My favorite war movies are the ones where people
– soldiers or civilians – escape from a prison camp or a concentration camp.
I saw The Great Escape
when it first came out in 1963, and have seen it at least five times since.
I still remember my mother, as soon as we got home from the movie, playing the
theme song on the piano. I missed Von
Ryan's Express when it first came out, but I've seen it on TV, in whole
or in part, more than a dozen times since. My second-favorite escape movie is
Escape From Sobibor, which
is about civilians, mainly Jews, escaping from a Nazi concentration camp. Part
of what makes it so compelling is that in the last few minutes, as the prisoners
escape, the action freezes on a person or couple every few seconds, and the
narrator, the late Howard K. Smith of TV-news fame, tells us where those people
live now – some in Israel, some in New York, some in Los Angeles, etc. That
makes the escape so real because it reminds us that this movie is about real
human beings. My all-time favorite escape movie is Schindler's
List. What I like about escape war movies is, well, the escape. In the
usual war movie, even when I'm cheering for the Allies, I remember that that
poor German soldier was probably drafted and was probably about as innocent
as the American or British soldier. But in escape movies, the people escaping
are mainly trying to save themselves and aren't trying to kill others, except
those who prevent them. I thought of all this while watching Fox News Channel
journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig being interviewed by Greta
van Susteren on Aug. 29. They recounted how they were freed by some Palestinian
kidnappers after almost two weeks of captivity in Gaza.
I know that writers on Antiwar.com rarely mention Fox News without criticizing
it, but what I saw on Aug. 29 was a wonderful human hour. Reporter Centanni
and cameraman Wiig described how they were captured and treated, and told of
the range of emotions they went through – fear of being murdered, hope that
people on the outside were working to free them, and elation at finally being
freed. My heart went out to them. Here they were – totally innocent people just
doing their job, which was simply to report on Palestinians in Gaza. Yet they
were kidnapped by some pretty nasty people. Whenever an innocent person is freed,
I feel elation.
One of the best parts of the one-hour show was the interview with Wiig's
wife, Anita McNaught,
a reporter for a New Zealand television station. McNaught is truly an impressive
woman. At the time her husband was kidnapped, she was in Damascus. As soon as
she heard, she hurried to Gaza and took charge.
"But, basically you're after a number of things. You need to find information
out about where he might be, who might have him, and then find out the why.
And, in finding out the why, perhaps you find an answer to how to get him out.
"You're trying to take the cultural temperature, you know. Is hostage
taking a popular thing or an unpopular thing? What's the public mood? Is there
going to be a way that you can get the public on [your?] side in some way to
get pressure applied from behind, if you like, to release him?
"You're looking to find sympathetic people who will go beyond what
is safe or normal for them to take you to information that might find them.
And, in addition, you're trying to get some kind of reassurance or message to
the guys who are in there and you don't know what they're going to find out
Notice that McNaught made distinctions among individuals. She didn't say,
"Oh, those horrible Palestinians." Instead she realized that she needed
information so that she could distinguish the horrible ones – the kidnappers
and those who supported them – from the good ones – those who were against the
kidnapping. And her quest was rewarded. McNaught continued:
"Gazans came to us and said, 'We're appalled by this.'
"They came to us as individuals. They came to us as mothers and wives
of prisoners in Israeli jails. And they came to us as journalists. And they
came to us as politicians. There wasn't anyone we met who didn't think this
Similarly, Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin got involved from the
start, talking to Palestinians and asking them to get cooperation from locals
so that they could identify the kidnappers. On
the Aug. 31 episode of Hannity and Colmes, Griffin told how her and
her team's careful intelligence work paid off. They were finally able to determine
who had done the kidnapping and communicate this fact to the various other Palestinian
factions. This gave them leverage over various powerful Palestinians, who then
persuaded or threatened the kidnappers to release the hostages.
So not just McNaught of New Zealand television, but also Griffin of Fox,
made distinctions among individuals. Why do I emphasize this? Because so many
of the reporters and commentators on Fox News lump together everyone in a particular
country and attribute to them the characteristics they don't like about some
of the people in that country. I can't count the number of times I've heard
Fox News analysts Fred Barnes or Mort Kondracke, for example, talk about "the
French" with a supercilious sneer, as if all French people are cowards
who just want to appease militant Islam. Why did Griffin and other Fox employees
in the Middle East make distinctions among Palestinians? Because the stakes
were so high. Fox had two employees, two flesh-and-blood human beings whom they
cared about, whose lives were in danger. With such huge stakes, Griffin et al.
made the careful distinctions that needed to be made. How, you might ask, could
two lives be such a big stake when thousands of other lives in the Middle East,
those of Palestinians, Iraqis, U.S. soldiers, and British soldiers, don't seem
to be a big stake? That doesn't make sense, does it? Actually, and unfortunately,
it does. The Fox News people cared about their employees and colleagues and
acted accordingly. But they don't care nearly as much, understandably, about
strangers – even if many strangers are in danger and if some of those
strangers are Americans. Thus, we often get the sloppy analysis of the stakes
in Iraq or in the Middle East in general, rather than the focused careful analysis
that Anita McNaught and Jennifer Griffin engaged in when their loved ones and
colleagues were at risk.
If you think I'm exaggerating, ask yourself this. Imagine you're an innocent
person captured by a Middle Eastern group. What would you prefer to be: an employee
of Fox News, a random Palestinian, or a random U.S. soldier?
If you've answered that you'd opt to be a Fox News employee, you've said that
you trust your employer more than you trust, among others, the U.S. government.
Me too. So does it really make sense to put the U.S. government in a position
where it has power over not two people, but, instead, millions of people?
Copyright © 2006 by David R. Henderson. Requests for permission to
reprint should be directed to the author or Antiwar.com