Thursday, July 13, 2006

Light Blogging Ahead

I'm heading to Portland, Oregon tomorrow for a conference and am working on a proposal that's due next week so I'll be away from blogging till then. Go check out Mockingbird's Medley or any of the other fine sites in Blogtopia (y!sctp). Maybe J-Walk will be back. Or go listen to Whole Wheat Radio.

What Iraq Got for $18 Billion

The Agonist has an excellent analysis, including photos, of the Iraqi reconstruction program.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Thanks for the Plugs

This humble blog recently received some welcome notice by fellow bloggers. Minimus Pauly gave me what he described as "(long overdue)shameless pluggery" at Mockingbird's Medley. I know Minimus as one of the team members at Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, which is among the first blogs I ever read, but I only recently discovered that he had his own blog. I recommend it to all my readers, espcially if you are following the Virginia Senate race. I think Minimus is in my old hometown, Richmond, Virginia.

Perhaps, Minimus' recommendation also led to the shout out from Skippy as well.

Thanks, guys. When I finally figure out how to add a blog roll, you'll both be on it.

Iraq's Liberators in Year Four

Riverbend's latest post at Baghdad Burning:

...The pity I once had for foreign troops in Iraq is gone. It's been eradicated by the atrocities in Abu Ghraib, the deaths in Haditha and the latest news of rapes and killings. I look at them in their armored vehicles and to be honest- I can't bring myself to care whether they are 19 or 39. I can't bring myself to care if they make it back home alive. I can't bring myself to care anymore about the wife or parents or children they left behind. I can't bring myself to care because it's difficult to see beyond the horrors. I look at them and wonder just how many innocents they killed and how many more they'll kill before they go home. How many more young Iraqi girls will they rape?

Why don't the Americans just go home? They've done enough damage and we hear talk of how things will fall apart in Iraq if they 'cut and run', but the fact is that they aren't doing anything right now. How much worse can it get? People are being killed in the streets and in their own homes- what's being done about it? Nothing. It's convenient for them- Iraqis can kill each other and they can sit by and watch the bloodshed- unless they want to join in with murder and rape.

This from a woman who initially welcomed America's toppling of Saddam Hussein. It saddens me that she views Americans in this manner. As an American I want to believe that she is wrong but her view doesn't surprise me, given her situation.

Donald Rumsfeld, meanwhile, goes the other way, insisting that "...coalition forces are performing in a highly professional and a courageous and skillful way." Maybe so, but the failures of command that contribute to atrocities will destroy American credibility.

Just ask Riverbend.

Going Soft on Convicted Criminals

Three hundred years later, Virginia pardons a "witch".

On Monday, 300 years after Grace Sherwood was convicted at a trial that saw her thrown into the Lynnhaven River with her thumbs tied to her feet, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine pardoned her. The rules of the trial were simple: If you floated, you were guilty of being a witch; if you sank, you were cleared. And dead

Sherwood floated.

She served more than seven years in jail, was released and lived until she was 80. She is the only person convicted in Virginia by a "witch ducking trial."


"With 300 years of hindsight, we all certainly can agree that trial by water is an injustice," Kaine wrote. "We also can celebrate the fact that a woman's equality is constitutionally protected today, and women have the freedom to pursue their hopes and dreams."

Kind of makes you wonder how waterboarding will be viewed by future generations.

Setting a Withdrawal Date

The US Army has announced that it will end its exclusive contract with Halliburton for logisitics services overseas. That's the contract under which Halliburton

"...had exclusive rights to provide the military with a wide range of work that included keeping soldiers around the world fed, sheltered and in communication with friends and family back home. Government audits turned up more than $1 billion in questionable costs. Whistle-blowers told how the company charged $45 per case of soda, double-billed on meals and allowed troops to bathe in contaminated water."

The War Tapes has several scenes depicting Halliburton's service: the extra charge for a styrofoam plate to cover food taken from the mess hall and third country nationals driving supply trucks without windshields.

More interesting, though, the same article notes that the US will not fund additional reconstruction contracts in Iraq after September 30, 2006. The administration made this announcement earler this year but today's article, coming not long after the Senate's refusal to set a date to withdraw American troops, reminds me that for all BushCheney's heated rhetoric against any kind of "cut and run", he is doing just that with regard to America's obligations to rebuild Iraq.

Reconstructing Iraq would go a long way to alleviating the political crises in that country. Demonstrating American competence and improved living conditions would have lessened the appeal of the insurgency. Conversely, the presence of a foreign occupier has fueled the insurgency. Pulling the plug on reconstruction while continuing military operations seems to me to be completely backward.

But that's been pretty much the policy since before Day One.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

In Memory of John Donovan

John Donovan was buried today. He was a member of my old trail club in Richmond, Virginia who went missing in 2005 while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Efforts to find him last year were futile. His remains were found in June of this year when two lost hikers stumbled into his camp. They used matches from John's pack to start a fire which attracted attention from rescuers. A subsequent search located John's remains nearby.

