Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Like, then, Scott says, "Yeah, well, so's your mother!"

I'm a bit jealous - first Mustang23 and now Jack Army get flamed like mad and I don't get any hate mail. I try and try to piss people off, and it gets me nowhere . . .

I did notice one bitchy comment on my blog, though - and I only noticed it because SMSgt Mac rose to my defense. His comment made it to my email inbox - where, according to, all new comments should come - and I went back and looked at the new comments to what was a fairly old post. (I haven't figured out how blogger decides to send a comment via email - all the comments that do make it there are by people who have a blogger account, but not all comments from blogger accounts do make it. Maybe there's a random number generator involved?)

Scott, apparently deeply scarred by Vietnam, says:

No offense to whoever you are, but you clearly don't understand political reality. Or reality of any sort, as far as that goes.

If you're going to comment on how we're winning the hearts & minds of farmers in Afghanistan by bombing the hell out of them, you ought to start off by addressing the question of why we're bombing the hell out of Afghanistan and Iraq instead of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Seeing as how Iraq (at least) never posed a threat to the US, while Pakistan and Saudi Arabia do (as we've always known) it seems a pertinent question.

I'm amazed that anyone in the military can come out in support of our current military madness. At least in Vietnam the grunts in field knew they were fucked. Translate this whole anecdote into the Vietnam war and it's hard to imagine some grunt posting it to his weblog as "proof" that the war was righteous and smart.

I work in DC, and I come in contact with a fair number of officers in the course of my work. I don't discuss the war with all of them, but those that I have talked with hold a pretty consistent position: We've done some amazing things, but the military was sold a bill of goods and is in some deep shit. The ones that have had command positions are particularly troubled to be throwing away lives with little publicity or fanfare for objectives that cannot be met and will have no lasting impact upon our national security.

I doubt that he'll see this, since I suspect Scott is a drive-by troll, but I thought I'd respond anyway, for the benefit of anyone else who read the comment:

Hey, Scott, first of all, this isn't largely a political site or a strategic history of the War on Terror. I might talk about political issues (especially military related ones) from time to time, but the blog is mostly a memoir. I have strong political opinions on a lot of issues, but if I don't have what I think is a unique insight, or a personal reaction that sets the issue apart for me, I probably won't comment.

So no, I shouldn't "ought to" address the question of Saudi Arabia vs. Afghanistan as a target. (Although you really should actually read the post - where it discusses just that.) This blog is a place for me to tell war stories. It's more or less a get-together with people who want to come here, maybe a little more disconnected, but not that much different than a conversation over a few beers. Sometimes I'll talk about politics, or TV, or the weather, but mostly I'll tell war stories (Everybody does know the difference between a war story and a fairy tale, right?) Blogging is a perfect medium for me, since I can monopolize the conversation without appearing to be rude. So, if you like the tales, keep reading. If you want a steady diet of political analysis, there are a number of better suited blogs.

Also, I don't know that my opinions on the political or strategic execution of the GWOT matter a lot when I'm talking about what I was doing as the "sheriff of Paktika province." When I got activated, there wasn't a form I had to fill out indicating my political support for the GWOT, or for George Bush, before I was allowed to go to war. I volunteered to be a soldier because I thought that supporting this nation's interests and freedoms was important - and in doing so, I explicitly ceded the right to make the decision about whether or not I went to war to the political leaders of this country. I did that because I thought it was important to step up and do my part - and because I thought (and still think) that this country generally does the right thing, and is usually on the side of good, even if mistakes get made from time to time.

I probably try to game the system more than I should, and I know that I complain about the army and everything involved with it more than is reasonable for someone who keeps signing up to stay in, but, at the end of the day, I'm a soldier. And, as a soldier, I go where I'm sent and I do what I'm told. Part of the sacrifice the soldier makes is in the going, but part of the sacrifice also is giving up the decision whether to go or not to go in the first place. The reward for that sacrifice is a sense of satisfaction from performing the mission well, a sense that I'm contributing to something that's important to the country and to the world, and a paycheck that's less than half of what I make as a civilian.

