"History's verdict is all we have left.  And when tomorrow calls today into account, some of us want to say we stood up.  We called out.  We were not silent."
--Leonard Pitts, Jr., "Gestures of Conscience Bring Solace," Baltimore Sun, March 19, 2006

HUMPIN' IT WITH A BULL'S-EYE ON YOUR BACK

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This entry was posted on 5/13/2009 4:43 PM and is filed under uncategorized.

When my son was deployed to the Anbar Province of Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps Third Regiment, Fifth Marine in 2004-5 and again in 2006, one of the assigned missions of his unit was to go out on the kinds of patrols that were deliberately designed to draw the insurgents out. 

In other words, they would "hump it" (walk), or drive in Humvees down the most dangerous roads in Iraq, in order to draw fire to themselves either through small arms, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, or IED's--the infamous roadside bombs.

I suppose the logic behind such reasoning was that it was a more efficient way to pinpoint the enemy than kicking down doors and arresting all the males between the ages of 16 and 50.

But it was hell on the Marines.  As my son put it:

"It wasn't a matter of WHETHER we would be hit or WHEN we would be hit--it was a matter of WHO would be hit."

Every single day, when they gathered up their rifles and 80-90 pound rucksacks and headed out, they knew that one or more of them would either be killed, maimed, or otherwise injured during the course of that patrol.

It takes an uncommon courage to do this every day for months on end, because as my son explained, they were scared to death.  All the time.  But they did it anyway.

And they are still doing it--on the streets of Mosul and the mountains of Afghanistan.

Every damn day.

I've been watching the torture debate and Cheney Magical History Tour with growing frustration, because the debate I see shaping up between those on the left and those on the right completely ignores the ones in the middle--AMERICAN TROOPS.

Cheney's claim that he and George W. Bush pretty much "kept America safe" for seven and a half years (oh how easy it is to overlook the most enormous act of terrorism on American soil in American history taking place on one's own watch)--is not only bullshit of the highest degree, but it utterly and completely IGNORES the people who really DID keep us safe--the moving targets out on patrol in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This was pointed out beautifully on the Tuesday night Rachel Maddow show by Lawrence Wilkerson, a close assistant to Colin Powell when he was Secretary of State during the second Bush years.

I'm paraphrasing, but the gist of what he said was this:


"Dick Cheney didn't keep us safe for seven and a half years.  The U.S. troops, who presented themselves as MOVING TARGETS (emphasis mine; words his), in Iraq and Afghanistan did, because terrorists who might have committed acts of terrorism on American soil instead turned their hatred and rage toward the 200,000 American troops who were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan."


Many of the insurgents who tried to kill my son and his buddies and three of his cousins and all the other American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were haters who had poured in from Syria, Jordan, Saudi, Yemen, and other places, to join al Qaeda in Iraq--a group who, by the way, did not exist in Iraq before Dick Cheney basically made it possible for them to do so.

They would pour into Iraq, join up with local malcontents, and get immediate, on-the-job training from the U.S. Marines and army troops who drew them out and fought them.  When the Marines or soldiers drove them out of an area, they would relocate to another area, and when most of the areas were taken over by American and Iraqi troops, they'd leave and go join the jihad in Afghanistan.

This is my complaint with one of many claims made by the right-wing, that somehow Bush and Co. "kept us safe."

They did not.

In fact, they made us far more at risk than ever before, first, by elevating a ragtag bunch of losers in the valleys of Afghanistan into superpower status every bit as frightening as the former Soviet Union, which empowered them not just in their own eyes, but in the eyes of other sympathizers; then, by invading Iraq, which outraged even moderates and allies among Muslim nations; then, by setting up torture policies.

The photographs of Abu Ghraib have been used repeatedly in terrorist recruitment websites, videos, pamphlets, and so on, to great effect. It was the best way in the world for us to enhance their recruitment techniques.

But what it meant for our troops who were fighting overseas was vicious, ongoing, constant attacks that never ended because the recruitment never ended, and those photographs helped even more than the war in Iraq to make that happen.

Do I think we needed to know that ugliness?  Yes, of course.  It put a white-hot light on the Bush administration's maggot-riddled underside and led to the reversal of those policies.