I did not know John. Friends from the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club knew him and told me about him. He was an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, meticulous and well versed in outdoor skills. How he came to lose his life while hiking is a mystery. John Donovan meant much to my friends; their loss is my loss as well.

God rest your soul, John. Your life and friendship have touched more people than you ever knew.

Waiting for the Swiftboats

Taylor Marsh has posted a very good analysis of Republican efforts to smear Representative Jack Murtha because of his opposition to the Iraq war. Popularly known as “swiftboating", this tactic questions the credibility of a public figure with whom one disagrees by devaluing the critic’s military service. It was an effective tactic against John Kerry in 2004 and is now being used against John Murtha.

Since I am a veteran and a critic of the Iraq war, I guess I too may fall victim to a swiftboat attack. (Okay, I’m engaging in delusional grandiosity here. I’m not that important.) I claim some authority for having served in combat. Hell, earning those chops is probably THE reason I went to Vietnam. I sure didn’t volunteer for combat. In fact, I did what I could to avoid it. But in the end, I went. And while I was lucky as hell during my five months in the field, that experience certainly marked me for life. So, when I stand as a veteran to criticize war, I believe I have a right and a duty to do so.

Part of my iconography as an anti-war veteran are my medals. Just as John Kerry and John Murtha point to their medals as proof of their courage and patriotism, so do I. Those awards are visible proof that I served with some level of distinction and I wear a few on my now faded and frayed fatigue shirt at times. And because they are proof, critics will attempt to devalue them just as they have attempted to do with Kerry and Murtha. So let me tell you what I think about those medals.

Medals were a fact of Army life, especially for career personnel. Even giving medals to the non-career men meant something to the lifers since it enhanced their records. During my military service I was awarded a Combat Infantry Badge, a Bronze Star, an Air Medal, a Republic of Vietnam Service Medal, a Vietnam Campaign Medal, a Good Conduct Medal and a National Defense Service Medal. In many respects, all of these awards are simply for “being there”.

A Combat Infantry Badge is awarded to soldiers trained as infantrymen (military occupational specialty 11B) who serve in hostile fire situations. In Vietnam the rule was 30 days in the field or the first time under fire. Those two events occurred in my case simultaneously on 12 February 1971. It was only a few shots fired by two retreating Vietnamese who happened to stumble on to an entire infantry company but it was hostile fire.

My Bronze Star is for service, not Valor or any specific accomplishment. My unit, the 1st Cavalry Division routinely awarded Bronze Stars to commissioned and non-commissioned officers at the end of their tours; other enlisted men received Army Commendation Medals for service. When I became company clerk in June 1971, I started submitting everyone for Bronze Stars and the awards were approved. No one noticed the difference. As I said, it was routine.

Same for my Air Medal. The 1st Cavalry awarded this medal to infantrymen for 25 combat assaults via helicopter. After all, we were an airmobile unit. Never mind that the “meritorious service while engaged in aerial operations in the Republic of Vietnam” consisted entirely of sitting in a helicopter. One cynical First Sergeant called it the equivalent of a safe driving award for riding in a taxi. Regardless, I made the requisite number of assaults, so I qualified for an Air Medal.

The Good Conduct Medal was simply an award given to enlisted men who didn’t break the rules (or get caught), so that became part of everyone’s record. The other three medals simply occurred because you were in Vietnam or in military service.

These medals were not awarded in any ceremony. They all came to me in printed orders that were part of my records. When I processed out of Vietnam, a supply clerk looked at my papers and handed me the requisite boxes, much like the way I was issued equipment in basic training.

At the time the only award that meant anything to me was my Combat Infantry Badge. Even though I have spent three and a half decades questioning my willingness to follow orders to kill in a war I believed wrong, I took pride then in that accomplishment. I still do. I know that sounds weird but being part of an infantry company and surviving that ordeal has always meant a lot to me. Even when I thought the only value of my medals would be to turn them back in as a protest against the war like the Vietnam Veterans Against the War who who particpated in Dewey Canyon III, I knew that I would never return my CIB.

The other medals mean less. I never had the opportunity to return them and over the years I have become attached to them (or vice-versa). I wear the CIB, Bronze Star, Air Medal, and RVN Service Medal at some protests. Along with my fatigue shirt, they are visible evidence that I have served and have personal experience in combat. I make no attempt to portray myself as a hero or accomplished infantryman. I’m just another grunt who was at the end of the pipeline.

It’s always amazed me that by giving into war, I earned credibility to criticize war. I don’t think that non-combatants lack credibility; draft resisters (chickenhawks excepted) and conscientious objectors have every bit as much credibility as I do. For me, my military service only has real meaning if I stand as a witness against war.

So when the swiftboaters come for me, you know what my medals mean.