"The Myths We Soldiers Tell Ourselves," by Lt. Col. Peter Fromm (Ret.), Lt. Col. Douglas Pryor, & Lt. Col. Kevin Cutright.
Via Tom Ricks
"The Myths We Soldiers Tell Ourselves," by Lt. Col. Peter Fromm (Ret.), Lt. Col. Douglas Pryor, & Lt. Col. Kevin Cutright.
Via Tom Ricks
WAR is a racket. It always has been.
It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one
international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the
losses in lives.
A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of
the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit
of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge
In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new
millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That
many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war
millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.
How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench?
How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of
them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun
bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were
wounded or killed in battle?
Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This
newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung
dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.
And what is this bill?
This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies.
Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its
attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.
For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I
retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering,
as they are today, I must face it and speak out.
Happy Veteran’s Day.
There is a picture of a wounded U.S. soldier circulating the web, wherein the soldier, upon being presented with a purple heart in his hospital bed, struggles to salute those presenting the medal. The soldier’s name is Army Ranger Cpt. Josh Hargis. He can be seen in the picture below:
Inevitably this picture has brought out the patriotic fuzzies in many Americans. ”What a hero!”, people exclaim, as yet another person clicks “share” on their facebook page, affirming their respect and solidarity.
I don’t think what happened to Josh Hargis is heroic. I think it is tragic. Josh Hargis was wounded in a dying conflict that has been going on for 12 years. That conflict, the War in Afghanistan, was at one time literally the forgotten war—an August 2012 headline for NBC news literally starts with the quote "No one really cares." This was the preamble to announcing that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan had hit 2,000.
The War in Afghanistan is unwinnable. It has been unwinnable since it began. It was easy enough for U.S. forces to topple the Taliban. Trivially so. But since then, thousands upon thousands of U.S. soldiers have been cycled into and out of that Afghanistan, occasionally committing unspeakable horrors which guarantee that insurgents in Afghanistan will have no shortage of recruits at their disposal.
And we should not ignore the sad irony that America’s largest intelligence agency trained many of the same terrorist operatives that are currently shooting at U.S. forces in Afghanistan. One could reasonably argue that the CIA has Josh Hargis’s blood on their hands.
There is a rebuttable presumption in America that any soldier who is wounded is combat must’ve been protecting our freedom. The reality is that Josh Hargis was wounded in an unwinnable conflict that most Americans have forgotten about and which has long been a black hole for U.S. blood and treasure. He is no longer protecting anybody’s freedom in Afghanistan. In fact, the mission he was carrying out in Afghanistan makes us less safe, not more. No American is more secure or more free as a result of the fact that Josh Hargis, or any other U.S. soldier, was shot in Afghanistan. None of us wants to believe that Josh Hargis bled for nothing. But when U.S. soldiers are wounded in unwinnable, forgotten wars, one struggles to find meaning in the sacrifice.
And that’s the crux of the matter. Josh Hargis is a victim. He is a victim of a misguided foreign policy which uses the blood of American soldiers to grease the wheels of public opinion. Calling him a hero makes it difficult for us to "call things by their right names," as Irish PM Clare Daly said in June. Hero worship of the military undermines American Democracy and prevents bad soldiers from facing justice. Under America’s current cultural milieu, every dead or maimed soldier is celebrated as a hero. Seeing images of wounded soldiers makes the American electorate weak in the knees. Our eyes well up with pride as we see one of our sons or daughters laying prostrate in a hospital bed, and we all thank him/her for their sacrifice. The ritual is almost mandatory: anyone who tries to get people to think critically about the ritual is immediately shouted down.
Meanwhile, as the public is busy heaping patriotic love on our wounded heroes, more U.S. soldiers are getting their bodies thrown in front of the cannons in Afghanistan by their civilian handlers in Washington. Anyone who questions whether the blood of U.S. soldiers is making a positive difference in Afghanistan is accused of betraying the country and hating America. It’s an impressive racket. One which encourages people not to ask whether the conflicts that these troops are being shot over actually do protect our freedom.
