Saturday, June 24, 2006

Hadji Girl

[This originally appeared as a four part piece at Alternate Brain. I combined them in one post here to make it easier to link to. - Fixer]

Hadji Girl

Seems the Marines in Iraq are making up their own songs (video). Now, I usually leave Affairs de Corps to Gord because they're his boys, but a lot of people are taking exception to the brutality inflicted in Haditha and other places in Iraq and this video will probably raise more Hell. Let me explain something, being I've been in combat with Marines. Remember this:

The Marine Corps is not a police orgainization. The Marines have one purpose, to kill the enemy by any means possible. If you expect them to be touchy-feely and 'community oriented' like your local cops, you're sadly mistaken.

Now, I'm not condoning or trying to justify anything that resembles a war crime, but I think some of us on the left have to develop stronger stomachs.


I worry about people who think like this coming back into society. That kind of thing cannot be considered gallantry on the battle field. It's ugly and dirty and ultimately is going to blow back on some of these guys. I hope the Republicans are prepared to spend as much on VA mental health as they've spent filling their right wing cronies' bank accounts because a lot of these guys are going to need help. Our troops are in danger of losing their humanity in a war being fought for bogus political reasons. Some of them are going to have a hard time living with that.


Note to Digby: War is ugly and dirty and if you want to win, you have to be prepared to kill women and children. That's just the way it is. If you don't want innocents killed, don't go to war, period. The guys on the ground don't have the luxury of debating whether the war is just or not.


It's a good deal for senior ground commanders, who get career boosts by dint of assignment to the war zone that used to be a relatively peaceful country, ruled by a dictator whose fangs had been pulled by 12 years of sanctions and UN weapons inspections. For the younger ground commanders at company level, and the EM [enlisted men], of course, it's just toughski shitski, so suck it up, troop.


While we rail against war, there is a sad fact that war (not this war), sometimes, has to be done. I don't want touchy-feely Marines. I don't want touchy-feely anybody in the combat disciplines, be they Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine. I want them to be comfortable enough with killing that they won't hesitate when the time comes. I was, once. Rightly or wrongly, and don't forget these guys hear what the government wants them to hear, the Jarheads in that meat grinder believe anybody brown over there is a potential enemy. Ask a Vietnam-era infantry troop how that goes. Ask him how you justify friend from foe when Hell is erupting all around you. I couldn't, not unless you were wearing the same uniform I was.

A few weeks back, I alluded to an op in Afghanistan many years ago where we took ground fire extracting a CIA operator from Waziristan. I lost a friend on that op and I had no qualms drawing a bead on anybody on the ground as the chopper tried to lift off. I didn't care who it was; Soviet, Afghani, goat herder, it didn't matter. Shit, thems on the ground probably thought we were Russians. All we knew was we were taking fire. The door gunners and ramp gunner opened up and all of us who could, found a spot on that damned Pave Low to fire from. There was brass flying and noise from the mini guns and rifles cracking and small arms fire puncturing the fuselage, the chopper's jets screaming to lift that heavy bitch adding to the din. It was fucking insane. I'm sure a lot of innocents died that day. Have a rifle in your hands in the same circumstances and tell me what you'd do.

If the Marines had been used properly, not interchangably with Army troops or Military Police, we would see far fewer of these horrors perpetrated upon innocent civilians. If it weren't for the Chimp's illegal war, none of the atrocities would have happened. While the Marines, if found guilty, must take responsibility for their actions, the ultimate responsibility lies at the door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill.

Hadji Girl 2

Okay, so let's talk about war a little, since most Americans think it's something like a cross between Mission Impossible and a Tom Clancy novel. It's not. People talk of war in terms of 'surgical strikes' and 'special ops units', thinking a few bombs and a few commando units running around can win any conflict. From the way the Iraq War has been run, it would seem a few of the civilians (and some of the generals) in the Penatgon believe the same things. I'm not talking about the morality of war, because war is also immoral by definition.

The idea behind going to war is to pound an enemy hard enough, destroy enough of his infrastructure, and kill enough of his people to make him lose the strength and the stomach to fight. Simple.