Now, there are congressional hearings on the torture memos, Dick Cheney's on his Magical History Tour that amounts to the most gigantic Cover Your Ass campaign in American history, and the 24-hour news cycle can talk of little else.

But just as those on the right can be blinded to the true reality of the uselessness, indeed, the make-worseness of torture as a security measure--blinded by their own innate fear and paranoia and vengefulness--so, too, can those on the left wear blindfolds of self-righteousness, justice, and their insistence in full transparency from this administration no matter what the consequences.

I'm talking, of course, of the decision by Obama not to release the torture photographs.

Blogs are already incensed, accusing Obama of betraying his word, of the press for rolling over, of Bush/Cheney for getting their way, and so on.

The idea that this really might have something to do with national security is roundly mocked, especially since, initially, the Obama administration planned to accept the federal appeals court ruling on the original ACLU Freedom of Information Act request.

But, as usual, the ones who will really be paying the biggest price for that photo-release--not Bush/Cheney, as so many on the left are certain of--but THE TROOPS...are overlooked.

Guys, these men and women are humpin' it over there for the seventh long year of war, counting Afghanistan.  They are humpin' it with gigantic bull's-eyes on their backs.  They are deliberately drawing out the terrorists in order to keep them away from our shores. 

They are ALSO reaching out to local Muslim populations, building schools, restoring water, conferring with tribal leaders, and trying valiently to get them to see that we are not the enemy; we are not at war with Islam; we are not trying to destroy them. 

When my nephew Troy was deployed as a company commander of a Stryker Brigade to the Diyala Province in 2007-8, this is what he did for 15 months.

UNDERSTAND:  In Afghanistan, for instance, virtually two-thirds of their population is illiterate.  The vast majority of Muslim extremists were "educated" in schools where the only thing they studied was the Koran, and a hostile, poorly-educated local imam's interpretation of it.

These are not people who will understand nuances of timing.  They will not understand, for example, that these are OLD photographs taken YEARS ago of torture practices that have since BEEN OUTLAWED.

All they will see is their kinsmen being tortured.

And any good that has been done, any building of schools or clinics or work with agriculture or villagers or anything else--will be wiped off the cultural map.

The footage will run on Al Jazeera for MONTHS.  Photos will appear in Arabic and Persian-language newspapers for MONTHS. 

They will be up and running on al Qaeda websites within minutes of having been posted by the United States.

I understand completely, the argument of those on the left who feel, as Cenk Uygur says in todays Huffington Post, Obama Makes Terrible Mistake by Not Releasing Pictures that full accountability can only come with their release, that television will only be consumed by what we did, if we can SEE what we did, and how that's important for full justice to take place.

But his argument actually becomes mine:


How many Americans have heard of Bagram Air Base and how we tortured people to death there? A scant few. How many would have heard of it if there were pictures of detainees shackled from the ceiling in a Palestinian hanging or bleeding to death? Pictures are worth a billion words.

You know why? Television! If something isn't on television, it didn't happen. And television producers are obsessed with visuals (makes some sense since it's a visual medium, but their obsession winds up dumbing down the news if there aren't any pictures or video to go along with an important story).

Television has a multiplier effect. The New York Times story on how we beat a man named Dilawar to death at Bagram just sits there and whoever reads it, reads it. And then, it's done. On television stories spread and multiply and get spread to other channels and other mediums. Television doesn't just report the news; it decides what the news is.


But you see, my dear, that is the whole point.

Television does not begin and end with the borders of the United States of America.

You can bet that the televisions all over the Arab world would present these photographs as ongoing abuses taking place RIGHT NOW, and that Obama's word cannot be trusted because, CLEARLY HE IS LYING.

So when he presents his groundbreaking, landmark speech in Cairo, Egypt, next month, nothing he says about a new relationship with the Arab world would be heeded.

Not with the pictures out there.

Releasing this particular set of photographs will not get the practice outlawed.  It has already been outlawed.

Releasing these photographs will not lead to congressional investigations.  Investigations are already ongoing.

Releasing these photographs will not change anything about the torture debate except for one thing:  IT WILL INFLAME THE MUSLIM WORLD at a time when our president is doing all he can to repair that terrible breach left behind by the Bush administration.

