As I write this our transport has taken on enemy fire.  The driver screams in Arabic as engines roar all around us. I can see in the eyes of our translator that even she can’t believe the news.  The roads are cratered and bumpy.  The news over the wire is that a passenger plane just crashed into the—

Oh, wait. I’m in the back of an Uber on my phone in traffic. Was I wrong? I mean, those things happened, I was just further away when they did. Every war story is propaganda, and a personal war story is a breed of self-propaganda.

Meanwhile, NBC has launched an investigation into Brian Williams over allegations that he embellished his involvement in a helicopter crash during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The reaction has been brutal.

War stories are older than war itself.  Achilles wanted to die in battle so he would become immortal in legends to come. But if men win glory in battle, how much of that glory is a kind of self-made PR?

For his part, Williams says he remembered it wrong. You know who remembers being hit by two RPGs that night? The members of the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that went down. Williams arrived an hour later.

From the military’s own media, Stars and Stripes: Williams told his Nightly News audience that the erroneous claim was part of a “bungled attempt” to thank soldiers who helped protect him in Iraq in 2003. “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” Williams said. “I want to apologize.”

War stories are older than war itself. Achilles wanted to die in battle so he would become immortal in legends to come. But if men win glory in battle, how much of that glory is a kind of self-made PR?

When any guy gets called out for embellishing a story—fish story, fight story—what you’re really calling him out for is building himself up to be something he’s not.

Some in the media are calling for Williams’ resignation. But what about actual troops? “Unless you chose to report only on the Pentagon’s After Action Report, you have to go on what people say they experienced,” says Ben Feibleman, a Marine Corps veteran who signed up pre-9/11 and served until 2006.  “It’s not like he went out and sold a book about how he commandeered the aircraft and was a big hero. He just said: ‘A scary thing happened. These are the guys who helped us.’

Also: Now the pilot of Williams chopper can’t quite remember the details either.

Personally, I like Brian Williams. Jon Stewart’s children have a pet fish named after him. Sometimes when they leave the house the neighbors overhear Stewart locking the door and his kids saying, “We forgot to feed Brian Williams!”

Stewart himself got involved when Geraldo made a different war bragging error on camera in 2002. Geraldo claimed to have witnessed an incident that occurred three days after he had filed his “Lord’s Prayer” report. Aaron Brown slammed Geraldo on CNN’s Newsnight. Rivera returned fire on The O’Reilly Factor, “This is the guy who would poop in his pants if he was anywhere near what I was near in Afghanistan!”  Which was excellently skewered by young Mo Rocca in this vintage Daily Show gem.

Note that it’s two male journalists puffing their chests. Note that it’s Papa Bear O’Reilly egging Geraldo on. The Brian Williams event was two dudes at a hockey game. They’re gunning for glory, which has a strange parallel to the controversy over the facts in Chris Kyle’s book that became American Sniper. Women—both reporters and servicemembers—go to just as many wars, but they seem to come home with fewer questionable stories. The Pentagon appears to trust every word about their combat missions, but calls them crazy liars in cases of sexual assault.

But real quick: Is it wrong to be wrong? Journalism is history’s first draft. But what if the facts don’t tell the story as well as the errors do? Tim O’Brien, a Vietnam vet, wrote about this in “How to Tell a True War Story.”

A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things they have always done… In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen.

Noted war reporter and Hemingway wife Martha Gellhorn knew that war is just lies that make up a good story: “Gradually I came to realize that people will more readily swallow lies than truth, as if the taste of lies was homey, appetizing: a habit.”

Listen, I’m in the story business. I’ve been to some places with the USO. I don’t wear the uniform. It’s important that I acknowledge the men and women who took care of me. And I do that by not making it look like I did anything heroic.

brendan-jay-sullivan-usoAt an undisclosed foreign military operation in the Middle East. These are men and women who serve. I am a guy in a Brooks Bros. jacket who brought a little slice of home to aid the homesick.

All that said, we don’t need for Brian Williams to step down. At my first-ever writing job, where we had to physically stop the presses to correct an error, I made a mistake once. I referred to someone as “a New Haven cop” and found out the next day he just worked there in HR. We printed a retraction, and I looked up at my editor expecting to never write again. Instead, he took a reporter’s notebook, made the sign of the cross over my chest and said, “Go and sin no more.”

Brian Williams needs to stay where he is. He’s a level-headed voice in a country that likes to go to war. But listen, Brian, war is hell. War reporting is hellish. If you want a week off for R&R I’d be glad to step in. Here’s my reel!