Your enemy's government is your enemy, his people are your enemies, and his ability to resupply his troops is your enemy. [If you want some perspective on this, check out some of the Bugs Bunny cartoons made during the war years ... if you can find them - F-man] When you have to start making distinctions; 'we are not angry with the people of (pick any country), just their government', you lose your right to wage war. When you have to say, 'we don't want to destroy their (pick something), just remove their leadership', when you force the men and women you send into combat to differentiate which of the 'enemy's' people are friend or foe, you have no right being at war to begin with.

War is for the defense of the nation and nothing else. Certainly not for 'regime change' in a nation posing no threat. It is the basest form of national revenge and, by definition, should be fought without concern for anything but victory. Dresden, the firebombing and atomic bombing of Japanese cities during World War Two, that was war in all its excruciating malevolence. It was a simple decision. We were attacked, the next day we were at war.

There was no need to spin things on 8 December 1941. No need for forged documents, no need for weapons inspectors, no need for intelligence assessments; bombs fell upon the U.S. Pacific Fleet at its homeport of Pearl Harbor. That was all the evidence needed. Did you think what happened after, the years of world war, was an honorable pursuit? There was unspeakable horror, almost a generation's worth of European and Japanese men wiped out, countless innocent deaths and we reconcile that with the fact we faced an enemy we believed evil incarnate. We did whatever was required to force their capitulation.

One day, we will have to reconcile the war in Iraq. We will have to sit back and ask if all the deaths, the maimings, and the horror was worth it. I tend to believe this war will leave us with a case of national post traumatic stress syndrome. It might take years, but eventually we will come to the collective realization that we were the bad guys. I think many of us do already.

Hadji Girl 3

Since I brought up the realities of combat and the rationale for war yesterday (Hadji Girl, Hadji Girl 2), I'd like to talk this morning about what the guys and girls in the meat grinder have to deal with.

As I've let on, I've seen combat on more than a few occasions. Basically on spec ops missions where we encountered unfriendlies. Grenada was different, but it was more of a spec ops job than a war. And that's what I'm getting at. Yesterday we spoke of the inherent inhumanity of war as it related to the civilians. Today we speak of the troops.

Some smart guy said, many years ago, that war was 'long stretches of boredom interrupted by short stretches of intense terror'. Which is quite probably true. It's this difference I'd like to talk about. The difference between 'war' and an 'operation'. I was on operations. We trained up, were on station for a week or so, took care of business, were debriefed, and then returned to our base. Over, done, put it in the past and prepare for the next.

When we were done, our ladies (or guys, but don't ask, don't tell) were waiting for us. The bar was open and you were back in the bosom of 'family', so to speak. We could decompress, drink, fuck, do whatever we had to in order to forget about the nastiness we just finished dealing with. Trust me, you have to forget, or at least put it in a place where you can deal with it.

The guys in this war don't have that luxury. Not only are they going out to fight, their patrols at constant risk from IED, but they are not safe when they come in from patrols either. They are living in the war zone. A mortar or rocket can ruin their day at any time. They are always on, always up, always juiced. There is no time, no place, for them to decompress fully.

Sex is difficult and in the Mid-East, booze is close to non-existent (black market and officer's tents only ... probably). Oh what? Sex and booze? 'We don't send our troops out to fuck and get drunk', you might say. Well, let me tell ya. They're human beings too and there are only so many ways humans can deal with that kind of stress in a place where their freedom is so limited. A place where personal safety is a very tenuous thing.

In the Air Force when I was in, we had a thing called the 'Golden B-B'. I'm pretty sure it had its origins in Vietnam. It went that there was a bullet with your name on it somewhere. Until you and that bullet met up, you'd be fine, but one day that Golden B-B was gonna get ya. Well, when you live every fucking day looking, waiting, watching for that Golden B-B, you can get a little, if not a lot, crazy. Especially when you know, until you get orders home, that Golden B-B might catch up with you as you lay in your rack, or cot, or bedroll, dreaming about the hottie waiting for you when you get home.

Do that for a year at a time. Then do that year for the second or third time.

Think you'd keep your sanity?

And you wonder why I have no patience for people who talk about war like it's a big fucking game?

Hadji Girl 4

Okay, this is the last one, basically because thinking about this is keeping me up nights again. Have I mentioned there is a big price to pay for allowing yourself to get in touch with your more baser instincts? It's how I figured out I wasn't a psychopath; those guys can sleep well.

Anyway, I'm talking about leadership today. Or the lack thereof. This struck me this morning:


Russert: If your analysis is not correct, and we're not treated as liberators, but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?