And I suspect many, if not most, Vietnam combat veterans feel the same way. I don't have the faintest idea whether Papa Ray thinks that the political goals in Vietnam were worth the cost. I'd bet, though, that either way he's proud of his service and what he did there. And I bet he takes a great deal of pride in having been a LRRP, even if most people don't have a clue what that means.

But as a citizen, I do have political opinions. And, as a citizen, I find your analysis to be unpersuasive. Whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or not, it was a threat. It was a key player in destabilizing the ME, it provided funding to terrorist organizations, and it required constant diplomatic, economic and military attention to keep it under control. Fighting AQ while Iraq was part of the landscape was like trying to tame a lion with a hungry tiger in the cage.

And we could certainly justify going in there under almost any framework you wanted to choose, from Augustine and Aquinas's "just war" theory, to the casus belli of classical interpretations of international law. I think that a lot of the angst and whining emerging from the political classes over the Iraq invasion comes from Bush's emphasis of a more muscular "some people just need killin' " justification for the campaign over emphasizing the more traditional reasons for going to war. On the other hand, that's one of the reasons I admire the man.

With that said, was it the smartest thing we could have done? Would we have been better off by waiting for Iran to jump bad, or hitting Syria next, or going into the tribal areas of Pakistan instead? Hell, I don't know - I can start an argument in the military history department of almost any college in the world by asking if invading Italy in WWII was the right thing to do. In a lot of them, I can start an argument by asking whether Lee would have been better off letting Longstreet try to turn the Union Army's left flank at Gettysburg. All I can say is that it seems that the Iraqis look like they've gone a long way towards building a civil society that could prove to be turning point, culturally and politically, for the ME. Y'know, I have a lot of respect for Arab culture - it's just a shame the Seljuk Turks screwed it up so bad starting about a thousand years ago. If Iraq can be a model for its reconstruction, than it was worth the blood and treasure. If it all falls apart around our ears, then GW was a fool in over his head. That's why he gets paid the big bucks. Nothing to do now but wait for the judgment of history - but I don't agree that our objectives in Iraq can't be met, or that meeting them won't have a lasting impact on our security. I think that going into Iraq was an audacious gamble with the odds in our favor, and, ultimately, well worth the attempt.

I also think we've done the right thing -as frustrating as it was sometimes hearing about the Taliban operating openly in Miram Shah - in letting Musharef take care of the tribal areas. Short of complete occupation of PK, there's nothing we can do there that won't make the situation worse. As long as we have the option of letting the Pakis clean house on their own, we should do it. If it looks like the Islamonuts or the ISI are about to get ahold of the nukes, then, yeah, we have to invade. Until then, it seems like a good idea to support the moderates, and let them root out the extremists on their own. Insurgencies are sometimes generational wars - look at Northern Ireland - and barging in with conventional military solutions isn't always the right way to handle it ( but sometimes . . .) That's the difference between PK and Afghanistan, where the government wasn't willing to play ball, and was actively and openly supporting AQ forces and offering them sanctuary. We couldn't get them to clean up their own mess, so we had to do it for them.

Ditto for Saudi Arabia - for a long time, the Kingdom of Saud has controlled internal opposition by exporting dissent. And it's true that they made a deal with the devil in their support of the Wahabi Muslims, and that Wahabi set the stage for a lot of the problems we're facing right now. But I think that was blowback, and not malicious intent on their part. We've had the same problem - were the benefits of getting rid of Mossadeq worth Khomeini twenty five years later? As long as the Saudis can be dragged, kicking and screaming, into internal reform and action, are they really the first "enemy" to contemplate military action against?

And the military wasn't sold a bill of goods - they were told what to do and they did it. That's how it works - the military is not a coequal partner in setting policy. We fight and win the nation's wars - we don't decide what they are. And, I don't know what officers you've talked to that feel like they're throwing away lives, but most of the senior officers I've talked to feel like we're doing God's work over there, even if they wouldn't put it that way publicly (well, except maybe for General Boykin.) The military is a big organization, and, as much as some people would like to see it as a monolithic part of the VRWC, look hard enough and you can find almost any political or social opinion you want to - but I'd have to say that my experience has been that the officers who think we're wrong to be in Iraq are a minority.

