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Tuesday, March 08, 2005


An Open Letter to Chris Hedges

Update: Chris Hedges will be at Indiana University South Bend on Tuesday, March 15 at 7:00 PM in the Student Activities Center not March 16 as listed before.
Update 2: The companion essay can be found here: http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=14991_Chris_Hedges_and_the_Battle_of_Khafji#comments

© Benjamin Blatt 2005
An Open Letter to Chris Hedges
Having just finished War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning; I must say that Chris Hedges provides a good read, if you enjoy fiction. In particular Chris, I found your tale of the Battle of Khafji during Desert Storm on page 23 of your book to be particularly entertaining, seeing as how it is spun of whole cloth. Sadly, although your version of events in 2002 has you standing “on rooftops with young Marine radio operators who called in air strikes” watching the Marines who “were called in to push the Iraqis (out of Khafji),” your story just does not pan out. You see, in 2004 a book that may very well become known as the definitive study of Khafji was published. The author of Storm on the Horizon, David J. Morris, researched the battle extensively and interviewed the Marines (all thirteen of them) who had called in the air strikes. And yet, none of those Marines remembered you, the French photographers who were with you, or circumstances in which the presence of Journalists by their positions wouldn’t have gotten them killed. Did you really think that the story would never come out? That carrying on the grand tradition of those who covered Vietnam from the Caravelle’s bar would drown out the voices of the Marines whose story you have dishonored with your lies? But please, don’t take my word alone, let the evidence speak for itself.
In the past Mr. Hedges, you have crowed loudly about having fled the Pentagon’s Gulf War press pool, choosing instead to cover a shooting war on your own. But even though in Morris’s book there is a brief mention of the presence of “Unilateral” or “Pool breaker” journalists being around the area of Khafji during the battle, these journalists are mentioned as being British and French, and no mention is made of them having interacted with the two trapped and hidden Marine recon teams in Khafji. But I’m sure the presence of these journalists provided you excellent cover when you started to make your claims years later. Speaking of Morris, I was surprised to discover he had referenced three of your Gulf War articles (written for the New York Times) for his book. So I took the liberty of reading those articles along with your report on the Gulf War in the May/June 1991 Columbia Journalism Review. Now, I think, would be a good point to congratulate you on your wonderful fiction writing. Have you ever considered writing mystery novels? For it is certainly a mystery as to how the New York Times could employ you for so long, and accept so many articles from you based on interviews and encounters in which the only witnesses are you and people who can’t be found later. A good chunk of your book is about your experience in the Balkans. Can you produce any of the people you claim to have talked to there? Or were they all visiting Indonesia last Christmas?
Getting back to the articles which Morris referenced for his book, I am struck by the second-hand nature of your then-current reports on the Battle of Khafji. “In a Ghost Town, a Deadly Skirmish,” published in the New York Times on January 31, 1991, is full of examples of you obtaining information from other people who were there, but is curiously lacking in first-hand information, although, again, in your 2002 book you claim to have been in an excellent position to provide first-hand information on the battle. Instead, this article relies on information from pool reporters (NYT A11 1/31/91) and the statements of military officers not involved in the fighting. In addition, your article mentions the deaths of twelve marines in