Saturday, July 08, 2006

Sowing the Seeds of Eternal Hatred

Nir Rosen describes life in Iraq under American occupation.

"Three years into an occupation of Iraq replete with so-called milestones, turning points and individual events hailed as “sea changes” that would “break the back” of the insurgency, a different type of incident received an intense, if ephemeral, amount of attention. A local human rights worker and aspiring journalist in the western Iraqi town of Haditha filmed the aftermath of the massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians. The video made its way to an Iraqi working for Time magazine, and the story was finally publicized months later. The Haditha massacre was compared to the Vietnam War’s My Lai massacre, and like the well-publicized and embarrassing Abu Ghraib scandal two years earlier, the attention it received made it seem as if it were a horrible aberration perpetrated by a few bad apples who might have overreacted to the stress they endured as occupiers.

In reality both Abu Ghraib and Haditha were merely more extreme versions of the day-to-day workings of the American occupation in Iraq, and what makes them unique is not so much how bad they were, or how embarrassing, but the fact that they made their way to the media and were publicized despite attempts to cover them up. Focusing on Abu Ghraib and Haditha distracts us from the daily, little Abu Ghraibs and small-scale Hadithas that have made up the occupation. The occupation has been one vast extended crime against the Iraqi people, and most of it has occurred unnoticed by the American people and the media."

Now read Fred Kaplan's column in Slate on the Army's new counterinsurgency field manual.

"[A]single high-profile infraction can undo 100 successes. "Lose moral legitimacy, lose the war," the authors warn, pointedly noting that the French lost Algeria in part because their commanders condoned torture.

Do the math.

As They Stand Up...

We keep them from falling over. Former Newsweek Baghdad bureau chief Rod Nordland describes the new Iraqi Army.

"I traveled recently to Taji for the handover of a large swath of territory north of Baghdad to the Iraqi Army’s 9th Armored Division. This was meant to be a big milestone: an important chunk of territory that has lots of insurgent activity, given over completely to the control of the Iraqi Army. But when we spoke to the Iraqi Army officers, they said they didn’t have enough equipment. They are still completely dependent on the U.S. Army for their logistics, their meals, and a lot of their communications. The United States turned territory over to them, but they are not a functioning, independent army unit yet."

Friday, July 07, 2006

Read This!

I strongly recommend Tom Englhardt's latest post at Tomdispatch. The essay clearly demonstrates how dangerous BushCheney and his coterie of gamblers is to America and the world.

Two Years On

Perhaps it is an indication of how little noticed is this blog that even I failed to note it's second anniversary on June 1st. I didn't notice the first anniversary last year but I was out hiking. This year the date just sailed past me until now.

This blog has had about 800 or so visits since I figured out how to install a site meter in February, an average of nine visits per day. Projecting that average across the past two years, that's over 6,500 visitors but I'm guessing that number is high. Compared the half million per day at Daily Kos, Unsolicited Opinion is indeed a small eddy in blogtopia. (yep, skippy coined that phrase!) Or, as JWalk says, "The Web has 37.3 million blogs. This is one of them." So it is.

It would be cool to be a big blog with lots of visitors, but that's not the point. The point is for me to write and put my thoughts into circulation. Perhaps the best part of blogging for me is the constant thinking and writing. It gives me an opportunity to fully explore ideas that are often disparate and unorganized rattling around in my brain. Putting those ideas into published form makes them a bit more coherent.

Thanks to all of you who stop in, however you may get here.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Our Addiction Will Destroy Us

Addiction is self-destructive. Stories of individuals who destroy their lives and families because of alcohol and drugs are all too common. On a larger scale, our fossil fuel addiction threatens the earth itself. Even BushCheney recognizes this–or at least he said so in his 2006 State of the Union Speech. The latest dispatch in this saga comes from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a report on the increasing alkalinity of seawater which threatens the food chain on which life depends.

