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The Iraq story: how troops see it

Old 11-28-05, 12:24 PM
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The Iraq story: how troops see it

http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/1128/p...smi.html?s=hns

BROOK PARK, OHIO – Cpl. Stan Mayer has seen the worst of war. In the leaves of his photo album, there are casual memorials to the cost of the Iraq conflict - candid portraits of friends who never came home and graphic pictures of how insurgent bombs have shredded steel and bone.

Yet the Iraq of Corporal Mayer's memory is not solely a place of death and loss. It is also a place of hope. It is the hope of the town of Hit, which he saw transform from an insurgent stronghold to a place where kids played on Marine trucks. It is the hope of villagers who whispered where roadside bombs were hidden. But most of all, it is the hope he saw in a young Iraqi girl who loved pens and Oreo cookies.

Like many soldiers and marines returning from Iraq, Mayer looks at the bleak portrayal of the war at home with perplexity - if not annoyance. It is a perception gap that has put the military and media at odds, as troops complain that the media care only about death tolls, while the media counter that their job is to look at the broader picture, not through the soda straw of troops' individual experiences.

Yet as perceptions about Iraq have neared a tipping point in Congress, some soldiers and marines worry that their own stories are being lost in the cacophony of terror and fear. They acknowledge that their experience is just that - one person's experience in one corner of a war-torn country. Yet amid the terrible scenes of reckless hate and lives lost, many members of one of the hardest-hit units insist that they saw at least the spark of progress.

"We know we made a positive difference," says Cpl. Jeff Schuller of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, who spent all but one week of his eight-month tour with Mayer. "I can't say at what level, but I know that where we were, we made it better than it was when we got there."

It is the simplest measure of success, but for the marine, soldier, or sailor, it may be the only measure of success. In a business where life and death rest on instinctive adherence to thoroughly ingrained lessons, accomplishment is ticked off in a list of orders followed and tasks completed. And by virtually any measure, America's servicemen and women are accomplishing the day-to-day tasks set before them.

Yet for the most part, America is less interested in the success of Operation Iron Fist, for instance, than the course of the entire Iraq enterprise. "What the national news media try to do is figure out: What's the overall verdict?" says Brig. Gen. Volney Warner, deputy commandant of the Army Command and General Staff College. "Soldiers don't do overall verdicts."

Yet soldiers clearly feel that important elements are being left out of the media's overall verdict. On this day, a group of Navy medics gather around a table in the Cleveland-area headquarters of the 3/25 - a Marine reserve unit that has converted a low-slung school of pale brick and linoleum tile into its spectacularly red-and-gold offices.

Their conversation could be a road map of the kind of stories that military folks say the mainstream media are missing. One colleague made prosthetics for an Iraqi whose hand and foot had been cut off by insurgents. When other members of the unit were sweeping areas for bombs, the medics made a practice of holding impromptu infant clinics on the side of the road.

They remember one Iraqi man who could not hide his joy at the marvel of an electric razor. And at the end of the 3/25's tour, a member of the Iraqi Army said: "Marines are not friends; marines are brothers," says Lt. Richard Malmstrom, the battalion's chaplain.

"It comes down to the familiar debate about whether reporters are ignoring the good news," says Peter Hart, an analyst at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, a usually left-leaning media watchdog in New York.

In Hit, where marines stayed in force to keep the peace, the progress was obvious, say members of the 3/25. The residents started burning trash and fixing roads - a sign that the city was returning to a sense of normalcy. Several times, "people came up to us [and said]: 'There's a bomb on the side of the road. Don't go there,' " says Pfc. Andrew Howland.

Part of the reason that such stories usually aren't told is simply the nature of the war. Kidnappings and unclear battle lines have made war correspondents' jobs almost impossible. Travel around the country is dangerous, and some reporters never venture far from their hotels. "It has to have some effect on what we see: You end up with reporting that waits for the biggest explosion of the day," says Mr. Hart.

To the marines of the 3/25, the explosions clearly do not tell the whole story. Across America, many readers know the 3/25 only as the unit that lost 15 marines in less than a week - nine of them in the deadliest roadside bombing against US forces during the war. When the count of Americans killed in Iraq reached 2,000, this unit again found itself in the stage lights of national notice as one of the hardest hit.