Cheney: Well, I don't think it's likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.


And that was that. They created a culture around the need to go to war. They made their plans, fixed the intelligence, defiled a genuine relationship that took two centuries to cultivate to give them some legitimacy, and got themselves a war.

The grunts on the ground, who would ultimately do the dirty work, didn't have a say. The flag (Generals and Admirals) officers who did speak up, opposed to the folly, were cashiered or discredited. Opposition was considered traitorous. Those in command positions now are nothing more than 'yes men' for the administration.

So now we have a war run by draft dodgers and incompetents.

Under the auspices of the Global War on Terror (GWOT), we have abdicated our responsibility to treaties signed in good faith by those speaking for the people of the United States. The Geneva Conventions are not quaint or archaic, or a plot by the U.N. to tie America's hands when prosecuting the GWOT. They are in place to protect our soldiers. This is why I talk about taking the high road. The Rude Pundit says it best as only he can:

Chances are, maybe even by the time you read this, the two American soldiers, captured by the Mujahideen Shura Council in Iraq, will be dead, probably in some horrible way, probably with their bodies dumped like all the horribly murdered Iraqis in the blood and gore-strewn landscape that are the markers of Iraqi liberation...


What if we get pictures of the soldiers, nude, cowering, screaming in a corner, shitting themselves on the filthy floors of a makeshift cell, as their captors hold snarling dogs on leashes just out of bite range of the soldiers?

What if we learn that their captors decide that the soldiers can offer intelligence that can be of use to al-Qaeda and, in order to get that information, the captors put the nude soldiers into rooms that are heated to hellish temperatures, followed by rooms that are impossibly cold with colder water tossed onto them? What if the soldiers are made to stand for days on end? Put into stress positions that fuck up their muscles and limbs? Denied sleep? Had loud music played into their cells? Kept in isolation and fed bread and water for days, weeks on end?


And he posits:


And what about the good right-wing punditry? Would Rush Limbaugh look at the photos of the nude, cowering Americans and say it looks like fraternity hazing or some such shit? Would others dismiss it as a media fabrication? Or would they just pathetically overlook everything done in our American names to Iraqis, Afghanis, and others, calling madly for the heads of the captors, not even thinking about the irony of such a statement?


Yes, ladies and germs, what if? Can we take the high road? Of course not. Our leaders say treatment like that is permissible to achieve certain ends. Is it okay for us to do it but not al-Qaeda? We are in no position to protest the treatment of these men, whatever it might be, because we've taken a path no better than those we claim to be so different from. The abuses at Abu Ghraib might have been committed by the grunts, but they were given legitimacy by the leadership.

As I've explained in the first three parts of this little diatribe, and what it seems few people understand, is the guys doing the shooting don't make the decisions. They don't get the whole story, or anything near the truth. They're allowed to listen to Rush, but not Al Franken. They're allowed Fox 'News'. Most of the grunts in Iraq believe Saddam was in cahoots with Osama to pull off 9/11. So anybody who thinks the average soldier has any decision-making ability is fooling themselves. The grunts believe they are doing the right thing. They couldn't do their jobs if they didn't.

When we hear of abuses, crimes against civilians, and general misconduct by our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, you must remember the military is a tightly controlled organization. When those in the lower ranks act up, or act out, you can almost always trace it back to a permissiveness on the part of the command, be it the local commander, the theater commander, or the Commander in Chief himself.

When I was in, I knew how long my leash was. So did the other guys. We knew what our CO would let us get away with and we generally didn't cross the line. When we did, we paid, usually with really shitty details so we didn't forget exactly where the line was. My CO looked the other way to a lot of our hijinks but no one got hurt.

The line in the GWOT has become very wide and very gray. There is only one reason for that and it's simple. Failure of leadership. A rule of thumb to use is the wider and grayer the line, the higher up in the chain of command the failure goes. A supply sergeant running a black market operation out of Okinawa is a local command failure. Soldiers murdering innocent civilians and torturing prisoners is a failure at the top.

As I've said before, the grunts should pay for what they've done but so should the leadership. I've seen a whole buncha grunts go to jail over the past couple years, but the people who define where the line is have yet to answer for their crimes.

It is why I want more than to see Bush and his cronies out of power, I want them all in jail too.

Cross-posted at Worlds.