Let Dick Cheney crow on all he wants to.  He is becoming a charicature of himself and is loathed by three-quarters of the American population.  He is not helping his own cause and he is not helping his party.  I wish the talking-heads and bloggers would just ignore the son of a bitch.  It would give what he's saying far less credence if they did.

But the next time you get all wound up about how suppressing those pictures has absolutely nothing to do with national security, imagine this:

You are a walking bull's-eye, humpin' it down the streets of Kabul or Fallujah, the target on your back painted blood-red, and every time those photographs show up again in the Arab world, your target goes neon, and the threat on your life just increased tenfold.

Put yourself in those desert boots.

Think for a minute about the forgotten men and women in the middle.

Think for a minute past our own circular arguments.

Paint a bull's-eye on your own back, head out into a war-torn street in Iraq or Afghanistan, and see how comfortable you are with all those nice, clean, intellectual arguments then.

These things are never simple.  They are always complex and confusing.  Give our president credit for realizing that.

 

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Comments

    • 5/14/2009 5:33 PM Regina wrote:
      Once again you have managed to cut through all of the idiocy and bulls***t that seems to permeate the mainstream media in this country and given us the plain truth about something that affects all of us so deeply. I have been yelling and screaming at the television and pulling my hair out over this nonsense. Thank you!
      Reply to this
      1. 5/14/2009 6:04 PM Deanie Mills wrote:
        Awww. I thought I was the only one to yell and scream and pull my hair at the TV talking heads!  ;-D
        Reply to this
        1. 5/15/2009 12:29 PM Regina wrote:
          Deanie, do you think that the lack of sensitivity to the plight of our men and women in uniform exhibited by so many of these folk has to do with the fact that we have an all volunteer military service? Don’t get me wrong, my husband is retired army and I have a son who served in Iraq, but my brothers, cousins, friends and classmates were the ones who suffered the hell of Vietnam so I would be totally opposed to the re–institution of the draft, but it seems to me that the lack of investment in human capital causes a lot of folk to ignore the human element in these so called wars, which are more accurately described as “police actions”. I would really like to know your opinion on this. Maybe you could do a piece on it sometime.
          Reply to this
          1. 5/15/2009 2:51 PM Deanie Mills wrote:
            You know, I did do a piece on it, back in April of 2007, but when my server changed software some months ago, they seem to have lost my archives more than a year old.  The piece, called, "LET'S ALL BLAME THE TROOPS FOR THE MESS THEY'RE IN," is listed in my catalogue but you can't find it, and for some maddening reason, I did not save this one in Word, which I nearly always do.

            I am, howver, slavishly devoted to maintaining hard copies of EVERYTHING for this very reason, so I dug through my files filled with good old-fashioned paper copies and found it.

            It would just be a helluva lot easier if I could "cut and copy" rather than rewrite, but I'll condense.

            I mentioned a "quiet bigotry" that "shadows much of the war-dialogue I'm reading online; and that is that if you are dumb enough to actually VOLUNTEER to serve in the military during a losing war, then you are, for the most part, a loser yourself.  And that, furthermore, we shouldn't feel sorry for hardships enforced on military families since they are, basically, mercenaries."

            I then quoted from some really nasty left-wing comments that had been left on a blogpost by Iraq war vet and anti-war activist, Paul Reickhoff that he had put up over on Huffington Post.

            After that, I explained that the assumption that every single member of the military enlisted after the war began is, of course, wrong, and career troops got sucked into this endless cycle of Groundhog Day Bushian Madness.  I explained stop-loss, where many of them have been prevented from getting out when their commitments are completed, as well as those who are not career but can be recalled, which describes my son and one of my nephews at this point.

            I went into the reasons that men and women do enlist, how many of them come from imporverished rural or urban areas where jobs are scarce, how many of them could never afford a college education without enlisting, how many of them are looking for discipline and direction in their lives and hope the military can provide it, how many of them love their country and believe it is honorable to step up to serve that country when it's in trouble, how some come from proud military families--like my twin nephews--and want to continue in the "family business", and how some, like my son, who was college-educated, simply said, after 9/11, that he didn't feel comfortable "being one of the ones who needs protecting.  I think I'd rather be one of the protectors."

            When he enlisted, he thought he'd be chasing al Qaeda through the mountains of Afghanistan, but it didn't work out that way.