But that is not the story they tell. It is more than just the dire tone of coverage - though that is part of it. It is that Iraq has touched some of these men in ways that even they have trouble explaining. This, after all, has not been a normal war. Corporals Mayer and Schuller went over not to conquer a country, but to help win its hearts and minds. In some cases, though, it won theirs.

Schuller, a heavyweight college wrestler with a thatch of blond hair and engine blocks for arms, cannot help smiling when he speaks of giving an old man a lighter: "He thought it was the coolest thing." Yet both he and the blue-eyed, square-jawed Mayer pause for a moment before they talk about the two 9-year-old Iraqis whom members of their battalion dubbed their "girlfriends."

The first time he saw them, Mayer admits that he was making the calculations of a man in the midst of a war. He was tired, he was battered, and he was back at a Hit street corner that he had patrolled many times before. In Iraq, repetition of any sort could be an invitation of the wrong sort - an event for which insurgents could plan. So Mayer and Schuller took out some of the candy they carried, thinking that if children were around, perhaps the terrorists wouldn't attack.

It was a while before the children realized that these two marines, laden with arms to the limit of physical endurance, were not going to hurt them. But among the children who eventually came, climbing on the pair's truck and somersaulting in the street, there were always the same two girls. When they went back to base, they began to hoard Oreos and other candy in a box.

"They became our one little recess from the war," says Mayer. "You're seeing some pretty ridiculous tragedies way too frequently, and you start to get jaded. The kids on that street - I got to realize I was still a human being to them."

It happened one day when he was on patrol. Out of nowhere, a car turned the corner and headed down the alley at full speed. "A car coming at you real fast and not stopping in Iraq is not what you want to see," says Mayer. Yet instead of jumping in his truck, he stood in the middle of the street and pushed the kids behind him.

The car turned. Now, Mayer and Schuller can finish each other's sentences when they think about the experience. "You really start to believe that you protect the innocent," says Schuller. "It sounds like a stupid cliché...."

"But it's not," adds Mayer. "You are in the service of others."

For Mayer, who joined the reserves because he wanted to do something bigger than himself, and for Schuller, a third-generation marine, Iraq has given them a sense of achievement. Now when they look at the black-and-white pictures of marines past in the battalion headquarters, "We're adding to that legacy," says Schuller.

This is what they wish to share with the American people - and is also the source of their frustration. Their eight months in Iraq changed their lives, and they believe it has changed the lives of the Iraqis they met as well. On the day he left, Mayer gave his "girlfriend" a bunch of pens - her favorite gift - wrapped in a paper that had a picture of the American flag, the Iraqi flag, and a smiley face. The man with the lighter asked Schuller if he was coming back. He will if called upon, he says.

Whether or not these notes of grace and kindness are as influential as the dirge of war is open to question. But many in the military feel that they should at least be a part of the conversation.

Says Warner of reaching an overall verdict: "I'm not sure that reporting on terrorist bombings with disproportionate ink is adequately answering that question."
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Old 11-28-05, 01:09 PM
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You know, I'm not a fan of this war, but I'm aware of the every day good deeds that are done over there, and the reason I'm aware of them is through the mainstream media. I don't think any rational person believes that it's all death and destruction.

That being said, it IS the responsibility of the media to look at the big picture, and to hold the government (and big business, and individuals) accountable for their actions.

So I guess I don't see the problem between the media and the military, because, more often than not, I see the media focused on getting the troops home (and out of harm's way) rather than demonizing them. It's the top people in the government being taken to tasks, not the grunts.

It's back to the whole "Support Our Troops" nonsense. It makes perfect sense to, on one hand, disapprove of the war but appreciate the dedication from the men and women of the armed forces. I choose to "support the troops" by wanting them back home, safe and sound. It's my perception that "the media" feels the same way.
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Old 11-28-05, 01:41 PM
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I choose to "support the troops" by wanting them back home, safe and sound. It's my perception that "the media" feels the same way.
Shouldn't the main concern be though how the troops feel about it?
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Old 11-28-05, 02:33 PM
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Support the firefighters. Pass legislation to just let houses burn to the ground.

