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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Thursday, 3 June 2004

Topic: Iraq

Soldiers

We've all seen the news.

From the New York Times -
Army Extending Service for G.I.'s Due in War Zones
Eric Schmitt, June 3, 2004
The Army announced Wednesday that it would require all soldiers bound for Iraq and Afghanistan to extend their active duty at least until their units have returned home from duty there, a move that could keep thousands of troops in the service for months longer than they expected over the next several years.
From the Associated Press -
Army Plan Aims to Keep Soldiers on Duty
John J. Lumpkin, June 3, 2004, 12:05 AM CDT
The announcement Wednesday, an expansion of a program called "stop-loss," affects units that are 90 days or less from deploying.... The Army is struggling to find fresh units to continue the occupation of Iraq. Almost every combat unit has faced or will face duty there or in Afghanistan, and increased violence has forced the deployment of an additional 20,000 troops to the Iraq region, straining units even further.
A quick analysis from Matthew Yglesias in The American Prospect here -
This is probably the correct response to the manpower situation the military's currently facing, but it's obviously not viable -- or, really, acceptable -- as a long-term solution. What's worse, the more the military burdens the volunteers it's got, the harder it's going to be to recruit people in the future. Members of the National Guard have come to learn that they've committed themselves to something much more arduous than they might have initially believed, and now the active-duty military is learning that the stated lengths of their enlistments can be deceptive. The country needs a real answer to this manpower problem -- a higher end-strength and a restructuring to produce more of the kind of troops we need, and fewer who are better-suited for outdated tasks.
Maybe so.

From the Los Angeles Times, more detail -

Troops Told They Can't Leave Army
'Stop-loss orders' keep soldiers in service if their units are set to be deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. Officials call move 'finger in the dike.'
Esther Schrader, Times Staff Writer, Thursday, June 03, 2004
The Army has undertaken a series of recent measures to satisfy the personnel demands being imposed by the extended overseas conflicts.

Last week, a unit that for decades has had the job of preparing other deploying units at one of the Army's two elite training centers, the 1st Battalion of the 509th Parachute Infantry at Ft. Polk, La., was told that more than half of its soldiers would be sent to combat. It is the first combat deployment for the unit since World War II.

Army planners also are considering mobilizing its sister training unit, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California...

Last month, the 10th Mountain Division, which has already served once in Afghanistan and once in Iraq, got orders to deploy to Iraq again. In addition, a brigade of 3,600 troops based for decades in South Korea will be moved to Iraq.

In a further effort to bolster its numbers, the Army over the past year has called up about 5,000 members of the Individual Ready Reserve, a pool of veterans recently released from active duty, cadets at service academies and college students on military scholarships. The Ready Reserve, which is not required to continue training, is supposed to be called up only in a national emergency. Members of the reserve were last called up in small numbers in 1990, in preparation for the Persian Gulf War.
The Times also reports this is a bit controversial in the military.
"I've led troops for the past two years on the small unit level, and these are not guys who are unpatriotic in any way. They volunteered and in many cases have served multiple tours," said Andrew Exum, 25, a former Army captain who served in a special operations unit in Iraq and Afghanistan and has written a book based on his experiences.

"We're the ones who serve our country proudly and we're happy to do so. But we'd like to be able to plan on doing something else," Exum said. "There are a lot of guys who would just like to go to college, to start a family, and now their future plans are thrown into turmoil. These are the guys who are not going to say no to old Uncle Sam."
Well, yes. That is true.

Let's seem - we're short on troops so we're are sending all the training units from the National Training Center at Fort Irwin out in Barstow into combat in Iraq. Training the outgoing units is too much of a luxury - it's all on the job training from now on. And we're pulling in troops from the Korean peninsula.

Not good.

So what do you say to these guys?

Stan Goff, a retired Special Forces master sergeant, and the father of an active duty soldier, has some advice.

See Hold On to Your Humanity
An Open Letter to GIs in Iraq
Counterpunch Issue of November 14 / 23, 2003

Here's some of it:
I am a retired veteran of the army, and my own son is among you, a paratrooper like I was. The changes that are happening to every one of you--some more extreme than others--are changes I know very well. So I'm going to say some things to you straight up in the language to which you are accustomed.

In 1970, I was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, then based in northern Binh Dinh Province in what was then the Republic of Vietnam. When I went there, I had my head full of shit: shit from the news media, shit from movies, shit about what it supposedly mean to be a man, and shit from a lot of my know-nothing neighbors who would tell you plenty about Vietnam even though they'd never been there, or to war at all.

