The Blog

Mop-Up Time

The foreign reporters at CENTCOM get worse; Amnesty International gets better; and a small town in Maine puts Fieldsboro, New Jersey, to shame.

6:00 AM, Apr 5, 2003 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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A FEW DAYS AGO I wrote a piece about some of the ridiculous questions foreign reporters have been asking Brigadier General Vincent Brooks at the daily CENTCOM briefings. I thought I got it all out of my system. I was wrong.

On April 3, an Al Jazeera correspondent asked Brooks:

We've heard various reports throughout the day about coalition forces being about 10 to 20 kilometers on the outskirts of Baghdad, close to Saddam International Airport. Can you clarify that matter for us? And I'm sure you're aware, sir, that the Iraqis contest your attestation that you've inflicted heavy damage on the Republican Guards in the past few days. I was wondering if and when you can show us videos, combat footage of that, proof of that?

Because, you know, the Iraqi press operation has proved incredibly reliable in recent days. But that was just a warm-up. The question of the day--nay, the question of the millennium--came from a reporter from a Hong Kong TV network:

If the plan to take down Baghdad didn't succeed and the coalition would have to retreat, and without giving a detailed description of the location, where would the coalition troops retreat to, since most of the cities around Baghdad are only partially secured, not completely taken by U.S.-led force? Thank you.

Yes, the intrepid reporter from Hong Kong wants to know about our plans for retreat.

I also wrote recently about the strange anti-American bias evident at Amnesty International. On April 2, Amnesty International's lead item carried the headline "Iraq: Fear of War Crimes By Both Sides." The accompanying press releases were depressing not just in their moral equivalence, but in their near silence about some of the horrible deeds the Iraqi regime has perpetrated in the last 15 days.

Sometime on April 3, Amnesty International updated its site. The headline now reads "Iraq: Civilians Suffer." The blurb below it says, "Amnesty International is concerned that civilians are suffering because of actions by both sides in the fighting in Iraq. Iraqi forces are reported to have deliberately shelled civilians in Basra and placed military objectives near civilians and civilian objects. Coalition forces have used cluster bombs which may have caused needless civilian deaths."

There's no new press release, but at least they've dropped the morally obtuse headline. Two cheers for the folks at Amnesty International.

You've probably been following the story of Fieldsboro, New Jersey. The tiny Burlington County berg, just a dozen or so miles from my family homestead in Moorestown, has banned the display of yellow ribbons on public property. The town's Democratic mayor, Edward "Buddy" Tyler, and Democratic city council passed the ban a few days ago and actually tried to enforce it--until the national media caught wind of the scheme.

Tyler's explanation: "It's a matter of law. I'm not putting my town on a slippery slope."

The good mayor is worried that if you allow yellow ribbons, the next thing you know neo-Nazis will want to put their flags up and then poor Buddy Tyler won't have a leg to stand on.

Except that we don't have a lot of neo-Nazis in Burlington County and even if we did, life is not a community-college ethics class. People make distinctions and judgement calls every day because life is a slippery slope. Reasonable people accept the adult duty to make these judgements and not simply throw their hands in the air at the slightest bit of trouble.

Take, for instance, the quite reasonable people of Rumford, Maine.

Few things give me as much pleasure as reading the Rumford Falls Times.

This week's edition has a banner headline that reads "Yellow ribbons flying in the River Valley." The Falls Times's Abbey Casás Rice reports:

As stories of American servicemen and women begin to filter back to the homefront, citizens around the country are reviving the tradition of displaying a yellow ribbon to show support for U.S. troops.

In the River Valley, residents and municipal governments are joining in the effort.

Since Thursday, Davis Florist on Congress Street in Rumford has sold or taken orders for more than 120 large outdoor yellow ribbons. The town of Rumford has ordered 40. . . . The town of Mexico plans to order 30 . . .

Rumford plans to display the ribbons on Waldo and Congress street, as well as on town bridges. . . .

Mexico Town Manager Joe Derouche said that the ribbons would go on telephone poles throughout town and at the town office . . .