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Old 11-28-05, 02:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Thor Simpson
Support the firefighters. Pass legistlation to just let houses burn to the ground.
I support firefighters. I don't support the fire chief pre-emptively soaking the house down the block when it's not on fire.
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Old 11-28-05, 02:39 PM
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So I guess I don't see the problem between the media and the military, because, more often than not, I see the media focused on getting the troops home (and out of harm's way) rather than demonizing them. It's the top people in the government being taken to tasks, not the grunts.
I don't believe that is the main focus of the media at all.

I believe the media, in general, takes an anti-war stance when the U. S. pursues what they see as an interest driven policy. They don't seem to take that stand when they see it done for other reasons (humanitarian, for example) - witness Bosnia & Kosovo.

Most of the media, IMO, adhere to the McGovern type foreign policy - that being, in part, we're generally wrong when we pursue what is in the best national interest of the United States.
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Old 11-28-05, 02:41 PM
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Originally Posted by classicman2
I don't believe that is the main focus of the media at all.

I believe the media, in general, takes an anti-war stance when the U. S. pursues what they see as an interest driven policy. They don't seem to take that stand when they see it done for other reasons (humanitarian, for example) - witness Bosnia & Kosovo.

Most of the media, IMO, adhere to the McGovern type foreign policy - that being, in part, we're generally wrong when we pursue what is in the best national interest of the United States.
There's some truth to that.

On the other hand, I wasn't paying attention to the media spin on Gulf War I. Wasn't that in our national interest though?
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Old 11-28-05, 02:47 PM
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Originally Posted by VinVega
On the other hand, I wasn't paying attention to the media spin on Gulf War I. Wasn't that in our national interest though?
But there was a 'grand coalition' in the Gulf War.

The media seems to love 'grand coalitions.'

Seriously - the media perceived there was naked aggression by Iraq against a neighboring country, Kuwait.

For some of us who believe that our foreign policy should be driven only by national interests, we saw it differently. It was Iraq's intentions toward Saudia Arabia that we were concerned about.
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Old 11-28-05, 03:24 PM
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Originally Posted by classicman2
I don't believe that is the main focus of the media at all.

I believe the media, in general, takes an anti-war stance when the U. S. pursues what they see as an interest driven policy. They don't seem to take that stand when they see it done for other reasons (humanitarian, for example) - witness Bosnia & Kosovo.

Most of the media, IMO, adhere to the McGovern type foreign policy - that being, in part, we're generally wrong when we pursue what is in the best national interest of the United States.
Let me clarify: When it comes to the troops in specific, the media is more focused on the hardships the troops (and their familes at home) face rather than demonizing them for being in Iraq in the first place. Their general perception of Iraq is different.

To address your last paragraph, I disagree. For example, maybe it was the immediacy of it, but the media seemed to be all for us going into Afghanistan, since that was a direct response to a direct threat. Since Iraq has been far more vague, a real "just trust us and shut up about it" deal from the administration, the media has been more vocal as they try to hold the administration accountable.

Keep in mind that this is not ALL media people...there are good and bad eggs in every bunch, but that's been my perception as a casual observer of the Iraq coverage.
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Old 11-28-05, 04:58 PM
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Originally Posted by nemein
Shouldn't the main concern be though how the troops feel about it?
Ummm, no.

I have the utmost respect and regard for anyone who serves in the armed forces. But this isn't about emotions.

If there are sound reasons for being there, with realistically obtainable objectives, it doesn't matter how the troops feel about it. If they feel good about being there... well, that's nice and all, but does squat for justifying the decision and implementation.

If there aren't sound reasons, then I can see how some would point to the troops feelings as a way to justify it.. "see, the troops think we should be there!"
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Old 11-28-05, 06:01 PM
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Originally Posted by sracer
Ummm, no.

I have the utmost respect and regard for anyone who serves in the armed forces. But this isn't about emotions.

If there are sound reasons for being there, with realistically obtainable objectives, it doesn't matter how the troops feel about it. If they feel good about being there... well, that's nice and all, but does squat for justifying the decision and implementation.