            So yeah, you are absolutely right.  More than 99% of our population is content to let the rest of them fight whatever wars our government starts--but as I also pointed out--they don't all march in lockstep.  A good many do object to the war in Iraq and many voted for Obama because of that, like my son.

            Some of those posting comments, by the way, demanded to know why the troops didn't all just lay down their guns and walk away.  In that sense, they were blaming them for continuing the war.  And that is just silly.  That said, this is the highest number of junior officers, West Point graduates, and NCO's in military history who have gotten out when their most recent contractual obligation ends, rather than staying on and making a career of a life they LOVE.

            Why?  Multiple deployments, pure and simple.

            Reply to this
            1. 5/19/2009 3:58 PM Tom Shepard wrote:
              http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/talk/blogs/deanie_mills/2007/04/lets-all-blame-the-troops-for.php

              [God bless Google.]
              Reply to this
              1. 5/19/2009 5:21 PM Deanie Mills wrote:
                And God bless YOU, my friend!

                (Can't believe it never occured to me to Google my own damn self.  ;-D  
                Reply to this
          2. 5/19/2009 3:57 PM Tom Shepard wrote:
            The draft, as applied during Vietnam, was a crapshoot. How about universal transcription álà the Swiss miltary? EVERY able-bodied 18-year-old male serves an initial tour (including bootcamp) of 260 days (enlisted), 500 days (noncom), or 600 days (officer). Thereafter they are essentially in the reserve until the age of 30, serving 3 weeks a year active duty. (I believe there are requirements that taper off to about the age of 50, but I can't find any current references on that.)

            Applied here, I suspect such a program would essentially make chicken hawks extinct. When it's your *ss on the line, you're really going to be motivated to do your homework on potential wars the country is facing, and you're going to be making your opinion known to your congressmen.

            As one of the last to get a draft card in 1972, and as a pragmatic pacifist, I have some qualms about bring up such a proposal - but I really think it needs to be thought about and talked about. Conscientious objectors are allowed for in the Swiss system, and serve 390 days, 50% longer than a soldier's regular army service.

            I don't know if Switzerland's reputation as a neutral country the cause of, or the result of, universal conscription. Does it matter? And you know what? They haven't had to sacrifice the security of their homeland, either. I lived for 6 months in Switzerland during 1995. About every 6-8 weeks a rotating subset of the military went on active duty in nationwide exercises. Jets overhead and armed soldiers passing through the train stations. Who would want to invade a country where every male is required to keep an automatic weapon at home? [Deanie, here's meat for another thread: I also believe in gun control here, but it might be a different issue if everyone had guns instead of just the wingnuts. I'm not saying, but I have serious open questions for both sides of the issue which deserve development and discussion ...]

            Funny thing: I never really felt like it was a "militaristic" country in the commonly-used meaning of the term. They are interested in defense, period - not in foreign entanglements - because a large segment of the population has a personal interest in any political debate concerning the miltary.

            [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_of_Switzerland]
            Reply to this
            1. 5/19/2009 5:34 PM Deanie Mills wrote:
              Well, there are many reasons why the Swiss method would not be applicable in a country as huge as the United States, BUT, I have long advocated for the Israeli method, in which every young able-bodied male AND female serve their country for two years at the age of 18.  They don't have to all carry arms; there are other things they can do, but they do have to serve.

              We've got AmeriCorps, VISTA, the Peace Corps, and the military.  All provide rich ways in which a young person can serve a cause higher than himself or herself, do something meaningful, and find possible career direction as a result.  They can even serve in the military in non-combat roles.  But everyone would have to serve, as an obligation of United States citizenship.  They could get help with college after that service.

              If they had no choice, I'm sure we'd be surprised at how many would wind up enlisting in the miitary, which would ease, considerably, the strain on our current military.

              Either way, it would be harder for chickenhawks with their safe little protected chickies all in the nest to advocate for a bloody war which would destroy other people's children.
              Reply to this
    • 5/20/2009 3:46 PM Regina wrote:
      Thanks for the link, Tom. It was a wonderful piece Deanie.
      Reply to this
      1. 5/20/2009 5:49 PM Deanie Mills wrote:

        Thanks, Regina.  Ditto, Tom.  (I still can't believe it didn't occur to me to Google myself!)


        Reply to this
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