Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It Sucks

Read an interesting article by Scott Ritter on the future of Iraq. His predictions are pretty grim: failure of American policy in that country due to wishful thinking and ignorance on the part of Americans and our leaders.

Iraq, far from being a nation on the rebound, retapjormains a mortally wounded shell, the equivalent of a human suffering from a sucking chest wound, its lungs collapsed and its life blood spilling unchecked onto the ground. The “surge” never addressed the underlying reasons for Iraq’s post-Saddam suffering, and as such never sought to heal that which was killing Iraq. Instead, the “surge” offered little more than a cosmetic gesture, covering the wounds of Iraq with a bandage which shielded the true extent of the damage from outside view while doing nothing to save the victim.

The article has much to recommend it; I suggest you read it. What caught my eye, though, was not so much the content, which is very good and knowledgeable, but his language, especially the "sucking chest wound" simile. I first encountered the term in Army first aid training and it has stuck with me ever since. I am happy to say that A sucking chest wound is a hole through the chest into the lung which then sucks air through the opening and prevents the lung from inflating. Treatment includes covering the wound with a bandage that prevents air from entering through the wound. I was fortunate never to encounter a sucking chest wound.

The term conjures up several images for me. On one hand is injury and death. The other is the black humor of combat where we joke about the things we fear most. I don't know that a sucking chest wound is any better or worse than any other comparable injury but in my unit, at least, a sucking chest wound seemed to represent everything that was bad about our situation. Our running joke was that "A sucking chest wound is Nature's way of telling you to slow down." Maybe it was the term "suck" which succinctly summarized the whole business.

Nothing about a sucking chest wound is remotely funny, yet we joked about it. I don't know if the joking was some sort of mantra to ward off injury of just a way of getting past our own fear. Either way the term is burned into my consciousness like the sound of helicopters flying overhead or Claymore mine. It's one of the things that takes me right back to Vietnam.

If Ritter believes the term applies to American policy in Iraq, then the situation is dire, indeed.


Yesterday, 12 February, was the "anniversary" of my first "firefight". Both terms are relative. Anniversary implies something worth celebrating. Firefight implies combat action, which in this case was mostly on our side, firing hundreds of rounds at two Vietnamese who were unlucky enough to run into Alpha Company on 12 February 1971. They got off a few rounds before disappearing into the jungle. All we found were some blood trails but I think we called them in as probable kills.

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