Editor’s Letter: O.C.’s Last War

The first time the United States went to war in Iraq, in 1991, I was a reporter at The Orange County Register. Because there was such a large military presence in Orange County at the time, including the Marine Corps air stations at El Toro and Tustin, the newspaper was all over the story. After all, those were our neighbors and kids fighting over there.
Part of my job then was to help interpret the television coverage coming out of the war zone. I often did so in front of the Register’s own TV cameras, at the now-defunct Orange County NewsChannel, and I once remember urging local viewers not to rely on video released by the Pentagon to assess how the war was going. We were seeing a lot of carefully vetted footage of jets rocketing from aircraft carrier decks, and laser-guided smart bombs obliterating designated targets. But it all seemed pretty bloodless, making the war look vaguely glorious and no more deadly than a video game.
All of this came back to me while editing Gary A. Warner’s “O.C.’s Last War” story. We’ve had troops in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq since 2003, but Orange County feels comfortably removed from all that today. Our two big bases have closed. The defense industry that built up around them has dwindled. The tearful deployments, homecomings, and funerals are still happening but, for the most part, they’re happening somewhere else. War feels even more distant than it did a quarter century ago, and I worry about this. Something so bloody, brutal, and expensive should never become an abstraction.

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