NY Times' Dao Sees Marines Leaving War With Hope, But Edited Out a Marine's Hope in 2005

On Sunday, New York Times military affairs reporter James Dao filed from Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan on the Marine Corps leaving the country, "As Marines Exit Afghan Province, a Feeling That a Campaign Was Worth It."

Yet when a Marine wrote a letter, found after his death, that his Iraq service had been worth it, a 2005 story by Dao clipped the letter to instead emphasize the Marine's doomed sense of foreboding, diminishing his memory in the process.

From Dao's Sunday story from Camp Leatherneck:

On a whirlwind Christmas tour of Helmand Province in 2010, Gen. James F. Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, visited 11 bases in a single day. At one, thousands of Marines showed up for prime rib, dust-covered and grim-faced after weeks of dodging and delivering gunfire, seeing comrades killed, and sleeping on dirt. Helmand had become Marineistan.

Against the judgment of some Pentagon officials, the corps had made the province the defining battleground of its Afghan campaign, concentrating forces here and launching aggressive assaults into Taliban-controlled districts. Along the way, the Marines took some of the heaviest casualties of the war: about 360 killed in action and more than 4,700 wounded, many grievously.

Today, the Marine force in Helmand has shrunk to fewer than 7,000, from a peak of 21,000. Of 240 NATO bases that once dotted the province, just 44 remain. Daily firefights have been replaced by occasional skirmishes, and casualties are rare -- one Marine killed in action this year. At sprawling Camp Leatherneck, their headquarters, lots once packed with armored vehicles are as desolate as frontier ghost towns.


But as the Marines shift from Helmand to assignments in the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific, a question looms: Was it all worth it?

General Amos says he has little doubt that it was. The number of violent events, from gunshots to roadside bombs, has dropped in almost every district since 2010, Marine commanders say, though the figures are still being finalized....as General Amos toured outposts in two districts, the war felt all but over.

Compare that mostly optimistic account to Dao's October 26, 2005 story about war casualties in Iraq, "2,000 Dead: As Iraq Tours Stretch On, a Grim Mark," which included the deceptively edited letter home from Marine Cpl. Jeffrey B. Starr.

As Michelle Malkin explained in a column on Dao's piece:

The macabre, Vietnam-evoking piece appeared prominently on page A2. Among those profiled were Marines from the First Battalion of the Fifth Marine Regiment, including Cpl. Jeffrey B. Starr.

Malkin quoted from Dao's account:

Another member of the 1/5, Cpl. Jeffrey B. Starr, rejected a $24,000 bonus to re-enlist. Cpl. Starr believed strongly in the war, his father said, but was tired of the harsh life and nearness of death in Iraq. So he enrolled at Everett Community College near his parents' home in Snohomish, Wash., planning to study psychology after his enlistment ended in August.

But he died in a firefight in Ramadi on April 30 during his third tour in Iraq. He was 22.

Sifting through Cpl. Starr's laptop computer after his death, his father found a letter to be delivered to the Marine's girlfriend. 'I kind of predicted this,' Cpl. Starr wrote of his own death. 'A third time just seemed like I'm pushing my chances.'

But Malkin received information that changed the atmosphere of that quote: "The paper's excerpt of Cpl. Starr's letter leaves the reader with the distinct impression that this young Marine was darkly resigned to a senseless death. The truth is exactly the opposite. Late last week, I received a letter from Cpl. Starr's uncle, Timothy Lickness. He wanted you to know the rest of the story -- and the parts of Cpl. Starr's letter that the Times failed to include (in bold):

Obviously if you are reading this then I have died in Iraq. I kind of predicted this, that is why I'm writing this in November. A third time just seemed like I'm pushing my chances. I don't regret going, everybody dies but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it's not to me. I'm here helping these people, so that they can live the way we live. Not have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. To do what they want with their lives. To me that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark.