Saturday, August 12, 2006

Shouting Back at the Fear Mongers

[This is a rant. You can tell by all the capital letters. I did not include links for all my statements which are pretty much common knowledge for anyone paying attention. If you want links for anything, leave a comment and I'll consider it.]

The recently disrupted plot to blow up airplanes flying between the UK and US has launched a new round of fear mongering from BushCheney and his loyal choir. Once again, Americans are served warnings of dire threats and the need for strong resolute action to protect us. Following close on the heels of Ned Lamont’s victory over Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary, this event gives our national security wankers yet another opportunity to tar everyone who questions their policies as weak on national security and SUPPORTERS OF TERRORISM.

BushCheney and his Republicans lost no time in ramping up the verbiage. America is under attack yet again! No matter that THE PLAN WAS IDENTIFIED AND DISRUPTED. We must remain in fear. THEY are still out there, always looking for ways to attack us because they hate freedom. Any one who thinks otherwise is living in a “pre-9-11" world and would disarm America, leaving freedom at the mercy of Islamic fascists. Only BushCheney and the Republicans will save America.

WHAT FUCKING RUBBISH! The lies and distortions are so egregious and willfully obtuse, it’s hard to know where to begin. As blindingly outraged as I am, I’ll start logically and see if I can keep on track.

First off. BushCheney is correct when he says America is threatened by terrorists. I do not dispute that. Actual attacks and foiled plots leave no doubt that individuals and organizations mean us harm. From there, however, I disagree with BushCheney. Terrorist don’t hate us for our freedoms; they hate us for what we do, for what they perceive that America and her allies have done in their nations to “their people”, their co-religionists, tribal members or countrymen. Their grievances spring from what they see as imperialism by a superior power and they fight back as only the weak can, using assymetrical tactics that often involve terror attacks. This does not make them right but it does explain their motives. In simplest terms, the rich and powerful (whether they be nations or individuals) will never be secure as long as many are poor, weak and disenfranchised. This is nothing new. The French bourgeoisie learned that lesson in 1789 and their Russian cousins over the next 128 years.

Second, the BushCheney War on TerrorTM is a sham. Although terrorists pose a real threat, BushCheney and his echo chamber fail to grasp–or rather, willfully ignore–is that strong intelligence and effective counter-terrorism techniques are far more suited to fighting these terrorists than massive military power. Military force has its place in taking out training camps and headquarters but, given the nature of the threat, these targets are few and far between. The British have just demonstrated how to fight terror cells. In fact, IF BUSHCHENEY HAD BEEN PAYING ATTENTION IN 2001, HE MIGHT WELL HAVE STOPPED THE 9-11 ATTACK. I mean, much of the intelligence was out there: a known terrorist on our watch list returning to the US from an Al-Qaeda summit in Indonesia, student pilots learning to fly aircraft well beyond their capabilities, memos from the FBI, the very real threats issued by Osama Bin Laden and previous attacks on the World Trade Center and American embassies. BushCheney was not paying attention.

Third, BushCheney was not paying attention because he was looking elsewhere, to his dream–fueled by neo-conservative fantasies of regime change in Iraq–of muscular military power asserting American dominance across the globe. Worrying about clandestine cells of fanatics lacked the cachet of geo-strategic ambitions worthy of “the world’s only superpower”. As a result, America was sucker punched by a bunch of guys armed with box cutters (!). Undiscouraged, BushCheney took advantage of the opportunity to crank up the fear factor–the Patriot Act, domestic surveillance and repression–and to launch his war of choice against Iraq, all in the name of “making America safer”.

Fourth, these policies have been an abject, miserable failure. AMERICA IS NOT SAFER! Hear that? AMERICA IS NOT SAFER! About the only “success” BushCheney can claim is that America has not been attacked since 9-11. That is a misrepresentation, pure and simple. No attacks have occurred on US soil but there have been attacks aplenty. The terror bombings in Bali, Madrid and London were proxy attacks. The disrupted plot in Britain was aimed at the US. The absence of attacks on the American mainland is as much a failure of imagination on the part of the terrorists (who have not yet exploited the obvious weaknesses in our seaports, industries and transportation systems, all of which have been ignored by BushCheney) as any achievement by this administration.

