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Posted: 4/7/2006 7:19:14 AM EDT
Finally, someone in the media that gets it!


In his speech, author illustrates war's reality

Karl Zinsmeister, a writer who had spent months embedded with U.S. military units in Iraq, spoke about his works Thursday at Tidewater Community College. CHRIS TYREE/THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT


By KATE WILTROUT, The Virginian-Pilot
© April 7, 2006



VIRGINIA BEACH - Karl Zinsmeister didn't set out to be a filmmaker, or write comic books. Until three years ago, he was editor of a conservative magazine, living in a tiny town in upstate New York.

Then he went to Iraq as an embedded reporter with the 82nd Airborne. Since then, he's returned to Iraq three times, written two books about the war, penned the text for a Marvel comic about the military and filmed a documentary about U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Zinsmeister spoke Thursday night at the Virginia Beach campus of Tidewater Community College, closing out TCC's annual Literary Festival. He showed 28 minutes of the film "Warriors," which will air on public television stations in 2007.

Asked to make the film by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Zinsmeister - who had no previous experience working with videotape - couldn't say no.

"I decided to take it on for one reason," he said. "I felt like it was a golden opportunity to correct some national misperceptions that really bother me."

Chief among them: that many U.S. service members joined the military because they had few other options, that they are brutes without marketable skills and that they serve in Iraq reluctantly.

Zinsmeister said he found the opposite is true, and he regrets what he called a growing "cultural gap between the people who fight our wars and the people who write about it."

Clips from his film illustrate his point that U.S. soldiers do far more than shoot. Every day, they navigate wary markets looking for weapons sellers amid fruit and fish merchants.

They pull over suspicious cars and try, without dishonoring the occupants, to determine whether a person dressed as a woman really is one. They sit down over tea with a sheik and ask him to give his word that two men in custody won't become insurgents if they're released.

"This is pretty humdrum, pedestrian, everyday responsibilities," Zinsmeister told the audience of about 90. But in Iraq, "even those humdrum things are complicated. It takes diplomatic skills, people skills."

Editor of The American Enterprise, a magazine published by a Washington -based institute of the same name, Zinsmeister wrote two books about his earlier embedding experiences: "Boots on the Ground" and "Dawn over Baghdad."

Both were a result of the Department of Defense's program that allows journalists almost unfettered access to military units. "I'm very proud to be from a country where we feel we have nothing to hide," he said.

Zinsmeister said he wished that more journalists were still taking advantage of the opportunity to watch soldiers and Marines do their work

"They're not perfect. They're certainly not all saints and scholars," Zinsmeister said of the modern G.I. Joes and Janes.

But in his 4-1/2 months in Iraq, the writer said, he found U.S. troops represent American values well.

Highlighting the soldiers' workaday routines might not be considered "news," Zinsmeister said. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be covered.

"I think in the long run, this is really important," he said. "This is what historians are going to care about."




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