A coalition of federal and university scientists is to issue a report today describing how carbon dioxide emissions are..."dramatically altering ocean chemistry and threatening corals and other marine organisms that secrete skeletal structures."
Some have questioned global-warming predictions based on computer models, but ocean acidification is less controversial because it involves basic chemistry. "You can duplicate this phenomenon by blowing into a straw in a glass of water and changing the water's pH level," ... "It's basically undeniable."
[Ken Caldeira, a chemical oceanographer at Stanford University] has mapped out where corals exist today and the pH levels of the water in which they thrive; by the end of the century, no seawater will be as alkaline as where they live now. If carbon dioxide emissions continue at their current levels, he said, "It's say goodbye' to coral reefs."

Although the fate of plankton and marine snails may not seem as compelling as vibrantly colored coral reefs, they are critical to sustaining marine species such as salmon, redfish, mackerel and baleen whales.

"These are groups everyone depends on, and if their numbers go down there are going to be reverberations throughout the food chain," said John Guinotte, a marine biologist at the Marine Conservation Biology Institute....

So along with the possibility of rising sea levels attributed to global warming, the world’s food chain is at risk. All because human beings cannot see beyond their immediate situation and take action to prevent what will destroy future generations’ ability to live on this planet. Politicians and businessmen are unwilling to jeopardize current profits and prospects to wean the world’s economy away from the fossil fuels that contribute to the potential disaster.

If future generations are lucky, maybe the world will run out of oil before we destroy the planet but given the rate of change that has become evident in recent years and the world’s willful ignorance, I don’t think that’s too likely . I’m old enough that I will not live to see the full consequences of our addiction, but it distresses me that we can look at the future and pretend that nothing will change even as we send our children and grandchildren toward the abyss.

More than anything the United States should be leading the world away from that abyss. Energize America and the Apollo Alliance offer models for such an effort. Instead, America pours lives and treasure into Iraq in order to maintain our addiction.

Cross posted at Daily Kos.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Day in My War

The typical description of combat is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. My experience was more like long periods of exhausting physical exertion underlain with constant tension. I never experienced those moments of sheer terror. My unit never got hit. Or more accurately, I was never hit. So I ended up spending about five months–mid January to mid June 1971–wandering around the jungle, loaded with weaponry and gear, fully expecting the shit to hit the fan. It never did. And then I was assigned to a rear job as company clerk in June. I call that luck beyond belief.

Life in the infantry was amazingly routine. My battalion was assigned to a series of forward firebases. A firebase was a patch of ground scraped from the jungle. The base had six 105 mm howitzers to provide artillery support, communications, medical, supply, a mess tent and a landing zone for the helicopters. The base was enclosed by a dirt berm punctuated with bunkers and surrounded by triple strands of concertina wire. The battalion’s four infantry companies patrolled from firebase with artillery cover from the howitzers. Patrols were usually three weeks long followed by a week on the base providing perimeter security.

I was always happy to be on the firebase. It meant daily mail, hot meals, cold beer and soda, showers, a break from patrol and the opportunity to smoke a lot of pot (which we never did on patrol). And while a firebase was far less secure than the 1st Cavalry’s main base at Bien Hoa, I usually felt pretty safe on a firebase. We were never attacked other than a few sporadic incoming rounds. Life on the firebase was typical Army, with work details, ambush patrols and at one base, sweeping the access road for mines and securing the road for the daily supply convoy. Not too bad.

Life on patrol, “in the bush” or “humping the boonies”, was also routine but far riskier. Presumably, we were out to find, engage and destroy the enemy so I lived expecting the world to explode on me at any moment. But that never did happen. Sheer luck–all the other infantry companies were ambushed at least once during my time in the field. That’s where the constant tension comes in–just waiting for something to happen, wondering how I will react, wondering what will happen to me. That’s pretty wearing. It certainly left me uneasy.

But somehow I managed to stow that tension and uneasiness in the back of my mind and concentrate on my immediate situation. I made sure that I followed the guy in front of me. If he hadn’t tripped a booby trap, I had some assurance that following his footsteps would be reasonably safe. I concentrated on keeping up, on walking in the sweltering heat under the weight of my pack, which was about 65 pounds and increased another 20 pounds when I began carrying a PRC-77 radio and two extra brick-size batteries. Never before had I done anything remotely requiring this level of physical effort. In many respects, all that effort probably kept me from being scared totally shitless.

