War from a journalist’s perspective

By Chris Beauchamp

Seasoned foreign correspondent Matthew Fisher spoke on campus Wed., Nov. 12. Fisher was one of only two Canadian journalists to be embedded with an American combat unit during the recent campaign in Iraq. He has covered 29 wars, including conflicts in Rwanda, Chechnya, Somalia, the first Gulf War and, more recently, he was stationed with Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

Relating one of the three battles he witnessed while embedded with a Marine combat unit, Fisher described the overwhelming American military power brought to bear on the weak Iraqi army with the implementation of combined arms.

“You go forward with infantry and light mechanized units, and have on call heavy mechanized units and helicopter gunships,” said Fisher, “It’s just fantastic to see. No one can match the Americans in a fight. No one can even come close.”

Approximately 300 Iraqis were killed in the battle, with no casualties to the American Marines.

Fisher had to sign a document stating he would not give away positions or intelligence, but otherwise his reports were not screened or censored.

Embedded journalism has been a controversial issue in the past year, with opponents noting the potential difficulty in reporting impartially while under the protection of a military unit. Critics claim embedded journalists would be unable to criticize the policies of host militaries.

“Maybe I had difficulty being critical too,” stated Fisher. “You have to decide what you should and shouldn’t say. In a war [the unit you are stationed with is] responsible for saving your life. If this means you’ve compromised yourself then this becomes far too harsh a judgement.”

Fisher defended his decision to embed, noting he has covered many wars independently in the past.

“I had always wanted to see combined arms,” mused Fisher. “In Rwanda, everybody was drunk on banana wine. In Russia, the soldiers are always drunk on vodka. With the Americans, there is always a plan.”

Not that it is a journalist’s job to always agree with that plan.

“The [American] military is already overextended,” he noted. “They desperately need more soldiers and support from the West. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz have bitten off more than they can chew.”

Fisher ended his talk with his own predictions for the future.

“I think we are facing 20, 30, or 50 years of war between the Judeo-Christian world and the Islamic world,” said Fisher. “I think the World Trade Center was peanuts compared with what we’re going to see.”

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