Fifth, the Iraq war plays directly into Bin Laden’s strategy of bleeding America to death. He clearly stated his purpose was to attack the US in the same manner as he did the Soviets in Afghanistan, where his guerillas forced another superpower into a humiliating withdrawal. You’d think America would understand the risks here since another rag-tag army did the same to us in Vietnam. (Oh, wait, BushCheney was AWOL for that lesson so it doesn’t count.) Not only does the Iraq war weaken America’s military and squander its treasury, our complete inability to deal with Iraqis and ignorance of their history and culture leaves us far too reliant on our weaponry which produces civilian casualties that will generate hatred for generations to come.

So don’t tell me that Liberals are on the side of the terrorists. If anything, BushCheney, his neo-conservative cabal, the legion of pundits and apologists like Joe Lieberman who echo this disinformation are the terrorists’ best friends. Ned Lamont doesn’t ignore the terrorist threats. Nor do I. Nor do the 60 plus percent of Americans who believe the Iraq war is a terrible mistake or that simply surrendering two centuries of Constitutional government is an equal if not greater disaster. Terrorism is a problem and has been for a long, long time as any student of history should know. An even bigger problem is the cynical politicians who lie and distort information to frighten a gullible public into passive acceptance of totalitarian government.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Why I'll Never Be a Big-Time Blogger

The predictable hype from the Republicans that Ned Lamont's victory over Joe Lieberman is a retreat from the War on Terror to a pre-9/11 mindset and certain McGovernite defeat for Democrats riled me. I immediately thought I should post a pithy rejoiner but delayed. Two days later, blogtopia (yep! skippy coined that phrase!) is filled with just that so anything I write is pointless repetition. In that spirit, I refer you to Greenboy's post at Needlenose. It's pretty much what I would have written but those thoughts are still rattling around my brain while Greenboy's are there for all to see.

Real versus Unreal Security

The plot to bomb US bound planes from Britian is a reminder for anyone who cares to look that real security lies in effective intelligence and counter-terrorism work, in using special operations capabilities to target selected organizations and individuals. Real security does not involve sending main force battle units to foreign countries where they will inflame nationalist sentiments and become embroiled in centuries old sectarian and ethnic conflicts. I'm just saying.

Remember that when you hear the blather from BushCheney about keeping America safe.


postscript

Check out Billmon while you're at it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Accidental Soldier

[Readers of this blog should know by now that I served in Vietnam. This year is the 35th "anniversary" of that service so I have been blogging about it from time to time. So it's become somewhat of a series. Previous posts are here, here, here, here, here, and here. I suspect there will be more. Here's the latest.]


For much of my time in combat, I felt like an accident waiting to happen. Or maybe just waiting for an accident to happen. Anticipatory dread was a pervasive feeling. I knew that my purpose was to attack and destroy. I knew also that another force was “out there”, or maybe just on the other side of that rock or bush, also pursuing the same purpose. Something was bound to happen. It just did not seem possible that I could spend an entire year in the bush and not encounter some serious mayhem.

What I did encounter was random chance which, most improbably, meant that nothing serious happened to me personally. Being reassigned to the rear as company clerk took me out of combat for the second half of my tour but I can only recall one action that led to significant casualties for Alpha Company after I got that rear job. Maybe if I had actually been in the field, I would remember other events but I was still part of the companyand pretty aware of what was happening. I saw weekly casualty reports, mostly minor. But then again, I’m looking back 35 years now so my recollections are hazy.

