What happened? can be a dangerous question. For example…
- Criminal defense attorneys depend on their ability to poke holes in our hazy “eyewitness” recollections.
- Polemicist and filmmaker Errol Morris has created a entire genre out of casting doubt on what images really depict.
- Stieg Larsson used interpretation of an old newspaper photo as the key MacGuffin in his crime-solving novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
And, now, there’s Sgt. Dakota L. Meyer, USMC (ret.), and what happened Sept. 8, 2009, near the village of Ganjgal, Afghanistan. That’s when and where Meyer was a 21-year-old Marine corporal serving as a scout-sniper with Embedded Training Team 2-8.
The clear consensus is that Meyer earned the Medal of Honor that day. Accounts of what he actually did, however, vary…despite the testimony of several eyewitnesses and the rigorous review and vetting by the Marine Corps and others.
A McClatchy Newspapers correspondent embedded with Meyer’s unit, for example, has agreed that the young Marine richly deserves the Medal of Honor. Nevertheless, in a Dec. 14, 2011, story based on the reporter’s findings, the paper declared that the official account of Meyer’s actions was “marred by errors and inconsistencies, ascribe actions to Meyer that are unverified or didn’t happen and create precise, almost novelistic detail out of the jumbled and contradictory recollections of the Marines, soldiers and pilots engaged in battle.”
So, once again, I am reminded of the fog of war. The phrase — coined by 18th-century Prussian soldier and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz and popularized by Robert McNamara in Morris’s 2003 documentary — most likely captures Dakota Meyer’s frame of mind that fateful day…and since.
The concept of the fog of war helps explain the difficulty we humans have in discerning either facts or truth, especially under stressful circumstances. And always will.