If there aren't sound reasons, then I can see how some would point to the troops feelings as a way to justify it.. "see, the troops think we should be there!"
Agreed. Society as a whole should be responsible for what happens rather than one subset. If the majority of society deems that it be better that we pull out of Iraq (Australia included), then we should. If the majority deem it better that we stay, then we should stay.

What the troops think is inconsequential for the most part. Sure, they're doing a great job in tough circumstances, but they're still only a subset of the society at large.

And what if they didn't WANT to be there? Do we simply say that we should pull out because they'd prefer to be home? Or do we still look at the larger picture?

If we say that it's solely the troops' decision, then an analogy could be drawn with prisoners in jail. They're the ones IN prison, so shouldn't they have a say in whether they get released?

So no - IMO, we shouldn't simply view whether we continue to stay in Iraq solely on what the troops think.
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Old 11-28-05, 06:28 PM
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Originally Posted by sracer
Ummm, no.
I believe you've misunderstood what I was saying. We were talking about how things are being reported in Iraq. Draven made a statement about the responsibility of the media to look at the big picture, "I don't see the problem between the media and the military" and he's feelings about it. His final comment was how he thought he and the media had the same approach/feelings so he doesn't mind the way the news from Iraq is being portrayed. The key element he left out of his analysis IMHO though is how do the troops feel about it. I agree we shouldn't look to the troops on the ground to "justify" an action in the sense you're talking about. Policy should be set by the elected officials (not the troops NOR the media). If you are going to make a judgement call about the way things are being reported (which again is what we are talking about here) then it makes sense to me to atleast consider the people that are being reported on and whether or not they feel it is accurate.
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Old 11-28-05, 06:32 PM
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Originally Posted by naughty jonny
What the troops think is inconsequential for the most part. Sure, they're doing a great job in tough circumstances, but they're still only a subset of the society at large.

And what if they didn't WANT to be there? Do we simply say that we should pull out because they'd prefer to be home? Or do we still look at the larger picture?
Not in this case though IMHO, since we are not talking about why they are there but how their actions are being reported (or not reported as we frequently seem to hear from people coming back and seeing the news). If you want to talk about the "larger picture" of why we are over there that's another story and I agree the groundpounders really don't have much say. I think it is valid to consider whether or not they think the news coming from Iraq is being accurately reported though.


How are we supposed to get an accurate assassement of what is happening over there if the media refuses to cover the whole story? I find it disengenous that some are willing to discount the opinions of the troops but don't seem to question the motivations of the media/reporting at all.

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Old 11-28-05, 07:38 PM
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The media and the left in this gained power by sinking the US war effort in Vietnam. Their power over information is waning because people are able to use the internet to get more balanced news coverage. Their way of getting that power back is to try to sink this war effort. The media in this country were overwhelmingly against this war and they want to show all the little people how right they were.
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Old 11-28-05, 11:03 PM
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Originally Posted by nemein
How are we supposed to get an accurate assassement of what is happening over there if the media refuses to cover the whole story? I find it disengenous that some are willing to discount the opinions of the troops but don't seem to question the motivations of the media/reporting at all.
Certainly agree that the media should give the whole story and not just sell the bias they want to sell. Where possible, both left-wing and right-wing politics should both be avoided and the facts themselves reported.

Opinion pieces, when used, should be clearly labelled as such to differentiate them as such.
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Old 11-29-05, 12:02 AM
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Originally Posted by bhk
The media and the left in this gained power by sinking the US war effort in Vietnam. Their power over information is waning because people are able to use the internet to get more balanced news coverage. Their way of getting that power back is to try to sink this war effort. The media in this country were overwhelmingly against this war and they want to show all the little people how right they were.
So now the loss in Vietnam is the fault of the media and the left? Sigh...this ought to be good. Let's hear the reasoning behind this. While you're at it, tell us the scenario in which you envisioned that Vietnam would've been "won".
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Old 11-29-05, 12:26 AM
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Originally Posted by bhk
The media and the left in this gained power by sinking the US war effort in Vietnam. Their power over information is waning because people are able to use the internet to get more balanced news coverage. Their way of getting that power back is to try to sink this war effort. The media in this country were overwhelmingly against this war and they want to show all the little people how right they were.
Well, it was either that or the millions of dead Vietnamese and thousands of dead U.S. soldiers.
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Old 11-29-05, 01:07 AM
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Originally Posted by Draven
That being said, it IS the responsibility of the media to look at the big picture, and to hold the government (and big business, and individuals) accountable for their actions.