What I do recall with some clarity are the accidents, since those were my most direct experience with the chaos of combat rather than actual contact with the enemy. Remembering accidents is all the more appropriate because by 1971, America recognized that its policy in Vietnam could only be sustained if the South Vietnamese did all the heavy lifting. My war was somewhat of a rearguard action, a transition to complete Vietnamization of the combat. America would continue to provide support but troops on the ground was something that was well on its way out. Serious combat operations were far less prevalent in 1971 than in previous years. Total combat deaths that year were just under 2,400, well below the peak of 16,600 dead in 1968 and not even half of the 6,000 plus who died in 1970.

Nonetheless, Americans–including yours truly, were carrying all sorts of explosives and weaponry through Vietnam’s jungles in 1971. Like the proverbial gun in the first act of a play, something was bound to go off in subsequent acts. Dinner on my second day in the field was interrupted by an explosion on the other side of our perimeter. Being the dumb new guy that I was, I just waited, expecting someone to tell me what was going on. No one did. I and my fellow new guys simply sat there. Later, my squad leader informed us that two guys from Second Platoon blew themselves up while setting up an “automatic ambush” on a nearby road. An automatic ambush is two or three claymore mines strung together to be triggered by a trip wire. It seems the guys wired it incorrectly, detonating the mines on themselves. Two dead. Not me but a sobering reminder of what I was in for.

A few weeks later, a patrol returning to our perimeter was shot by our own guys as it approached. Apparently someone did not get the word. One guy was wounded and evacuated Then came The Fall, when Deacon fell out of a medevac chopper. We had been climbing some godforsaken mountain on a very hot day and stopped for a break. As I heard, Deacon cut himself, reportedly while chopping bamboo to make a bong. Our medic rated the wound serious enough for evacuation and called in a chopper. The chopper couldn’t land due to the heavy canopy and steep terrain so Deacon was hoisted up on a jungle penetrator which was essentially a seat attached to a cable that winched him up. I watched with great envy. He was getting out of the field. Even if he returned in a few days, he had that much time away, was that much closer to going home. It seemed like the perfect “sham” (any excuse to go to the rear and out of combat).

It was good until he came plummeting back to earth, landing pretty much where he started. Now was dead, not shamming at all. He made the mistake of putting his feet on the chopper’s skids to lift himself into it–a natural reaction when suspended by a thin cable attached to a vibrating helicopter. Instructors had specifically warned us not to do that. His mistake wouldn’t have made too much difference except that the safety latch on the hook was broken, allowing him to lift the jungle penetrator out of the hook. Gravity took over from there. His return to earth is forever etched into my brain. So is the image of his body wrapped in a poncho and strapped to a litter being hoisted. This time there were no mistakes. They got Deacon into the chopper.

A few weeks later my platoon lost what I call the Battle of the Trip Flare Fire. As usual, we put our claymores out as soon as we set up our night defensive perimeter. This was standard operating procedure. Claymores out immediately. Tripwires and flares in front of the claymores later, at dusk. Retrieve the flares at first light and the mines as we moved out. Lately, though, we added another step: putting trip flares under the claymores. We had recently discovered claymores missing between the time we retrieved the tripwire and flares in front of the mines and the time we went back for the mines. The new drill required scooping earth from under the claymore, placing a trip flare in the depression, setting the mine on top of the spoon and carefully removing the pin (trip flares worked much like a grenade). The idea was that if anyone moved the claymore, the flare would alert us and we’d blow the mine on them.

This night we set out the claymores on top of the trip flares. So far so good. Toward dusk we set out the trip flares and wires. Someone–not me, thank god–tripped on his claymore, setting off the flare. We were maybe four months into dry season at the time, so the heat ignited the dry material on the jungle floor. We immediately began trying to put out the flames, stomping them with our booted feet. Everyone was so concerned with their immediate area no one noticed the overturned claymore surrounded by flames. My squad leader, Charlie Brown, finally did and yelled a warning just before it blew. Fortunately, the claymore was face down so the blast and shrapnel went into the ground. The force of the explosion extinguished the flames but it left Charlie Brown and Jackie dazed and deaf. I was okay. We called a medevac and they were soon gone. I never saw Jackie again. Charlie Brown ended up in the rear for the remaining few months of his tour as some kind of courrier.

