
But she was neither shot nor stabbed.
Lynch was taken prisoner and treated at an Iraqi hospital where she lingered near death until rescued April 1, 2003, by a U.S. special operations team.
Meanwhile, the real hero of Nasiriyah, an Army cook-sergeant named Donald Walters, has received nothing that was remotely comparable to the attention given the false story about Lynch and her purported derring-do.
Walters is believed to have fought to his last bullet at Nasiriyah before being take prisoner by Iraqi irregulars. Soon afterward, he was executed.
It’s quite probable that Walters’ heroism was misattributed to Lynch.
And how do we know the Pentagon was not the source for the Washington Post’s bogus Lynch story?
We know from Vernon Loeb, who shared a byline with Susan Schmidt on the “‘Fighting to the Death'” article.
Loeb, now the Post’s top editor for local news, said in December 2003 on NPR’s Fresh Air show program that he “could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about” the Lynch case.
“They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch,” he said.
“I just didn’t see the Pentagon trying to create a hero where there was none,” he added. “I mean …they never showed any interest in doing that, to me.”
Loeb also said:
“Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.”
He described them as “some really good intelligence sources” in Washington, D.C. , and added:
“We wrote a story that turned out to be wrong because intelligence information we were given was wrong. That happens quite often.”
Loeb on another occasion was quoted by the New York Times as saying:
“Far from promoting stories about Lynch, the military didn’t like the story.”
Despite Loeb’s insistent exculpatory remarks, the false narrative that the Pentagon made up the story about Lynch lives on, in large measure because it corresponds so well to the view that the war in Iraq was a thoroughly botched and dodgy affair.
Recent and related:
- Time for WaPo to disclose sources on dubious Lynch story
- Myth and error: Recalling the rescue of Private Lynch
- Lynch says she could’ve embraced Post’s phony hero story
- Too good to be disbelieved: The military, myth, and Jessica Lynch
- Pentagon ‘caught creating false narrative’ about Lynch? How so?
- Lynch heroics ‘ginned up by Bush-era Pentagon’?
- A subsidiary myth: Lynch rescue ‘was play acted’
- Ignoring the astonishing reporting lapses in Lynch case
- Indulging in myth on the way out
- Sniffing out media myths
- The Post ‘took down a president’? That’s a myth
- ‘Persuasive and entertaining’: WSJ reviews ‘Getting It Wrong’