A Brief Comparison of Haditha and St. Lo

Everyone has heard of the "killings at Haditha," even though the military investigation of what happened there is still underway. Has anyone heard of the "killings at St. Lo" in July, 1944? A comparison of the New York Times coverage of those two events is instructive.

A Google News search of Haditha + killings + New York Times yields 891 hits as of Sunday noon. The articles on this subject in the Times are driving the national and international news in all media on this subject. The Times and its reporters are cited in most of these articles.

But what did the Times run about the killings at St. Lo in July, 1944?

It ran no stories, front page or otherwise, on St. Lo when it occurred. (Operation Cobra was intensive bombing by the US Air Force, in support of the effort to break out of St. Lo, and move against the Germans across France.)

The COBRA strikes killed slightly over 100 GIs and wounded about 500. Without a doubt, the strikes were badly executed, and serious command errors were made..... Finally, a formation of five medium bombers from the Ninth Air Force dropped seven miles north of the target, amid the 30th Infantry Division. This latter strike inflicted the heaviest casualties--25 killed and 131 wounded--on the first day that COBRA was attempted.

Lt. Gen. Leslie J. McNair, former Commander of Army Ground Forces and currently the "commander" of the fictional "1st Army Group," was killed in his foxhole by a direct bomb hit as he waited to observe the follow-up ground attack

No mention is made of French civilian casualties is made in this Air Force account of the "friendly fire" bombings around St. Lo, but surely there were many of those, also. Was the New York Times aware of this mass killing of American, British and Canadian troops, and of French civilians, a month after D-Day? How could it not be aware of an incident of this magnitude?

But what did the Times publish during the war about the killings at St. Lo? Nothing.

Why? Most likely because the then Editors of the Times realized that publishing that story then would have harmed the war effort. And defeating the Nazis was more important than revealing, then, the tragic mistakes that led to these killing. (BTW, the Air Force concluded that the off-target bombings were the fault of the weather, and mistakes made by certain pilots and officers in targeting, but no one was convicted in any Court Martial of any offense.)

What conclusion follows from the Times’ relentless coverage of Haditha, where the facts are not yet known, compared to its non-coverage of the huge military and civilian death toll at St. Lo? The logical conclusion is this is not your grandfather’s New York Times. That newspaper today is incapable of holding back a story that will get people killed. It is incapable, even, of holding the story until the facts are known.

The conclusion is that today’s Times is a willing participant in the effort to paint the entire American military as murderers. It should know better. Events like these happen in wartime, and non-combatants are killed, and Americans, along with a number of the enemy. The editorial policies of the Times today will certainly lead to the killing of more Americans. That was not the editorial policy of the Times during WW II.

Source for events at St. Lo: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/AAF/AAF-H-DDay/

This is an Air Force historian’s account of the use of air power for the D-Day invasion and beyond. The causes of the killings at St. Lo are described on pages 24-25.

John_Armor@aya.yale.edu