The essence of all this shit was that we had to "stay the course in Vietnam," and that we were on some mission to save good Vietnamese from bad Vietnamese, and to keep the bad Vietnamese from hitting beachheads outside of Oakland. We stayed the course until 58,000 Americans were dead and lots more maimed for life, and 3,000,000 Southeast Asians were dead. Ex-military people and even many on active duty played a big part in finally bringing that crime to a halt.

When I started hearing about weapons of mass destruction that threatened the United States from Iraq, a shattered country that had endured almost a decade of trench war followed by an invasion and twelve years of sanctions, my first question was how in the hell can anyone believe that this suffering country presents a threat to the United States? But then I remembered how many people had believed Vietnam threatened the United States. Including me.

When that bullshit story about weapons came apart like a two-dollar shirt, the politicians who cooked up this war told everyone, including you, that you would be greeted like great liberators. They told us that we were in Vietnam to make sure everyone there could vote.

What they didn't tell me was that before I got there in 1970, the American armed forces had been burning villages, killing livestock, poisoning farmlands and forests, killing civilians for sport, bombing whole villages, and committing rapes and massacres, and the people who were grieving and raging over that weren't in a position to figure out the difference between me--just in country--and the people who had done those things to them.

What they didn't tell you is that over a million and a half Iraqis died between 1991 and 2003 from malnutrition, medical neglect, and bad sanitation. Over half a million of those who died were the weakest: the children, especially very young children.

My son who is over there now has a baby. We visit with our grandson every chance we get. He is eleven months old now. Lots of you have children, so you know how easy it is to really love them, and love them so hard you just know your entire world would collapse if anything happened to them. Iraqis feel that way about their babies, too. And they are not going to forget that the United States government was largely responsible for the deaths of half a million kids.

So the lie that you would be welcomed as liberators was just that. A lie. A lie for people in the United States to get them to open their purse for this obscenity, and a lie for you to pump you up for a fight.

And when you put this into perspective, you know that if you were an Iraqi, you probably wouldn't be crazy about American soldiers taking over your towns and cities either. This is the tough reality I faced in Vietnam. I knew while I was there that if I were Vietnamese, I would have been one of the Vietcong.
Well, you get the idea. Click on the link for the whole thing.

Here's Goff's take on the challenge -
... In our process of fighting to stay alive, and in their process of trying to expel an invader that violated their dignity, destroyed their property, and killed their innocents, we were faced off against each other by people who made these decisions in $5,000 suits, who laughed and slapped each other on the back in Washington DC with their fat fucking asses stuffed full of cordon blue and caviar.

They chumped us. Anyone can be chumped.

That's you now. Just fewer trees and less water.

... I changed over there in Vietnam and they were not nice changes either. I started getting pulled into something - something that craved other people's pain. Just to make sure I wasn't regarded as a "fucking missionary" or a possible rat, I learned how to fit myself into that group that was untouchable, people too crazy to fuck with, people who desired the rush of omnipotence that comes with setting someone's house on fire just for the pure hell of it, or who could kill anyone, man, woman, or child, with hardly a second thought. People who had the power of life and death--because they could.

The anger helps. It's easy to hate everyone you can't trust because of your circumstances, and to rage about what you've seen, what has happened to you, and what you have done and can't take back.

It was all an act for me, a cover-up for deeper fears I couldn't name, and the reason I know that is that we had to dehumanize our victims before we did the things we did. We knew deep down that what we were doing was wrong. So they became dinks or gooks, just like Iraqis are now being transformed into ragheads or hajjis. People had to be reduced to "niggers" here before they could be lynched. No difference. We convinced ourselves we had to kill them to survive, even when that wasn't true, but something inside us told us that so long as they were human beings, with the same intrinsic value we had as human beings, we were not allowed to burn their homes and barns, kill their animals, and sometimes even kill them. So we used these words, these new names, to reduce them, to strip them of their essential humanity, and then we could do things like adjust artillery fire onto the cries of a baby.

Until that baby was silenced, though, and here's the important thing to understand, that baby never surrendered her humanity. I did. We did. That's the thing you might not get until it's too late. When you take away the humanity of another, you kill your own humanity. You attack your own soul because it is standing in the way.

So we finish our tour, and go back to our families, who can see that even though we function, we are empty and incapable of truly connecting to people any more, and maybe we can go for months or even years before we fill that void where we surrendered our humanity, with chemical anesthetics--drugs, alcohol, until we realize that the void can never be filled and we shoot ourselves, or head off into the street where we can disappear with the flotsam of society, or we hurt others, especially those who try to love us, and end up as another incarceration statistic or a mental patient.