Too, I don't believe that combat commanders give a damn about whether the casualties under their command occurred with "publicity or fanfare" or not. They would care deeply about the casualties, but little about whether CNN was there for them.

Finally, I don't know where in the post you got the idea that I presented the incident as proving anything about the smartness or righteousness of the war, one way or the other - to my mind, it was an interesting study of human nature that transcended politics. That's why I posted it. (Call it one Afghan's discovery of enlightened self interest.) I find it a little annoying to have to deal with people (usually left-wingers) who see everything through the lens of some bizarre political dialectic.

UPDATE: bblatt asks about colleges with military history departments. OK, I have to admit to a flight of rhetorical excess with that one - Given today's climate in academia, I suspect most military history consists of the occasional bitter professor here and there, waiting for retirement, and made miserable by departmental meetings. However, I did find this list of graduate programs in military history on the web. The University of Kansas one looks cool, what with its relationship with Leavenworth.


Blogger JACK ARMY said...

Great post. You completely explain your position, your expansive understanding of the history of the region (and military history in general) puts your position into historical perspective, and understanding the macro vs. micro machinations of the Army further illuminates how the citizen Soldier is able to 'salute the flag' despite the political landscape.

I am highly impressed and engrossed. I just can't say enough good stuff about this post (and your entire blog).

If I'm ever in Georgia, remind me to buy you a beer.... or two.

3:10 AM  
Blogger Ymarsakar said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:39 AM  
Blogger Ymarsakar said...

I think one of the reasons you don't get as many hate mail is because you write stories about the military. Military life, rules, regulations, every day details, and such and such.

Left wingers, or those preaching a fake liberal philosophy, try to stay away from understanding matters of military concern. Because anything having to do with the military also has to do with the use of force, and there are many many people who don't like the use of force.

It is easier to oppose political statements born from political principles, rather than ones born from military principles. Usually because the talking points memo is ubiquitous for political concerns, and sadly lacking concerning pure military details.

"Not Enough Armor" for Humvees, has to be translated into a political context, otherwise not many fake liberals will argue about it.

That's one of the problems with focusing so much on "non-violent" means, it emphasizes the vice of pacifism. Enough of that vice, and people will not even like reading things about the use of force in detail.

"No offense to whoever you are, but you clearly don't understand political reality. Or reality of any sort, as far as that goes."

Eerily familiar to how Steven Den Beste was criticized. Steven Den Beste is an atheist engineer that predicted basically 80% of the policies concerning the WoT months before the beginning of the invasion. Instead of criticizing Beste's merits, since they didn't understand his posts, they said he was a crackpot.

That is their explanation for his being prescient I suppose.

"At least in Vietnam the grunts in field knew they were fucked."

I don't know for sure, but wouldn't this have been called "Defeatism" on D-Day?

On Omaha beach they knew they were fucked when the tanks sank in the surf, so... let's all give up? A kind of self-fullfilling prophecy.

"I work in DC, and I come in contact with a fair number of officers in the course of my work."

I can't speak for the military, but the Marines I know keep shelves full of weapons in their homes. I don't know why anyone from the military, full of martial virtues, would want to live or work in DC, the land of gun control.

93% of those people in DC voted for Kerry. That doesn't beat the 100% for Saddam, but it is very very weird.

"I did that because I thought it was important to step up and do my part - ... even if mistakes get made from time to time."

When I read the Marine's AAR on Fallujah, I especially liked one particular phrase.

"There are no mistakes, only actions that have consequences, consequences that Marines will adapt to". Paraphrased.

"I probably try to game the system more than I should, and I know that I complain about the army and .... I'm a soldier."

Ya, as a civilian I would get very worried if the military stopped complaining, especially the infantry grunts. Worried on a "coup de'tat" level.

