Hindsight is 20/20 in histories of Iraq war

Both PBS and MTV present first-person narratives from soldiers in Iraq, offering two valuable oral histories of a war that began nearly one year ago.

"True Life: I'm Living in Iraq" (9 p.m., MTV) provides viewers with an intimate look at the day-to-day, or rather minute-to-minute, existence of several members of an Army unit as they patrol Baghdad, guard the meeting of a local council, teach English to children in the streets, and try to grab some sleep as gunfire breaks out close to their base. One young soldier tells how he has not been the same since an officer was blown to bits while standing right next to him. "Hours later," he explains, "I was still finding body parts in my pockets."

True to its cinema-verite heritage, some of the "True Life" scenes of the soldiers and Iraqi children reminded me of Roberto Rossellini's "Paisan," depicting American GI's with pint-sized Italian street urchins in 1944. "True Life" also focuses on several 20-something Iraqis, including a would-be film student, who felt liberated by Saddam's ouster but at the same time must attend a gutted university destroyed by postwar looters. A young Army nurse shows us her daily rounds, caring for wounded soldiers as well as both friendly and hostile Iraqis. Once on duty, all of her patients are the same to her. "I take care of my guys," she explains.

  • If journalism is the first draft of history, "The Invasion of Iraq" on "Frontline" (8 p.m., PBS) offers a drastic rewrite informed by a year of hindsight and sobering reflection. "Invasion" presents a battle-by-battle chronicle of the drive to Baghdad, featuring interviews with soldiers and officers on both sides of the conflict.

One Iraqi general describes how his army simply dissolved. "I don't think more than 15 percent of the armed forces actually fought." American officers continue to second-guess the Pentagon's decision to send a relatively small force to invade and occupy Iraq. This required the forces to strike with unprecedented speed. The swift campaign resulted in logistical problems during battle and may have contributed to postwar chaos.

The rapid "decapitation" of the Hussein regime left a void. "You had no Iraq institutions to co-opt," says Allied Ground Command Lt. Gen. David McKiernon. "No Iraqi army, no Iraqi police ... a vacuum was created. And into this vacuum flowed first chaos and then a violent insurgency."

"Invasion" also reflects on lapses in intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction and the expectation that Allied troops would be met as liberators. Several high-ranking Army officials also chide the Pentagon for its arrogance.

Tonight's other highlights

  • A fifth All-Star departs on "Survivor" (7 p.m., CBS).
  • Angelina Jolie stars in the 2001 video game-inspired thriller "Laura Croft: Tomb Raider" (7 p.m., Fox).
  • Meredith appears with the man of her choice on "The Bachelorette: After the Final Rose" (7 p.m., ABC).
  • "Hollywood at Large Awards" (7:30 p.m., Court) honors the best in big-screen crime dramas.
  • A murder victim is found stuffed in a tire on "CSI" (8 p.m., CBS).
  • The Donald asks the kids to exploit his liquid assets on "The Apprentice" (8 p.m., NBC).
  • A veteran who lost his business while in combat goes missing on "Without a Trace" (9 p.m., CBS).
  • A patient on a rampage commandeers a tank on "ER" (9 p.m., NBC).
  • Regis Philbin hosts "Super Millionaire" (9 p.m., ABC).

Late night

Evanescence performs on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno hosts Mel Gibson and Prince on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).

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