Jessica Lynch: a Character in Her Own Life

A brief recap for those who don’t remember:

Private Lynch, a 19-year-old army clerk from Palestine, West Virginia, was captured when her company took a wrong turning just outside Nasiriya and was ambushed.

From: the BBC coverage that told the truth.

Remember now? Cute little blond girl who valiantly fought the savage Iraqis, not wanting to be taken alive? The Pentagon reported she had bullet and stab wounds, hinted that she’d been raped, or at least slapped around and interrogated. Lynch told a slightly different version in her book.

Do you know anything about the nine comrades… or was it six?… of Jessica Lynch who died… or were captured, then killed, or… no, wait, we never heard… in the same “ambush” where she was injured? Of course not. You don’t need to. You only need to know about the adorable little girl whose image and falsified story boosted American support for the war in Iraq. The US media backed the Pentagon’s story to a T, providing such hilarious coverage as the Washington Post’s article about the “Blond and waiflike, Lynch” who “killed several of her assailants”. If she’d had a D-cup bosom, it would have been the story of the century for ratings.

But the BBC coverage looked deeper, speaking to Iraqi doctors who said her wounds were consistent with a motor vehicle accident: “There was no [sign of] shooting, no bullet inside her body, no stab wound – only road traffic accident.” More disturbing, the Iraqi hospital witnesses claimed Special Forces knew the Iraqi military guard had left the hospital the day before their oh-so-valiant raid, and described the raid as:

It was like a Hollywood film. They cried ‘go, go, go’, with guns and blanks without bullets, blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show for the American attack on the hospital – action movies like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan.

Footage of the “dramatic rescue” was indeed aired. And Lynch herself questioned why they filmed the raid. All she wanted was to go home.

The American strategy was to ensure the right television footage by using embedded reporters and images from their own cameras, editing the film themselves.

The Pentagon had been influenced by Hollywood producers of reality TV and action movies, notably the man behind Black Hawk Down, Jerry Bruckheimer.

Bruckheimer advised the Pentagon on the primetime television series “Profiles from the Front Line”, that followed US forces in Afghanistan in 2001. That approached was taken on and developed on the field of battle in Iraq.

And where did Jessica Lynch fit into this little drama?

There was one more twist. Two days before the snatch squad arrived, Harith had arranged to deliver Jessica to the Americans in an ambulance. But as the ambulance, with Private Lynch inside, approached a checkpoint American troops opened fire, forcing it to flee back to the hospital. The Americans had almost killed their prize catch.

Well, that would have been a ho-hum ending, wouldn’t it?

And what has all this to do with portrayal of women in the media? Lynch was used to propogate a war, the same way women’s breasts are used to garner ratings in shows that really aren’t about breasts. The same way female “love interests” are used solely to boost male characters. The same way simulated rape senes wormed their way into broadcast prime time to shock people into viewing – long before you could show a man getting his crotch kicked in the same timeslot or on the same station.

That said, Lynch isn’t the first woman to be turned into a character in a news drama. It happens to men as well. So what’s significant in this story, in regards to the portrayal of women in the media?

That you didn’t hear much at all of Lynch’s tentmate, Private Lori Piestewa, who died

with the gruesome distinction of being the first native American in the US army to be killed in combat and the only American servicewoman to die in this war.

Once again, we have to turn to the UK (The Guardian) to get the truth about an American soldier.

So, why did they pick Lynch to propogandize? Private Lori Piestewa provided a true drama, the sad story of a female soldier who died in combat. But with her, there could be no dramatic rescue. Plus, the damsel in distress bit normally goes to innocent “blond waiflike” little girls and not Native American mothers of two. It was thoughtful of the Pentagon to make up that bit about Lynch fighting so valiantly – played into the whole Grrl Power trend while still showing why little girls need to be rescued, and probably shouldn’t be out fighting men’s wars.

What we got wasn’t just propoganda about the war: what we got was a message about little girls staying out of the service.

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