the fighting, which at the time may have been the assumed fate of what were actually thirteen military personnel in two teams trapped in the city. If you were there with them, wouldn’t you have reported them alive? This curious second-hand reporting is further emphasized in your next article, “Town Regained, Morale of Arab Allies Is Lifted.” As a wrap-up to the battle, you report that the twelve marines were actually alive (without mentioning the previous report of their deaths) while still missing the fact that there were actually thirteen Marines present (although to be fair, the two medics present were only detached to the Marines and were actually Navy enlisted men). What I found really interesting about this article, in light of your spurious claims in 2002, was the use of the phrase “stationed on a rooftop to help direct fire (NYT 5 2/2/91)” in reference to the Marine recon teams. Even there, with the battle still fresh, you couldn’t get the facts right. The Marines were in two separate locations (rooftops, not rooftop, an error you corrected for your tale later) and were not stationed to support the battle but rather found themselves good positions to call down air strikes and artillery while hiding from the surrounding Iraqi forces.
But wait, there’s more. While Morris states that the only Marines in a mostly Arab fight were liaison teams and units tasked to rescue their trapped brethren, a statement backed up by official documents, studies of the battle from the nineties, and interviews with most of the key Marine participants at Khafji, you, Chris Hedges, claim that it was Marine units that pushed the Iraqis out of Khafji. So why the discrepancy, if you were there and observed a Marine-led effort, why are you the only one to have commented on it? I think the answer may lie in your 1991 report for the Columbia Journalism Review. In “What We Saw, What We Learned,” you basically discuss going rogue from the Pentagon press poll shortly after arriving in Saudi Arabia, and describe your actions as a unilateral journalist on the run from the MPs. In paragraph 15 (14 if you discount the sloppy editing) of your article, you mention that an AP reporter, tagging along behind the advancing forces in Khafji, was the first to report American forces being heavily involved in the fighting to retake the city. But if your report on American forces in Khafji is actually based on that of another reporter, then how could you have watched the Marines who “were called in to push the Iraqis (out of Khafji),” on a rooftop with Marines calling in air strikes who don’t remember you? In hindsight, it seems obvious that the AP reporter encountered a liaison or rescue team in the city and misinterpreted what he saw in his reports. Had you actually been there, or even seriously researched the foundation upon which your fiction rests, you might have known that.
Finally, while you may very well have been near Khafji and witnessed Saudi Arabian forces retreating pell-mell, with a little effort you would have found out that they were elements of a poorly trained handful of battalions of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, an organization of tribesman whose sole purpose is to essentially counter-balance the regular army. In fact, the regular army units performed quite well with the assistance of American air support and liaison teams, despite being set upon by one of the best divisions in the Iraqi army. Of course, had you been better informed, you probably wouldn’t have been running around dressed as an American soldier sans unit and rank markings in the middle of a combat zone. For if you had considered that any soldier in the area, regardless of nationality, could have shot you with cause, you might have reconsidered and chosen to dress like your peers in the region.
Well Chris, your version of the events in Khafji doesn’t appear to correspond with objective reality. It makes me wonder about the content of the rest of your book.
Awaiting your response,
Benjamin Blatt - An Objective Historian