No long after that we fought another claymore ignited fire, this time from an intentional detonation as a platoon attempted to ambush a group of NVA on a road. They detonated the claymore and opened up with the M60 when the group noticed a trip wire and began to move off the road. It was still dry season and the explosions ignited the dry jungle duff. We quickly extinguished the flames and sent a patrol in search of the enemy. We had choppered into the area the day before to relieve Delta Company who had been ambushed badly. Coming in was like walking through Hell. The area had been napalmed in response to the ambush and was still smoking as we moved in. Everything was black and charred, a scene of pure desolation. It was as if we had attacked the jungle since we were so completely unable to deter the NVA. As for the group we ambushed, four of the five escaped. The one guy we caught had been hit in both ankles with M60 rounds but still managed to crawl a hundred meters away. Had we not been fighting the fire, maybe we’d have captured all of them.

This was my last accident in the field. Shortly afterward, I was assigned to be company clerk. From then on, the only accidents I had to worry about were typos and paper cuts. Much, much easier to deal with.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

To Die in Vain (or Not)

A debate broke out in the comments to Markos’ Daily Kos post about the funeral of Corporal Phillip Baucus. The first comment was “RIP to a fallen brother and all those who died in vain with him” followed almost immediately by a longer comment that ended with the words “no soldier dies in vain”. The sentiments could not be more at odds. The first comment sounds like it came from a veteran, quite possibly a Marine. The second is from a Kossack whose family has current and former service members.

Dying in vain sucks. I know. I was infantry in Vietnam, 1971. I had no illusions about what the war meant for my country–absolutely nothing–but I served anyway. I was afraid not to. I put my life on the line to salvage American pride because I could not say no to my country. I tried writing a statement of rage to be read on the occasion of my death. I sure as hell didn’t want any “duty, honor, country” bullshit to follow me to my grave. I couldn’t bring myself to actually write the letter but, then again, I somehow managed not to get killed. Others died, though. I just sacrificed my conscience and my humanity when I carried that rifle against people who were no threat to me or my country. That’s why it took me over 30 years to come to terms with my service and my anger.

So now I watch the Iraq war with all too much interest and see the same thing. All that anger comes back. It’s a war based on lies and distortions. The war not only fails to contribute to America’s safety but (unlike Vietnam) it actually makes things worse, all at the cost of 20,000 dead and wounded Americans and infinitely more Iraqis. If that’s not the definition of futility, I don’t know what is. I don’t see much difference. Americans died in vain in Vietnam and they are dying in vain in Iraq. At best, the US will achieve a least worst outcome, nothing close to the shining beacon of democracy promised by BushCheney and his neo-conservative buddies. This war sows seeds of hatred in the Muslim world that will plague the US for years to come.

That said, I will not begrudge a family the comfort of knowing their loved one died in service to the nation, of their pride in that service, of the nation’s recognition and appreciation for that service. The loss of a family member in war is painful and tragic and we, as a nation, owe the family our gratitude and support. For me the issue is service. These honored dead volunteered or, in the case of Vietnam draftees, answered the call. If they died in vain, that is not their fault. The fault lies with the leaders who squandered their service, the leaders who wasted them. If what I considered bullshit or one Kossack called “romantic rubbish” helps the family deal with the tragedy of their loved one’s death, so be it. It’s the least we can do for people who suffered a loss–regardless of what it actually accomplished–on behalf of nation. I’ll save my rage for the real culprits in Washington.

While I will never tell a family that their loved one died in vain, I must be honest with myself and my country and recognize that is exactly what happened in Iraq and years before in Vietnam. If we don’t recognize that we are at great risk of sending even more to their deaths so that the ones before “will not have died in vain”. That is a formula for national self delusion that comes at the cost of even more brave men and women. That delusion probably added another 20,000 names to the Vietnam Memorial. It is a formula for ever more waste.