Combat patrol was amazingly routine, at least that’s my recollection 35 years later. At first light, everyone went out to retrieve the trip flares we set up in front of our claymore mines the night before. After that I fired up a canteen cup of hot chocolate (the instant coffee in the ration packs sucked). I had a little stove made by cutting both ends from a short C-ration can and punching holes around the sidewall with my church key. I could heat water with a heat tab or chunk of C-4 plastic explosive ( Some mornings I might actually heat up some C-ration ham and eggs but mostly I are cornflake bars that came as a side in the ration packs. I packed up as quickly as I could and made a trip outside the perimeter to take a dump. This was one of the most uneasy moments of my day, squatting over a cat hole, pants down, M-16 at the ready. Somehow, I didn’t feel that I would be particularly effective defending myself in that position although I’m pretty sure my bowels would have emptied fast.

Just before heading out, we retrieved our claymores. Then we walked. I never really knew where we were going most days until I became a radio operator. Much of the time I was in the field, the battalion was patrolling an area in the of Bien Hoa. Most days were just walking, walking, walking through the jungel, which looked more like a forest than jungle to me. When I could put aside the effort needed to walk and look at my surroundings, I was amazed at their beauty. Sometimes they reminded me of Virginia’s mountains.

My company avoided roads and trails, so we didn’t have to deal with booby traps. Instead we crashed through the brush. Since I never walked point, enough guys preceded me so there was a bit of trail. Still, it was hard going, especially in the heat with all that weight on my back. Climbing was especially difficult. We did a lot of that in the mountains. We took breaks, either for rest or while the officers and NCO’s tried to figure out where we were. Lunch was something like cold pork slices or maybe peanut butter and jelly on a bread roll (all available in C-rations). Then more walking. Occasionally we set up ambushes or came out of the wood line to Route 1. If we were on Route 1 we were soon visited by Vietnamese selling ice cream, soda and fruit. The sodas were a buck (remember, this is 1971) but they were cold and worth it.

One area we patrolled came to be known as Happy Flour Valley because of all the food caches, mainly flour, we found there. Somebody said that the flour showed how desperate the enemy was since their preferred food was rice. I’ll leave that judgment to historians. When possible, we called in helicopters to haul out the flour. Otherwise we scattered it, turning the jungle and us white. Nothing like a coating of flour on a hot sticky, day

Depending on the day’s activity we would set up our night defensive perimeter anywhere from late afternoon to almost dark. Ideally, the later the better since that gave the VC and NVA less opportunity to fix our position. Regardless of the time, we immediately set our claymores, running the detonator wires back to each squad’s watch point. Then dinner. I usually ate freeze dried dinners that came in LRP rations (lightweight rations originally issued to Long Range Patrol teams but by now available to us regular grunts). They were simple to fix–boil water pour into packet, let hydrate for five minutes–better tasting and lighter than canned C-rations. My bed was an air mattress on my poncho with a camouflage poncho liner for warmth. Some guys strung hammocks between trees, slung low and tight. Second platoon slept on the ground; their LT insisted that hammocks and even air mattresses left them vulnerable to incoming. If we had light, I would read a before turning in.

At dark, we put trip flares in front of our claymores so that anyone approaching our perimeter would set off a flare after which the watch would detonate a claymore on them. After dark, I would listen to radio–the Armed Forces Vietnam Network–through my earplug. Sometime during the night, I stood watch, monitoring the radio and keeping a lookout for trip flares going off. None ever did on my watch but I knew that if a flare went off, I would start popping all the claymores. It would have been a sight.

Surprisingly, I slept well most nights. Aside from waking up for watch, not much disturbed me that I can recall. Well, there was one night ( but otherwise I took some comfort that I wasn’t alone in the dark jungle in a war zone. Strange, but I somehow managed to turn the whole combat experience into a routine. I’m sure it would have been much different had I come under direct attack but I never did.

Dawn began a new day that pretty much repeated the previous one.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


A while back Pachacutec at Firedoglake asked readers, ”Who’s your hero?”
"On the left, we are right now rightly focused on taking aggressive action to restore constitutional balance to our country, even as we build coalitions and organize together to break through the media-governmental establishment’s deathgrip on power. Many have pointed out that at some point, we need to be more clear about what we are for, even as we oppose creeping tyrrany.