You can ever escape that you became a racist because you made the excuse that you needed that to survive, that you took things away from people that you can never give back, or that you killed a piece of yourself that you may never get back.

... So here is my message to you. You will do what you have to do to survive, however you define survival, while we do what we have to do to stop this thing. But don't surrender your humanity. Not to fit in. Not to prove yourself. Not for an adrenaline rush. Not to lash out when you are angry and frustrated.

... I can tell you, without fear of legal consequence, that you are never under any obligation to hate Iraqis, you are never under any obligation to give yourself over to racism and nihilism and the thirst to kill for the sake of killing, and you are never under any obligation to let them drive out the last vestiges of your capacity to see and tell the truth to yourself and to the world. You do not owe them your souls.

Come home safe, and come home sane. The people who love you and who have loved you all your lives are waiting here, and we want you to come back and be able to look us in the face. Don't leave your souls in the dust there like another corpse.
This is pretty straightforward advice, if somewhat subversive.

My friend John, a Vietnam veteran himself, reacts:
When I returned from Vietnam, I went to Chicago to visit my brother. We went to visit his 5-year-old daughter who was in a local hospital. She was doing well, but there was a very thin child in the same pediatrics ward sitting in a wheel chair looking very sad, not participating in play with the other children, looking as though he had no inspirations. My brother tried to cheer him up with kind conversation. He got ice cream for this child, and spent several hours attending, very passionately, to him. I heard him ask the nurse if the child had family or other visitors.

One reason I remember that day so well is because he showed so much kindness, patience, care and concern for this child's well being and I watched quietly for hours but I really didn't give a damn about that child's condition. That is what happens to one when all humanity is lost. Fortunately, with the help of family and friends, most of it has been recovered.

Stan Goff is right on the money.
John recovered. I know him. I don't know how hard it was for him to return.

Phillip Raines commented -
I found that read stirring too, and was hit most of all by the impending loss of humanity from being in combat. When survival is a matter of fact and keen priority, something's gotta go. Things that are most near get shut down. I'm glad to hear that an antidote to the damage exists, and wouldn't you know it would come form the people who care about you? That is not the guys in $5000 suits that Goff refers to, spouting off bravery from safe and cushy Washington. I believe as the writer said, they don't give a shit about you soldier, not in any depth.

A couple of quick points. I spoke with Chip Carter, who reads foreign affairs journals as part of work with the Carter Center. I learned that human right abuses from other countries that had previously tempered their practices, would now be resumed, and Geneva conventions taken more lightly, because of the Iraqi prison photos. They see that as long as you refer to an enemy as a terrorist, or maybe even an insurgent, then you can get away with, well... you know.
Yep.

Well, there is a UN human rights report due out soon.

What about it?

See US frantic to soften harsh language in UN rights report on Iraq
AFP, Wednesday June 2, 20048:43 PM ET

This is ironic:
The United States is scrambling to soften allegedly harsh and inflammatory criticism of the US-led coalition in Iraq that is expected to be contained in a UN human rights report to be released this week, US officials said.

...The officials said US diplomats are lobbying for language in a report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to be toned down in a bid to prevent a new firestorm of controversy over the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees by US troops at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.

... The final version of the report is to be released Friday at UN human rights headquarters in Geneva and Washington fears that, without changes, its publication could complicate efforts to secure passage of a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, the officials told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Got it?

How did we get into this mess? Bad soldiers? Hardly.

See Wise Counsel
Appoint a special counsel to investigate Geneva violations.
Neal Katyal - Posted Friday, May 28, 2004, at 1:50 PM PT - SLATE.COM

Now Neal Katyal teaches law at Georgetown University. He is chief counsel to the military defense lawyers in the Guant?namo case pending at the Supreme Court.

What's he argue?
In the past week, details have emerged of not only more prisoner abuse in Iraq, but also a concerted effort by the president's chief lawyer to try to insulate such abuse from domestic criminal investigation. A 2002 memorandum from White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales tells the president to refuse to apply the protection of the Geneva Conventions to detainees because Americans could be charged in domestic courts with war crimes. Now that photos and Army reports suggest that just such crimes have been committed, a criminal investigation is necessary. And because the administration's own memoranda reveal that it tried to adopt policies to frustrate precisely such prosecutions, the attorney general must now appoint an outside prosecutor to investigate whether war crimes actually occurred.

This is the paradigmatic case for a special counsel.
Really. The whole thing is long and detailed, a legal argument.

And there is a smoking gun.

And it is not in the hands of a soldier.

Posted by Alan at 21:28 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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