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Small blog on the internet

April 28, 2010 - Jim Anderson
Who do you believe, who do you trust ...

Not the executives at Goldman Sachs, I would hope, but that’s a story for another day.

Years ago, my father was called to be a juror in an out-of-county high-profile murder trial.

“Do you believe everything you read in the newspaper?” the judge asked him during the jury screening.

“Well, my son works for a newspaper,” he answered. “And I believe everything he writes.”

For what it’s worth, he was seated on the jury.

Here’s a story of backwater journalism. There’s no moral, or conclusion, but maybe there’s something to learn as it unfolds.

I often read Tim Lynch’s Free Range International blog. Lynch is a retired Marine who operates a security consulting firm in Afghanistan.

In a recent post, Lynch discussed the “fundamental problem” in Afghanistan: “We are fighting on behalf of a central government which is not considered legitimate by a vast majority of the population.” It is a government, Lynch says, that “abuses the population and international guests alike.”

The lack of a sound partner is having a depressing effect on the U.S. soldiers fighting the war, Lynch fears.

Lynch goes on to cite observations made by journalist Ben Shaw, found in the comments section of Herschel Smith’s Captain’s Journal. Here’s the first paragraph of Shaw’s lament:

“As a journalist (and combat veteran) currently embedded with U.S. forces in Afghanistan, I have found that roughly 95 percent of the troops on the ground in no way believe in their mission, have no confidence that their efforts will bring about lasting change to Afghan security, stability, governance, or a decreased influence of radicalism. In truth, they fight simply to stay alive and want nothing more than to go home.”

Who is Ben Shaw? He is self-profiled as a writer and photojournalist, native of Virginia, graduate of Virginia Tech, former infantry Marine (three tours in Iraq). He began an embed tour in Afghanistan in March 2010. His blog is found at He also has written for Fluvanna Review, a weekly publication in Virginia.

(As I said, this is a story of backwater journalism.)

Should we believe Ben Shaw?

He says no. Shortly after his observations were circulated, he issued a retraction.

It begins:

“Recently, I posted an emotionally-driven comment on a small blog I found on the internet, making several derogatory claims about military commands and commanders, U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan, and the merits of the conflict itself. Soon thereafter, another blogger read these remarks and, without my permission, publicized them widely. The more I look at my own writing, the more I logically examine every claim I made, the more I realize that the piece is altogether out of line and demands a retraction and apology.”

Concerning, specifically, his statement that 95 percent of the troops in no way believe in their mission, he offered this:

“For stating that truly 95 percent of troops do not believe in their mission, I also offer my apology. This claim was in no way based off of statistically-verifiable surveys and should have been presented as strictly my own opinion. Nor is this statement the result of observations or interviews conducted in the past four weeks of my embed in Afghanistan. It is based on roughly seven years as either a U.S. serviceman, or a writer working on their behalf.”

In summary, an emotionally-driven comment is posted, circulated and finally retracted.

And we are left to accept the retraction.

Can’t help but wonder, though, which version Shaw’s father would believe.


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