Because Bwog doesn’t do hot, sandy or constantly-in-existential-danger, Iraq didn’t quite make it into our summer plans. Not so for Matt Sanchez, GS, who has been blogging out of the war-torn country for the past couple of weeks. What the hell’s gotten into the conservative activist, military man, Spec opinion writer, American studies major and one-time porn icon? We reached the Marine corporal by e-mail in an attempt to find out.
How did you get the opportunity to travel to Iraq? Moreover, why go there in the first place?
I applied for the media embed; the process seems daunting but if you’re tenacious and know exactly what you want to do, your chances of getting approved are a lot higher. I had several advantages. I have a security clearance from my time at NYPD Counter-Terrorism, I know people who have been through the process and they explained it in detail, I had a definite plan of doing a syndicated radio show, In Their Own Words and Hometown Heroes, and I was as specific as possible with dates, units, places etc.
The reason why I came here in the first place was because I just wasn’t content with the media coverage. Having seen, personally, how the media can twist, mislead or just fabricate stories, I really wanted to see things for myself. You see, I know lots of people who have been to Iraq and back and I had not been given that opportunity, so I was eager to see for myself Let’s face it, this is THE issue of 21st century and, frankly, I want to know what’s going on as much as possible.
Iraq strikes me as a pretty violent place. How safe do you personally feel there?
Since I’ve been in country, I’ve been IED, RPG’ed, shot at with small arms fire and have witnessed a suicide bomber…Iraq is a dangerous place; when we have debarked on the streets of Fallujah, you scan windows and rooftops in a way that would be impossible on my Midtown block. Surprisingly, I feel fairly safe. The Marines know their stuff, and they work hard at safety, both on and off the base. I will tell you, the first time I heard small arms fire touch down around us, I was surprised to see my training kick in and focus at the job in hand. The Marines picked up their weapons and I got my camera. I couldn’t ask for a better nor braver security detail.
Your blog takes a pretty optimistic view on things, while most other media does not. Why should we believe you over them?
If the press is the eyes, ears and voice of a nation, then we are currently deaf, dumb and blind. My blog takes what I feel is a realistic view given the facts on the ground. I try to be as open and detailed as possible in describing the dangers, without being melodramatic or exagerating. You should not “believe” me over them, but I do hope yo
u will begin to question the mainstream media as much as you question me.
I’ve noticed quite a bit of media misinformation, you can check that out on my website. The al Anbar province, aka the Sunni Triangle, is as big as Utah and yet there were five embedded reporters here, at last count. When I was in Camp Cedar, in southern Iraq, I was told I was the first reporter to ever go through there. Far too many of the journalists report from the comfort of the Green Zone, which is the most fortified gated community in the world. Much of what is going on here in al Anbar…has been either misreported or glazed over. Let’s not forget that the press…practically cheered during the Fallujah offensive of 2004. I will never play down the dangers these men and women undergo, I would hardly call that “optimistic”. Everyone has a point of view, but from where I’m standing the media is facing in the wrong direction.
The American media has seen a glut of stories about the discouragement of soldiers in Iraq (such as a front-page story in the Village Voice just last week). Considering the popular sentiment that the war has been a failure, what is morale actually like among the American soldiers you’ve spoken to?
I don’t think Americans think the war is a failure. The feedback I get is that the war is important, there are problems and most people feel that something needs to be done and that there is a threat here in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa that could directly impact mainla
nd USA. I also think that we, in the US have the luxury of disregarding the conflict in Iraq, since our lives are so far removed from the dangers of terrorism. The press does its part to play down those dangers, notably in the planned assault on a military base in New Jersey and the foiled assault on JFK. I also know that neither Columbia University nor the Village Voice is very representative of most Americans. Morningside is not just a neighborhood, it’s a membrane around a self-inseminating organ. I’ve met many Marines, soldiers and Airmen who have been here more than one time and have re-enlisted, because they feel this job is important. I have yet to meet a member of the American Armed Forces who feels the media has done an accurate of fair job of reflecting this conflict.
What are five things you’ve observed in Iraq that you feel the mainstream media has either not reported or underreported?
Five Major Myths about Iraq:
1. This is a civil war
2. Iraqis are angry about Abu Graib or Haditha
3. This is an occupation
4. Americans are torturing people
5. Troops are discouraged
Five Scoops on Iraq:
1. Troops are human
2. Iraqi Children wave and smile at troops.
3. Military provides healthcare
4. Iraqis have no gas despite sitting on major oil reserves
5. Iraqis look to American forces to provide daily necessities, and that should probably start to change.
Do you plan on returning to Columbia in the fall? Do you think your experiences in Iraq will help you as an American Studies major?
Yes, I intend to return in the Fall, although I will be extremely busy with work.
My final paper will be on “American Values as projected through the Military during a time of Occupation.” And I have a feeling that this summer will give me plenty of insight.
-Photos by Matt Sanchez