"And I bet he takes a great deal of pride in having been a LRRP, even if most people don't have a clue what that means."

I'm only guessing here but are those the guys that crawl through the ground for days on end in order to infiltrate and do recon in enemy territory?

"Would we have been better off by waiting for Iran to jump bad, .... Pakistan instead?"

It will be very entertaining when we develope quantum universe creation technology. That way, all we had to do was tweak one variable and see how it comes out in our little proto-universe. It'll be a new kind of "Reality" TV.

It would be especially nice to see the lives of all those anti-war protestors if we removed the US as a hegemony.

" I think that going into Iraq was an audacious gamble with the odds in our favor, and, ultimately, well worth the attempt."

I seem to recall that whenever one side was losing a war, they'd go out and do a "Grand Offensive".
Sometimes it would work, and sometimes it wouldn't. The ones that worked, would be among the "Dolittle Raid". The ones that didn't, the Battle of the Bulge.

Our counter-offensive in the Middle East, was made at a time when the American believed we were losing the war and had been losing it for awhile.

Now we're just holding what we got. If we were losing, we would be doing something even "more" audacious and desperate.

"That's how it works - the military is not a coequal partner in setting policy."

And it is a good thing that we don't have a Praetorian Guard. Never liked those guys in the first place.

"Parade soldiers", definitely.

"If it all falls apart around our ears, then GW was a fool in over his head. That's why he gets paid the big bucks."

Another reason why only victory matters, not mistakes not mission accomplished not political points, but Victory. With a big Legionary V.

The ones that have had command positions are particularly troubled...

I like that. Have had. A pretty good description of the reasons for the criticisms. It is natural and human to feel a certain envy for those who have both the honor and the responsibility to command in combat. And sometimes, a person is so envious that they are out fighting wars and they are not, that the retired generals would second guess decisions and state what they would have done had they been in the position of the commander on the scene.

Why wouldn't those not in command be "troubled"? Admirals are troubled that they aren't in the spot of the Captains overseeing things directly. And that just goes for the Admirals already in command, not the retired ones.

Thanks for the long post, we civilians need more of them in the world of blogs. The more you write, the more you think. With Ward Churchill as an exception.

4:19 AM  
Blogger bblatt said...

Wow. you know of colleges with military history departments? Where at? I need to start applying fro my post-grad junk, and for the life of me I can't find any good programs that don't concentrate on "Gender Issues" and the like. And BTW as far as Italy goes, I see it as a double-edged weapon. Yeah, casualties were bad, and gains meant little. But it tied up German forces and forged experienced uints for the D-Day landings. And Lee totally should have let Longstreet flank the Union positions. His best hope for victory was placing his army between the Union field forces and DC, but he acted like he'd read too many of those Southern primers ala "If one good southern man can lick four yankees, how many yankees can three good southern men lick?"

1:05 PM  
Blogger Subsunk said...

Good job on this post, youngster. Your postion is sound both strategically and tactically. Historically, an offensive anywhere is better than defense everywhere.

Love your blog. Keep up the good work.

4:27 PM  
Blogger David said...

University of Illinois has a fine set of military historians in the history department and you can get a degree in history specializing in Military History. I got an MS in History of Science with minor specialties in early Americann History and Military History there.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Just to check, the difference between fairy tales and war stories is that fairy tales start "Once Upon A Time..." and war stories start "There I Was...", right?

4:35 PM  
Blogger ink said...

I got a Masters in military history from Ohio State some while ago and that was a good program then.

The best way to evaluate any of the schools on your list is to find out who the permenant faculty teaching them are, which you can find on the schools website, and then see what books they have written. This will tell you what their areas of interest are and you can see if there is some match up with you.

4:55 PM  
Blogger GoldFalcon said...

Most eloquent post, and well reasoned explanation of how a soldier's thought process differs from that of a civillian and how a soldier is primarily motivated by duty and loyalty, not politics.

And: 1)A Fairy Tale begin "Once upon a time..." A war story begins "So there I was...".

