Maneuvering On Military Territory


April 07, 1991|By Elizabeth Large

Staff writer A. M. Chaplin says she didn't know much about the military when she started this week's cover story. She'd gotten interested in the subject of war colleges when she read an article about them in The Atlantic: She had never realized they existed before. She wanted to find out more, maybe even write her own story, but she wasn't sure the subject would be of general interest. And then the war in the gulf broke out.

One thing A. M. did know about the military, though, was that it wasn't terribly fond of the press. "Not after Vietnam," she says. "Besides, even without Vietnam there was a culture clash: Journalists are supposed to question authority, and military people are supposed to salute it. That's why when I set off for the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., and the National War College in Washington, I didn't exactly expect to be welcomed with trust and affection."

And she wasn't. At both places anybody visiting had to be cleared through a gate manned by military police, and once she got inside, the PR officers didn't want to let her out of their sight for so much as a minute. In fact, she says, they accompanied a male colleague into the restroom.

"I could hardly blame them. Somebody had told me that not too long before a reporter had snuck into one of the war colleges and then written a story about how lax security was. Perhaps he figured Iraqi terrorists could follow his example, except they'd plant bombs instead of writing stories. It didn't seem too likely to me, but what do I know?"

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