No, it IS not the media's responsibility to hold anybody responsible for their actions, that's our job as citizens. I didn't elect any news media talking head to represent me. The media's 'job' is to simply report the friggin' news, not be a part of it.

Of course that's not how it actually is anymore, but that's how it's supposed to be.
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Old 11-29-05, 04:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Mutley Hyde
No, it IS not the media's responsibility to hold anybody The media's 'job' is to simply report the friggin' news, not be a part of it.
As a member of the media, I agree.
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Old 11-29-05, 06:59 AM
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In wartime we need to know what's going on, and we sure won't get it in official reports and assessments. If not for the media we wouldn't be aware of the negative things that are important - My Lai, Abu Ghraib etc., the information that the government and military brass would ratherf we didn't know. If the media had been more agressive in factfinding before the war, maybe we wouldn't be there.
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Old 11-29-05, 07:16 AM
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If you put much trust in what the media was reporting in Vietnam, well...................
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Old 11-29-05, 07:37 AM
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Originally Posted by bhk
The media and the left in this gained power by sinking the US war effort in Vietnam. Their power over information is waning because people are able to use the internet to get more balanced news coverage. Their way of getting that power back is to try to sink this war effort. The media in this country were overwhelmingly against this war and they want to show all the little people how right they were.
Actually, I thought the media was pretty gung-ho in the immediate run up and the initial invasion. I remember Dan Rather coming on saying that when my country goes to war, I want them to win. He and a lot of the media seem to have flipped to anti-war now, but there was very little anti-war talk from the 1-2 month period before the attack and maybe until the early summer. I think the drama of the whole build up to the war was the story for the media and they ran with it.

To say that the media lost the Vietnam war for us is a complete joke. Fighting a war with one hand tied behind your back is what lost us that war. The "best and the brightest" in Washington lost us that war.
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Old 11-29-05, 07:42 AM
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Actually, I thought the media was pretty gung-ho in the immediate run up and the initial invasion.
What invasion - Afghanistan?

If you're talking about Iraq - what media? Maybe Fox.

Addendum: We didn't lose the Vietnam War. There's no doubt that the media greatly distorted what the military situation was in Vietnam.
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Old 11-29-05, 08:43 AM
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Addendum: We didn't lose the Vietnam War. There's no doubt that the media greatly distorted what the military situation was in Vietnam.
In an Aug. 3, 1995, interview in The Wall Street Journal, Bui Tin, a former colonel in the North Vietnamese army, called the American peace movement "essential" to the North Vietnamese victory.

"Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9 a.m. to follow the growth of the American anti-war movement," he said. "Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and ministers gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses."
The US lost, in part because Uncle Walter Cronkite decided he'd had enough and threw in the white towel.
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Old 11-29-05, 08:48 AM
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Regarding Vietnam, the media did a great deal to sink the war effort. Examples being, turning the Tet offensive from a great victory into a defeat. Cronkite telling America that "Vietnam was unwinnable" isn't exactly an impartial media. Fact is the Viet Cong were completely and utterly destroyed as a fighting force for several years afterwards. The media reporting that the US embassy had been over-run (it had not) and going on ad nauseum about the destruction of Hue, didn't help the cause. Another example, the constant comparison in the media of Khe Sanh to Dien Bien Phu. It seemed the media wanted a repeat of Dien Bien Phu, when the base was never in nearly the danger Dien Bien Phu was (NVA was never able to close the airstrip). Peter Arnett and the "destroy the village in order to save it", which was never corroborated. The media post Tet did their damndest to turn the perception of the American public from pro-Vietnam to anti-Vietnam and they succeeded admirably.
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