A Retiring War Correspondent Returns from Iraq After more than 40 years covering wars from Vietnam to Iraq, Joseph Galloway recently retired from Knight Ridder newspapers. He says good leadership is critical in a protracted war like the one in Iraq.
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A Retiring War Correspondent Returns from Iraq

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A Retiring War Correspondent Returns from Iraq

A Retiring War Correspondent Returns from Iraq

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This week on MORNING EDITION we'll be talking about leadership in a lengthening war. We'll talk to officers who have served in Iraq and people who remember past conflicts.

One man who's seen both is Joseph Galloway. He recently retired from Knight Ridder newspapers after more than 40 years as a military correspondent. As a reporter in Vietnam he sometimes picked up a gun, and was the only civilian to be awarded the bronze star by the U.S. Army.

Mr. JOSEPH GALLOWAY (Retired Knight Ridder Correspondent): I love soldiers. You know, I owe them my life. I think loving soldiers makes me a far better reporter, because if I see someone doing something that I think needlessly risks their lives, they understand I'm coming after them and I'm going to skin them and salt them.

INSKEEP: As Joe Galloway retired, the military he loves was straining with the effort of keeping more than 100,000 troops at a time in Iraq.

Mr. GALLOWAY: You're sending over units now who are 65, 70 percent veterans. You know, 22 years old and they're on their third tour in combat. This we didn't see in Vietnam except among the NCO's, the noncommissioned officers and the officers.

INSKEEP: Because there were so many draftees who...

Mr. GALLOWAY: They were a draftee army. They did one tour, and if they survived they went home and got out. Now you've got a lot more - you're an all-volunteer force. And so a lot of these kids have gone in thinking they'll make career of it. Well, after three tours in combat and seeing what they're seeing, I believe more and more of them are going to get out.

INSKEEP: There have been, as you know, Mr. Galloway, allegations in recent months of brutality by American troops against civilians. We should specify that the allegations have not been proven. But there were similar allegations in the Vietnam War, which you also covered.

Is there something about a protracted insurgency that lends itself to that kind of brutality, especially as time goes on?

Mr. GALLOWAY: Well, it's not just an insurgency. I think there have been such incidents in every war man has ever fought. Certainly in every war that Americans have ever fought. But in an insurgency, it is more likely to happen. And the reason is that the enemy hides among the civilian population, and they fight with irregular tactics. Vietnam it were booby traps and jungle ambushes, and they used nature itself against us. Snakes and scorpions and, you know, anything they could figure out to neutralize our firepower.

And this not only confuses, it angers soldiers, who keep saying, you know, why don't they come out and fight like men? They want someone to shoot at, and there quite often is not.

INSKEEP: Shouldn't the all-volunteer Army that the United States has be better equipped to deal with that though? You have professional soldiers. They're veterans. They've got the training and they know that killing civilians can completely backfire and damage their efforts.

Mr. GALLOWAY: They know all that. They're trained to one extent or another. But there's that training and there is the immediacy of the moment when you see two or three or four of your buddies, your best friends, blown up by one of these things in the middle of a town where you know you're hated. And people can snap.

INSKEEP: How important is leadership on all levels in a protracted war like this?

Mr. GALLOWAY: Oh, it's everything. There's a saying, there are no bad soldiers, just bad leaders. That good leadership is everything.

INSKEEP: You've been very critical of leadership at the very top in the military.

Mr. GALLOWAY: Yes, I have. I'm talking here of civilian appointed leadership, to wit the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

INSKEEP: As you prepared to retire you had an e-mail exchange, which ended up being published...

Mr. GALLOWAY: Right.

INSKEEP: ...with one of Rumsfeld's aides.

Mr. GALLOWAY: With his chief spokesman, Larry Di Rita. And he started it with a criticism that my - one of my columns about one of the generals who was calling for Rumsfeld's resignation or firing.

INSKEEP: This is a retired general calling Rumsfeld's resignation.

Mr. GALLOWAY: This is a retired lieutenant general of the Marines, Paul Van Riper. And I had written a piece and quoted him extensively, and I received an e-mail from Mr. Di Rita saying that it was silly. It was foolish of me to blame Secretary Rumsfeld for anything like this. So I responded, and I said, you know, this is just as the Navy holds the captain of any ship responsible for anything that goes wrong with that ship, whether it runs into a dock, whether it runs aground on a sand bar, it doesn't matter. They court-martial the captain.

INSKEEP: To which Di Rita responds, in this e-mail exchange, and I've got some of the text in front of me, that the Army is so much more capable than it was five or ten years ago. And he goes on to say the people you quote in your columns missed the forest for the trees.

Mr. GALLOWAY: And that's utter and complete BS. I said look, I've been doing this for 41 years. I've been covering America's wars. And over and over and over I've had my heart broken. And I said, you know, in January I stood in a garbage-filled mud pit watching American troops tear apart the wreckage of a Kyowa Warrior helicopter that had been shot down minutes before and pulling the lifeless body of one of the pilots and the barely alive body of another one out of the wreckage. They're pulling this wreckage apart with their bare hands. And I watched their faces as they were brought out and laid on stretchers and carefully and lovingly drug out of that mud pit. And I stood there and I wept, just as I wept when I saw the first face of a dead America in Vietnam 41 years before.

And I, you know, I told them then, and I tell them over and over again, I would feel a whole lot better if somebody in that chain of command had ever worn the uniform and gone to combat and held a dying boy in their arms and watched the life run out of his eyes while they lied to him and told him over and over, you're going to be all right.

INSKEEP: Joe Galloway, long-time war correspondent. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

Mr. GALLOWAY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Joe Galloway just retired as senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers. He's also co-author of We Were Soldiers Once and Young.

Our discussions on leadership and war continue tomorrow as two U.S. Marines describe fighting insurgents amid a civilian population.

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