No one wants to think of their loved one dead in a war that had no reason. But all too often that is the case. While I grieve with the families for their loss, I must remember my amnesia perpetuates more death. I close with the words of Word War I poet and soldier Siegfied Sassoon on the dedication of the memorial cenotaph in London after another war in which many died in vain.

At the Cenotaph

I saw the Prince of Darkness, with his Staff,
Standing bare-headed by the Cenotaph :
Unostentatious and respectful, there
He stood, and offered up the following prayer.
'Make them forget, O Lord, what this Memorial
Means; their discredited ideas revive;
Breed new belief that War is purgatorial
Proof of pride and power of being alive;
Men's biologic urge to readjust
The Map of Europe, Lord of Hosts, increase;
Lift up their hearts in large destructive lust;
And crown their heads with blind vindictive Peace.'
The Prince of Darkness to the Cenotaph
Bowed. As he walked away I heard him laugh.

One Way

Patrick McGeevy writes in Informed Comment:

The Bush Administration encourages Israel to crush Hezbollah, perhaps because many in the US think Israel is a settler society facing exactly the situation their own country once faced. But haven’t Israelis been here long enough to recognize that simplistic example of the eastward gaze called the war on terror? Lashing out will not make Israel safe; such a strategy is based on faulty “knowledge”: it is like plowing the sea. If crushing people will make them capitulate, the people of Gaza would long ago have become docile rather than defiant. There is only one way: the Israelis must talk to their adversaries and negotiate a just settlement that addresses Arab concerns on an equal footing with their own. (emphasis added)

Monday, August 07, 2006

August 7, 1964

On this day 42 years ago, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing President Lyndon B. Johnson to "...take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom."

Today, almost four years after Congress authorized military action against Iraq, would be a good day to reflect on the lessons of that much earlier action.

Limits to Super Power

Two excellent articles illustrate America’s dilemma as the “worlds only superpower.” Pierre Tristam writes in Candide’s Notebooks that the United States has come face to face with the limits of its power in Iraq. Tristam begins by quoting Chief of Staff General Peter Pace at last week’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing:

“I believe that U.S. armed forces today can continue to do what we’re doing, which is to help provide enough security inside of Iraq for the Iraqi government to provide governance and economic opportunity for their citizens.” But here was the catch: “The weight of that opportunity rests with the Iraqi people. We can provide support. We can help provide security. But they must now decide about their sectarian violence.”

In other words, the U.S. military’s mission is confessing its limits—and unwillingness to go beyond them. It is as good as a green light to the warmongers, not dissimilar from the implicit green light to warmongering in Lebanon , and not with entirely different results. In either case, radical Shiitism is ascendant, American influence in decline. The Bush doctrine, intended as the wildfire of democratic reform, proved to be the accelerant of that decline.

[...]

It’s not, as Bush claim[s]..., that the war there “is part of a larger struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror in the Middle East .” It’s that overwhelming military force in the 21 st century is meaningless when it’s up against the flammables of what the West is neither equipped nor willing to understand, let alone deal with in less than embarrassing, savage ways: a mixture of sectarianism and tribalism paradoxically wedding itself to nationalist mantles: Hezbollah’s Shiitism in the name of Lebanese independence (however alleged), Sunnis and Shiites battling it out in Iraq in the name of supremacy of the faith and the nation—Umma, Oprah. For now, only Sartre seems to have the answer of what so many analysts have been calling an “existential” struggle on all sides: “No Exit.” (emphasis added)


That theme is similar to Jonathan Schell’s much longer article in The Nation. Schell traces American ascendancy as a world power, noting the irony of great power often checked by nationalist movements (China, Vietnam) or rivals’ nuclear weapons (Soviet Union, even North Korea).

