Survival as Virtue: The Real Jessica Lynch Story

Pfc. Jessica Lynch survived an auto accident. I’ve been in a nasty one myself, so I won’t splash ice water on her ordeal, but that’s what it was: a car crash. She’s less Alvin York than a lucky Princess Di. If the vultures at Knopf had any style, they would have hired J.G. Ballard to write her story.

Lynch does have a story, of course, and an audience conditioned to slurp it up. She’s a survivor, and, as Destiny’s Child and every episode of Behind the Music remind us, survival is the only virtue in our positivist age. On this point, the godless and the godly agree, as shown by Gen. William Boykin’s recent remarks to evangelicals. Regarding his efforts to nab a Somali warlord:

“I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real god and his was an idol.”

On Bush’s Electoral College victory in 2000:

“Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. He’s in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this.”

Forget the difficulties of moral analysis, which emphasizes struggle and admits that good often loses. Survivors are righteous; the righteous survive. Osama and Saddam believe it as much as the fundies awaiting Rapture and the neocons standing athwart history shouting, “It’s over!

Well, if it’s all over but the shouting, then at least we know why Knopf tapped renowned copy editor Rick Bragg to tell Lynch’s story. What really happened outside Nasiriya? You’ll find all the eye-poppin’ details in Bragg’s I Am a Soldier, Too. “[S]napping bones”! “[T]he crash of the Humvee”! “[T]he torment her enemies inflicted on her”! Sodomy! And if that doesn’t send your dander up the flagpole, check out Because Each Life Is Precious by Iraqi ambulance-chaser Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief. His tales of slap-happy Ba’athists informed NBC’s Saving Jessica Lynch, the start of a cross-promotional attack that includes Lynch appearances on Today, Letterman, and the cover of Time.

All this hoopla is bound to make some people a little ornery. Lt. Col. David Hackworth, who lugs around a medal or two, has already questioned how Lynch won a Bronze Star with her eyes closed. Shoshana Johnson, who was actually shot (twice) in the firefight at Nasiriya, receives one-third the disability benefit of her millionaire comrade, and Johnson’s father finds that odd. Another father, Randy Keihl, whose son James was one of 11 soldiers killed in the ambush, has charged profiteering. There probably won’t be much mirth among the nameless at Walter Reed this week, either.

I come not to harry Lynch, nor to praise her. The teasers for her Primetime interview show her politely dismissing the people and propaganda clinging to her coattails. She won’t confirm the rape charge Bragg plays up and Iraqis deny, but given its value in promoting her book, she must be under pressure not to deny it. She has already said (and refrained from saying) enough to give Scott McClellan and Donald Rumsfeld heartburn. She hasn’t exactly knitted the hawks a sweater.

Unfortunately, the focus on Lynch lures eyes away from the ongoing war. No one expects Diane Sawyer or Katie Couric to do hour-long features on transfer tubes and amputees, but their Lynch specials should at least display a banner comparing our dead against theirs. They could call it the War Score. Absent any discernible benefits, we need some way to see who’s surviving more.

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