One way to build community and tease out what we believe in is to talk about people in our lives who shaped our beliefs. I talked about a big one for me in this post, but who shaped you? Who taught you the values that bring you to this site? Tell us about that in the comments, and especially, listen to what others have to say.

This is no idle exercise. Persuasion begins with curiosity. Even the hardest edged political opponent will have a hard time slandering you as a whacked out lunatic if they understand your values when you talk about your mentors, and they know you’ve listened to and understood theirs. Talk about values before you talk about issues, and connect your values to stories about real people you’ve known."

Talking about my heroes is a good follow up to the series I wrote about my beliefs last year. The individuals and organizations I admire go a long way to explain what I believe. Responding to Pachacutec’s idea required some thought; I admire many people for a variety of reasons but sorting through those names for the ones that influenced me directly took a while.

Once I figured out what a hero is, it didn’t take long to make a my hero list although it’s taken almost two months to actually write about them. My heroes are individuals and organizations that showed me how to be a decent human being and offered models of courage and honor. Even when I fall short of the ideal, heroes remind me that I can always strive for excellence and service to my community. (Note: I’ve listed links for a few; the more prominent individuals are pretty easy to Google if you want more info).

Barry Goldwater introduced me to politics. His insurgent campaign for president showed me the power if ideas and the fun of campaigning. My politics then were white southern racist (I was a white teenager and at that time in my life very much a product of my environment) so I am not at all proud of the politics. But I found a calling that has kept me involved in the world ever since. Years later, when I moved to Arizona in the twilight of Goldwater’s career, I found his crusty libertarian contrarianism more in tune with my by this time liberal ideas than I would have expected. Looking at Republican politicians these days, Barry Goldwater seems quaint and out of place

Ken Miller was my senior year English teacher in high school but even before I was in his class I was aware of his quite intellectualism. He seemed to be a man of knowledge and ideas, something not readily apparent in my small southern hometown. That impression was strongly reinforced when I was his student. Under his tutelage, I learned to appreciate the beauty of well written words and the joy of inquiry. I learned to think, which was the first step away from the racist politics of my teenage years.

Norman Graebner taught diplomatic history at the University of Virginia when I was a student there in the late 60's. His analysis of American foreign policy from pre-Revolutionary times to Vietnam gave me a strong insight into the lack of balance between rhetoric and reality in Vietnam. Graebner was a realist who understood the uses and limits of power. His class offered me a framework for understanding how America could balance ideals and interests in dealing with other nations..

Vietnam Veterans Against the War led the first veterans’ protest against the Vietnam war. Their march on Washington in April 1971, Dewey Canyon III, came about four months into my combat tour in Vietnam. I was electrified by their actions. Knowing that my brothers in arms were speaking out against something I believed was bad for this nation, even worse for Vietnam and (least of all, but still important) bad for me personally helped me understand that my service would have meaning only if I lived to do the same.

George McGovern was the first presidential candidate I supported passionately after learning to think. McGovern was a truly decent man who was terribly caricatured by the Republicans and the press. What he lacked in political acumen and finesse was more than made up by his humanity and integrity. When he ran for president in 1972, I was less than a year past combat in Vietnam. As a highly decorated World War II veteran, his opposition to Vietnam during a time of Nixon’s “silent majority” and dirty tricks gave me my first opportunity to speak out as a veteran.

The Sanctuary Movement were individuals who helped refugees of the repression and terror supported by the US government in Central America in the 1980's. As refugees from US-backed regimes, these individuals could not claim sanctuary in America where the Reagan Administration considered their tormentors to be “freedom fighters”. The Sanctuary Movement risked their liberty and economic well-being to help these refuges. About six members of the movement were tried on immigration and other violations. All were convicted but their actions reminded me of the Biblical injunction that “whatever you do for these, the least of my brethren, you also do for Me”. Whenever I think helping others is too much trouble I think of the Sanctuary Movement. It’s not hard then to do the right thing.

