Lots of commentary on Bing West’s attack on Nir Rosen today; see especially Ackerman and Abu M.
A couple points of my own:
It’s obviously different in a lot of ways, but if we didn’t have war correspondents embedding in the forces of the enemy, we wouldn’t have History of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides was an Athenian general before he was a historian. While it’s fair enough to note that Nir Rosen has yet to be exiled for his failure to prevent the seizure of Amphipolis, it’s also true that Thucydides believed that his ability to observe both Spartan and Athenian forces was critical to the History:
It was also my fate to be an exile from my country for twenty years after my command at Amphipolis; and being present with both parties, and more especially with the Peloponnesians by reason of my exile, I had leisure to observe affairs somewhat particularly.
This isn’t terribly surprising; perspective requires knowledge. If History of the Peloponnesian War read as a patriotic account of stalwart Athenians defeating tyrannical Spartans (or vice versa) then no one but classicists would read it today. It’s strength comes from Thucydides ability to observe the motives, behavior, and self-justifications of both sides; his analysis of why the war happened and how it was conducted depends on a degree of empathy with both Athenian and Spartan interests.
Second, this point by West is simply nonsensical:
Rosen described how he and two Taliban fighters deceived the guards at a government checkpoint. Suppose during World War II an American reporter had sneaked through the lines with two German officers wearing civilian clothes. “When we caught enemy combatants out of uniform in the 1940s,” a veteran wrote in The American Heritage, “we sometimes simply executed them.” The Greatest Generation had a direct way of dealing with moral ambiguity.
Yeah… and what if a Nazi functionary had allowed an American journalist to visit Auschwitz in early 1942? It’s equally absurd, but as long as we’re making things up let’s consider a scenario that weighs rather heavily in favor of allowing journalists to embed with the enemy. It doesn’t even occur to West that reporting on the enemy doesn’t imply approval of enemy activities; that he compares the behavior of Rosen (a journalist) to Jane Fonda (not a journalist) indicates that he really doesn’t understand what journalism is.
It’s certainly possible to develop scenarios in which the professional identity of “journalist”– to say nothing of “scholar”, “lawyer”, or even “soldier”– runs counter to the other commitments that we have. Such conflicts are part of life, and can’t be wished away. I don’t find Rosen’s behavior, however, even close to troubling; his work opened a window into how the Taliban functions, how its warriors think, and why they’re willing to die for what they believe in. To the extent that West believes that the destruction of the Taliban is a desirable goal, he should be thankful that Rosen has provided this window, and should devote his efforts to using the information as effectively as possible.
Either that, or he can engage in rambling, pointless bluster about how in the old days, we earned our moral clarity by shootin’ folks. Your call, Bing.