© Benjamin Blatt 2005

Works Cited
Hedges, Chris. “In a Ghost Town, a Deadly Skirmish.” New York Times, January 31, 1991, A11 (1991).
---. “Town Regained, Morale of Arab Allies Is Lifted.” New York Times, February 2, 1991, 5 (1991).
---. War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. New York: Anchor Books, 2002.
---. “What We Saw, What We Learned.” Columbia Journalism Review May/June 1991 (1991). (accessed January 3, 2005)
Morris, David J. Storm on the Horizon: Khafji – The Battle that Changed the Course of the Gulf War. New York: Free Press, 2004.


That was utterly brutal.

Let the Hedges death-watch begin!
hey guy,,

try to do a retake of the


that the AP just happend to

send a "photo" person to the

"burning" at the correct time

?'s where did the gas come from

?'s were there any French journlist

?'s how old was the old monk
and was there any chance he
had been druged

?'s how did the old monk get there

?'s who's car is in the back ground
of the famous pitcure by the
aka awful people

one more captins mast
Ouch indeed. I'm a Rockford College graduate, and remember the foofaraw quite clearly when he "performed" here for a graduation ceremony.

Glad to see he hasn't lost any of his old touch.
this guy is just like jayson blair. If more of is stuff is researched. It will all be a house of cards.
Interesting analysis. It will be up to bloggers to spread the story, though. The traditional media won't touch it, unless, like Jayson Blair, the reporter is black. Then, they can blame it on Affirmative Action, instead of the mendacity and laziness of the reporter, editors, and managers.
Well, it reminds me more of Steven Glass than Jayson Blair. Glass got a movie out of it, "Shattered Glass." If and when this movie is made, perhaps it'll be called, "Hedges Hedges."
I will admit my memory is a bit shaky, so I wouldn't recommend anyone use this without further verification, but I seem to recall a Hedges article from Harper's back in 2000 or 2001 wherein Hedges made some rather "fantastic" claims about the IDF shooting at kids in Gaza for sport. He "reported" that the troops would goad the kids into attacking them and then shoot them with M-16s with silencers attached - of course, there is no silencer for the M-16, but there is an adapter to allow it to fire non-lethal rubber bullets. IIRC, there were other fictional "facts" in the article.
The "Liaison" teams are Anglico units

I wasn't sure how public that knowledge was, i.e. would a casual reader understand the reference. Thanks for the great website!!
CAMERA has details on the bogus claim by Hedges that the IDF kills children for sport: Chris Hedges, Harper's, and Israel. Other CAMERA analysis of his reporting: Jews Rampage, Arabs Demonstrate and Mindless in Gaza.
Hey, I helped trained those allah-awful Saudi National Guardsmen. Most of them were 40+ year olds whose tribal chiefs enlisted into the guard because of general worthlessness. And the Venill (sp) Corp advisors were just as worthless. Minedetectors w/no batts, pistols w/actions frozen by rust. Trusty povs for weekend getaways to whores and booze in Bahrain.
I served with a corpsman who got the bronze star in Iraq when attached with ANGLICO, hes currently working with one of the newer USMC spec ops groups (can't recall the name right now). Since he is currently in Iraq, I couldn't find out if he was involved in this operation, but I do know that his unit saw some heavy combat during GW1.
"there is no silencer for the M-16, but there is an adapter to allow it to fire non-lethal rubber bullets."
Actually, there has been a sound supressor for the M-16 since Vietnam.
This is Dave Morris, author of STORM ON THE HORIZON: KHAFJI-THE BATTLE THAT CHANGED THE COURSE OF THE GULF WAR (Free Press) . First off, let me say that I consider Chris Hedges' book WAR IS A FORCE THAT GIVES US MEANING to be an unusually insightful, morally-rigorous if occasionally sanctimonious memoir. I think the recent accusations to the effect of "Hedges' book is a work of fiction" that have appeared on several websites are somewhat overheated and rash. Hedges talks about Khafji for a single page and while his recollection of being present with Marines on a rooftop while they are calling in airstrikes certainly seems suspect, it does not necesarily mean that he is a liar, a cheat and a pedophile with bad credit as some are implying. There were literally DOZENS of US military teams working in the Khafji area during the recapture effort and it's entirely possible that he WAS on a rooftop where US Marines were calling in airstrikes. Nevertheless, I have interviewed scores of Marines who fought at Khafji (including nearly all of the cut-off reconnaissance Marines) and no one has confirmed that Hedges was at Khafji.

This, of course, proves nothing.

In his heady indictment of Hedges, Benjamin Blatt argues "If Hedges was not in Khafji on those rooftops with the Marines, then he MUST have been carrying on the grand tradition of those who covered Vietnam from the Caravelle’s bar" [capitals mine]. This is a classic example of what logicians refer to as "the black-white fallacy," e.g. "Either you play football or you are not a man. There is no middle ground."

In this post-Watergate, post-Jayson Blair, post-Rather time of ours, it is easy to assume that errors committed by journalists are the work of nefarious, syphilitic, Smeagol-esque characters habitually fingering their Pulitzers (My preciousss...). Sadly, the truth is usually much more boring. Working under intense deadlines and with a slew on contradictory eyewitness accounts, lamentable errors pass into print. While working on my own book, a few decorated, active-duty US Marines lied through their teeth to me about their actions at Khafji. It was only through exhaustive interviewing that their fabrications were eventually uncovered. Still, an error is an error and while bloggers are, perhaps unfairly, not held to the same standard as those they so frequently accuse, authors and journalists should be held accountable for what they write.
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