As the combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom winds down, it is instructive to look back at how this war was covered and the impact it has had.
The Department of Defense's decision to embed about 500 reporters in the field with American and British troops delivered words and images of war in a time frame and with a level of detail that simply was not possible in previous conflicts. Many of those images we will not soon forget.
It seems inconceivable that the public would witness the covert rescue of an American prisoners of war. But when Marines staged the daring and successful rescue of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch from a hospital in Baghdad, we went with them via television video.
Lynch's rescue was a dramatic highlight of this war, and our ability to see it helped shape our understanding of what our troops faced. There were other moments, good and bad, that stand out:
n The freeing of seven American POWs -- bearded and dressed in pajamas -- Sunday.
n Iraqis celebrating in the streets of Baghdad and working with American forces to bring down the statue of Saddam Hussein.
n Images of barely visible reporters wearing ski goggles to bring live coverage of the war in the midst of a sandstorm.
n The incessant bombing of Baghdad.
n An American soldier dancing and leading Iraqi children in a rap song.
n And an American tank firing on the Palestine Hotel, killing at least one journalist and wounding others.
Overall, the war in Iraq, was a resounding military success. Coalition forces moved swiftly through the country and into Baghdad, toppling Saddam's regime with stunning precision. The news coverage -- whether it was bombs lighting up the Baghdad sky or tanks rolling unimpeded into the city's center -- captured that success. But on some levels, particularly for those in combat, the war was a gritty, grueling and often chaotic process. About 118 U.S. service members from 38 states have died in the war. Another 31 British soldiers have been killed. Two thirds of those killed died in combat. The rest died in accidents or mishaps. The news coverage showed us that side of the war as well, whether it was hungry and homesick soldiers or generals grumbling about supplies and personnel.
In an age of the Internet and multiple 24-hour news channels, an event such as the war with Iraq can seem overwhelming. Some would argue it is unnecessary. But given the gravity that the decision to go to war carries with it, overwhelming coverage is preferable to not enough.
News coverage of this war has been as open and as intense as any in history. We hope, because of that, the public has a better appreciation of what our service men and women face on the fields of battle. Surely the next time our nation enters into conflict, we will do so armed with knowledge and perspective shaped by what we have seen and heard in Iraq.
Media coverage has been a critical aspect of this war. In their efforts to deliver that coverage, a dozen journalists died and several others went missing. Their work and the work of so many other journalists in Iraq should be saluted.