2) Italy was the smart choice, soft-underbelly and all of that.

3) Longstreet certainly thought he should have been allowed to turn the flank, thought it was suicidal not to. Pickett likely would have agreed after having his division decimated.

4) Great friggin blog, you get a button over at goldfalcon (and thanks for dropping by the other day).

8:48 PM  
Anonymous MKL said...

I thought war stories start with "This is no shit"

10:26 PM  
Blogger Brian H said...

Concerning Wahhabism; I got my info and labels and categories much refined and expanded by this article and discussion. Try it, you may like it!

10:27 PM  
Blogger Dennis said...

No, SEA stories start with "This is no shit!"

War stories may start that way OR with "There I was....."

And outright lies always seem to start with "My mission was so secret that the Gov't destroyed all my records." or, "My records were destroyed in the big fire in St. Louis." (Likely true of WW II vets, only.)

Another good college for history is American Military University, at

My brother picked up a Bachelor's from them, they also offer Master's programs. All distance learning but it seems to be an excellent program.

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah man, some VNVets were Fondanized. At least the bitch will sell a few of her books to them. They were brothers, but you couldnt count on them much, unless by helping you they involked the 'evil' to come to their rescue. They hated that which helped keep them alive, belittled the brothers that would die for them... They were part of the cancer that ate away the support of our great nation.
Hell, all they wanted was the freedom to smoke dope and have that free sex that was gaurenteed by the constituation. (somewhere it is in there) They were our poor bastard brothers we try not to talk about. Im sure they accidently did something to help even if they didnt know it.

Once bitten, twice shy.

They dont like to use force, but there are subersive ways...
The Communists and the pinkos are still there embeded within us. (I know, old terms, you may subsitate the modern language...) Like the far left, they dont care if it destroys the country, they WILL win!
Shit, they're not Americans.....
They carry their wallet in the left breast pocket and its painted Red White and Blue.
Thats 'their' America.
My America is laid out in the constitution.
If Im broke, I dont want welfare, I want a job. What I make I dont want to give 1/4 of it for the freeloaders. Ill help them my own way. Like give THEM a job.
Naw man, sorry I couldnt send you any hate mail... but I would share a few beers with you if I could. Then we could talk about what we both hate.
And about those that hate us.

2:51 AM  
Blogger KeithM, Indy said...

I'm not a pacifist, yet I don't like the use of force, but I recognize that sometimes it is neccessary. If we can defeat the enemy without force, all the better. But it better be true victory and not appeasement.

Regarding alternative courses of action in the Global War on Terror.

Say we hadn't invaded Iraq at all, what would have been our next step.

Israel/Palistine - how do you solve that without taking out a sponsor of suicide bombers.

Saudi Arabia - how do you solve that without destablizing oil production, or the kingdom, especially with a tyrant to the North that had asspirations of regional domination. If S.A. fell what would Iraq under Saddam have done?

Syria - same thing, how do you get them to stop supporting terrorism when they have Saddam next door, and a weak tyrant themselves.

Iran - same thing, how do you get them to stop supporting terrorism, when Israel continues to exist, and when their arch enemy Saddam is still in power.

Pakistan - they are an ally, they are helping catch al Queda. Any large precence of American troops in Pakistan would help destablize the country, and if it fell out of Musharafs control, would likely not be a further ally in the war on terror.

That would be the political reality of the region pre-Iraq invasion. Saddam was likely going to be a kink in any plan in any other place in the region.


LRRP - Long Range Recon Patrol

Papa Ray should be proud, and I have even greater respect for what he did now that I know that.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous tribal elder said...

Force and the credible threat of force are both great motivational tools. Notice how Libya got back in line. I guess somebody told Moammar he was gonna be a stop on the Axis of Evil world tour - they must have sent him the T-shirt. He figured out the armor was already painted desert, and Libya is just along the route home.

The strongest message in US foreign policy is "I am a US serviceman (insert branch of choice) and you are a dead foreign national." Thank you for sending that message.

4:11 PM  

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