DOD's Private Lynch-ing and Racism

Chris Brady cdbrady at
Sun Nov 9 12:57:42 MST 2003

Black POW’s treatment sign of double standard

 Knight Ridder Newspapers
 Posted on Fri, Nov. 07, 2003

  WASHINGTON - On Sunday, NBC will air its made-for-TV movie celebrating
Pvt. Jessica Lynch, whose capture and dramatic rescue is the feel-good
story of America’s war with Iraq.

  But some African-Americans don’t feel so good about Lynch’s story.
Instead, they ask: What about Shoshana Johnson?

  Johnson, an Army specialist, belonged to the same 507th Maintenance
Company as Lynch. Unlike Lynch, Johnson fought to stave off their Iraqi
captors. Like Lynch, she sustained serious injuries.

  But only Lynch got the headlines, the TV movie, the prime-time
television interviews and a biography penned by a Pulitzer Prize-winning
writer. Lynch, in short, got the full American celebrity treatment,
while Johnson largely got ignored. Many African-Americans think that’s
simply because she didn’t have the right “face.”

  African-American suspicions of a racial double standard were
reinforced last month when it was revealed that Johnson, who was shot in
both ankles, will get only 30 percent of her monthly pay in disability
benefits. Lynch, who had a head injury and broken bones in her right
arm, right leg, thighs and ankle, will get 80 percent disability pay.
Lynch’s new book, “I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story,” claims
that she also was raped and sodomized by her Iraqi captors.

  “Shoshana is getting the shaft, and people are outraged about it,”
said Mary Mason, a Philadelphia talk-radio host whose show was bombarded
with callers complaining about the disparity in treatment. “It’s
ridiculous, and complete racism.”

  Johnson and her family in El Paso, Texas, say they have no proof that
the issue is rooted in racism, but they’ve engaged the Rev. Jesse
Jackson to press the Army to increase her disability benefits.

  Lynch, through a spokesman, stressed that she and Johnson are good
friends and expressed hope that “Shoshana gets 100 percent” of what she

  Others think race hovers around the edges of this story. They see
Johnson’s plight as another chapter in the long struggle of blacks
trying to get their due from white society.

  “There before you is the American dilemma: We are unfair in treatment
and view when it comes to people of color,” said William Smith, a
Vietnam veteran and media adviser for the National Association for Black

  Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at
Syracuse University, said he doubted that race was the reason that Lynch
became a media celebrity. But, he added, with her good looks and
compelling story, Lynch looked like a figure from Central Casting at a
time when the Pentagon desperately needed one.

  And the early version of Lynch’s story was good - too good. The
Washington Post’s initial front-page report said Lynch had suffered
knife and bullet wounds while ferociously fighting off her attackers.
Pentagon officials later said Lynch was hurt when her Humvee crashed
after being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Lynch, in an ABC
interview to air Tuesday, says her weapon jammed and she never fired a
shot. She also criticizes the military for hyping her story.

  Army officials say both women’s disability benefits are based on the
extent of their injuries and how they will affect their employment and

  “There is no double standard in the Army,” Army officials said in a
written release about the controversy. “Every soldier is treated equally
when they go before a Physical Evaluation Board and in all situations
race is not an issue.”

  Lynch and Johnson get different benefits because a military Physical
Evaluation Board placed them in different categories, the Army said.

  Lynch was put on a Temporary Disability List, meaning she can stay in
the Army for up to five years and her condition can be re-evaluated
periodically. If her condition doesn’t improve, she could be medically
discharged. Her disability payments could be lowered upon review, Army
officials say.

  Though Johnson is awaiting a final decision, her injuries were judged
to be stable but permanent, and the board recommended that she be
discharged from the Army. Johnson plans to appeal the board’s
recommendation next week, according to Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., a
member of the Congressional Black Caucus who’s been working with the
Johnson family.

  Donna Brazile said she couldn’t help seeing the Johnson-Lynch
disparities as a black-white issue. The African-American political
strategist, who managed Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000, said
she wasn’t going to watch Lynch’s TV movie.

  “Jessica’s story is a compelling story, but so is Shoshana’s,” Brazile
said. “My reason for not tuning in is simple: I am tired of the double

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