Hugh Thompson was the American helicopter pilot who placed himself between rampaging American troops and Vietnamese civilians at My Lai. I’m not entirely sure when I learned of his heroism, probably in the late 70's, well after the fact. But his actions have resonated with me ever since. As soldiers in Vietnam we all risked our lives every day but here was an American who put his life at risk from his fellow Americans on behalf of Vietnamese civilians. Had he landed sooner, perhaps, America would not suffer the shame of My Lai but at least he put an end to the slaughter. His life after Vietnam was scarred by rejection and shunning from the country he served so bravely; his heroism was only recognized officially in 1998. He is my model of courage.

These are the people who have influenced my thinking over four decades. The list doesn’t end here. As I live and learn, I find other heroes. Two recent additioons are:

Abraham Lincoln. Hardly a new hero but remember, I grew up in the south. I recently read Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which revealed Lincoln to me in a way that I had not seen before. Goodwin presents Lincoln as a pragmatic man whose beliefs evolved over time, a man aware of his own weaknesses but secure in his talents, able to submerge his own ego in order to work with others. What makes him a hero worth emulating is his ability to listen and think, something so lacking in many of America’s current leaders.

Russ Feingold. The senator from Wisconsin was among the few who stood up against BushCheney early on, when it was not popular and certainly not easy. He voted against the Patriot Act, which he believed was a dangerous incursion on Americans’ Constitutional rights. He also voted against authorizing BushCheney’s war in Iraq, another act that was hardly popular at the time. He has consistently challenged BushCheney’s broad assertion of authority, showing the kind of political courage that America needs in these dangerous times.

These are the individuals and organizations that have shaped, and continue to shape, my beliefs and thought. What they have in common is their courage and willingness to think, learn and act on behalf of the principles they find important. I hope I will always be worthy of them.

July 4th Letter to Congress

This Independence Day I thought it appropriate to remind my Congressional representatives about how the whole thing started. Watching Congress acquiesce to whatever BushCheney says tells me that the majority seem to have forgotten. My Congress members are pretty hopeless but I am not going to allow them the comfort of no dissent.

02 July 2006

Senator John McCain
Senator Jon Kyl
Representative John Shadegg

As the United States celebrates the 230th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, I write to ask that you, as a Member of Congress, reflect on the foundations and principles upon which the nation was founded. In the five years since the 9-11 attacks, Congress has acquiesced in virtually every assertion of presidential power. In doing so, Congress has abdicated its basic role in the system of checks and balances established by the Constitution to protect Americans from the abuses that led 13 colonies to declare their independence from Great Britain. Congress' failure to exercise oversight mocks the sacrifices of the many who sacrificed to safeguard the liberties on which America was founded.

This past week the US Supreme Court performed its assigned responsibility in that system of checks and balances when it issued its ruling in Hamdan v Rumsfeld. The Court in no uncertain terms held that the president is bound by the rule of law in handling persons detained as enemy combatants. I am disturbed by comments I have read from members of Congress that the remedy is to simply authorize in law the procedures rejected by the Supreme Court. Such comments are disturbing not only in this matter but also in Congress' willingness to accept whatever the president asserts as law.

I am not an expert on military law but I do know that simply jettisoning all legal safeguards in pursuit of expediency is not consistent with American values and traditions. As the administration seeks Congressional approval for its procedures (if it actually does so), I request that you exercise real oversight-ask questions and explore the implications of any proposals-to ensure that procedures (1) abide by the principle of uniformity announced in the UCMJ, (2) are consistent with the laws of war and (3) recognize that Geneva Conventions are binding on the United States.

After winning our independence, the framers created Congress as a co-equal branch of government, not a rubber stamp for the executive. Americans had plenty of experience with executive government under King George III. Returning to that form of government threatens America as much as any terrorist. In the coming debates about how to America should deal with enemy combatants and terrorists, I urge you to exercise independent thought and judgment to ensure continuation of Constitutional government in the United States.

America is a strong nation. The challenges posed by terrorists are not the greatest threat to this nation. An even greater threat is the loss of an effective, involved Congress and the creation of an all-powerful executive who can act without restraint. If that occurs, the terrorists win.


Rez Dog

(I signed my given name but you all know me as Rez Dog)