The United States, to be sure, is a great power by any measure, surely the world's greatest, yet that power is hemmed in by obstacles peculiar to our era. The mistake has been not so much to think that the power of the United States is greater than it is as to fail to realize that power itself, whether wielded by the United States or anyone else--if conceived in terms of military force--has been in decline. By imagining otherwise, the United States has become the fool of force--and the fool of history. (emphasis added)


Schell also traces the ominous consequence of America’s failure to understand the limits of military power. In addition to the costs of war are the threats to Constitutional government from the politicians–Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon and Richard Cheney–who blame internal weakness and domestic traitors for the failure of American arms.

Supposedly, the United States learned those lessons in Vietnam and the Watergate scandals that flowed from that bitter experience. I guess Americans still need remedial education. The costs are high for this nation and the world.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

In Memory of August 6, 1945

Today is the 61st anniversary of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. Watch this video to learn how we have progressed since then.

The Heart of War

Even as the United States fights a war in Iraq, that war in Vietnam just won’t go away. For those of us who served in that conflict, Vietnam has never gone away although the nation has done it best to forget that war. But like the beating heart in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, Vietnam still throbs into our consciousness. The flag draped coffins now returning to America’s cities and towns are all too reminiscent of the images so many of us remember from the Vietnam era.

That Tell-Tale Heart still beats, forcing its way into our consciousness. From today’s Los Angeles Times:
The men of B Company were in a dangerous state of mind. They had lost five men in a firefight the day before. The morning of Feb. 8, 1968, brought unwelcome orders to resume their sweep of the countryside, a green patchwork of rice paddies along Vietnam's central coast.

They met no resistance as they entered a nondescript settlement in Quang Nam province. So Jamie Henry, a 20-year-old medic, set his rifle down in a hut, unfastened his bandoliers and lighted a cigarette.

Just then, the voice of a lieutenant crackled across the radio. He reported that he had rounded up 19 civilians, and wanted to know what to do with them. Henry later recalled the company commander's response:

Kill anything that moves.

Henry stepped outside the hut and saw a small crowd of women and children. Then the shooting began.

Moments later, the 19 villagers lay dead or dying.

Back home in California, Henry published an account of the slaughter and held a news conference to air his allegations. Yet he and other Vietnam veterans who spoke out about war crimes were branded traitors and fabricators. No one was ever prosecuted for the massacre.

Now, nearly 40 years later, declassified Army files show that Henry was telling the truth — about the Feb. 8 killings and a series of other atrocities by the men of B Company.

The files are part of a once-secret archive, assembled by a Pentagon task force in the early 1970s, that shows that confirmed atrocities by U.S. forces in Vietnam were more extensive than was previously known.

The documents detail 320 alleged incidents that were substantiated by Army investigators — not including the most notorious U.S. atrocity, the 1968 My Lai massacre.

Despite reports filed by courageous soldiers like Jamie Henry, the military was not interested in prosecuting these crimes. Of the 320 substantiated incidents, only 203 individuals were court martialed, resulting in 57 convictions.

Fourteen received prison sentences ranging from six months to 20 years, but most won significant reductions on appeal. The stiffest sentence went to a military intelligence interrogator convicted of committing indecent acts on a 13-year-old girl in an interrogation hut in 1967.

He served seven months of a 20-year term, the records show.

Many substantiated cases were closed with a letter of reprimand, a fine or, in more than half the cases, no action at all.

In the words of one investigator, “Everyone just wanted Vietnam to just go away.”

Almost four decades later, Americans are once again involved in a frustrating, guerilla war that has produced horrifying incidents. Unlike Vietnam, where only a few abuses ever entered the public consciousness, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Mamuhdiya are now part of the known history of our war there.

Retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns, a Vietnam veteran who served on the task force, says he once supported keeping the records secret but now believes they deserve wide attention in light of alleged attacks on civilians and abuse of prisoners in Iraq.

"We can't change current practices unless we acknowledge the past," says Johns, 78.

I wonder, though, if this nation is any more willing to confront this all too predictable consequence of war. Will we want Iraq to "just go away".