So when we see the image of Josh Hargis struggling to salute from his bed, we should be filled with emotion. But not because Josh Hargis is a hero who risked his life protecting our freedom. We should be filled with emotion because Josh Hargis was unnecessarily placed in harm’s way. We should be filled with emotion because his body was shattered for no good reason. His blood was spilled in vain in an unwinnable conflict that does nothing to improve our security. Hargis and his family are victims of U.S. foreign policy, and of the civilian leaders who put him in harm’s way. If we could get that message to be heard around the world, maybe the next Army Ranger Captain to fill Josh Hargis’s shoes will be able to stay home with his family rather than bleed in a hospital bed.
Molly O’Toole. O’Toole focuses on the case of Jeremiah Arbogast, a marine who was drugged and raped by a commanding officer during his service. Arbogast’s life fell apart due to the mental anguish of his trauma:
Arbogast and his wife divorced. He withdrew from the world, unable to trust others or himself. He went from being uninterested in sex to engaging with a “chronic,” endless string of faceless female partners. “The myth is that men can’t be raped, so when this trauma takes place, it plays with their mind so bad,” he said of men who become victims of sexual assault.
Arbogast’s assault continued to undermine his relationships long after his service ended:
When he met his current wife, Tiffany, he was sure his experiences would chase her away. But it all came tumbling out. “She looked at me and told me it didn’t matter, she would love me regardless. As much as I wanted to believe her, I couldn’t,” he said.
His downward spiral continued. On Oct. 1, 2009, about four months after they were married, Tiffany took his handgun, planning to keep it in her car while she was at work.
"I thought I was poison to everybody I was around, or anything I had ever touched," Arbogast said. “I was dragging people down again, it was starting all over … I decided that’s when I was gonna end it, stop being a problem to everybody else.”
Arbogast attempted to take his own life in 2009, placing a handgun to his chest after a heavy round of drinking. His state of intoxication may have actually saved his life, as his arm “slumped” at the last second. The gunshot wound did its damage, however, and left him paralyzed. However, his current wife, Tiffany, stayed with him, and after a few months, “something clicked:”
His depression only deepened over the coming months, until his wife told him that he had a gift. Arbogast now had the understanding to spread awareness and speak for three groups that often suffer in silence: military sexual assault survivors, suicide survivors and people with disabilities.
"Something clicked," said Arbogast, now 32. "I didn’t want anybody else to go through it."
Arbogast is now living quite a full life, although he still faces difficulties due to his disability. He is a paralympic athlete, has taken up skiing, and is learning to walk using braces, albeit he sometimes has difficulty getting around his house. Still, Arbogast’s outlook has changed since his suicide attempt:
"I’ve been through life and death," he said. "There is gonna come a time in your life when you have to say enough is enough. You’re letting that perpetrator who assaulted you rent your life for free. You’re becoming a slave to what they’ve done to you."
Arbogast is doing better, but his home still needs to be upgraded to be wheel-chair accessible. According to O’Toole,
Several organizations have been trying to help the Arbogast family raise money to adapt their home, but so far, the funds have fallen short. Click here for more about the project and to donate.
If you’re interested in helping the Arbogast family, follow the link above.
The only serious welfare programs in the United States benefit the most powerful among us. [American troops], who are made to preserve and perpetuate this system, rarely enjoy the spoils. The bonanza is reserved for those who exploit the profitability of warfare through the acquisition of foreign resources and the manufacture of weapons.
"Supporting the troops" is a cheerful surrogate for enabling the friendly dictators, secret operations, torture practices and spying programs that sustain this terrible economy."
We have learned from the past 10 years…that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state. We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action. Should the [Syrian] regime’s institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control.
I know that the decision to use force is not one that any of us takes lightly. It is no less than an act of war. As we weigh our options, we should be able to conclude with some confidence that the use of force will move us toward the intended outcome. We must also understand risk— not just to our forces, but to our other global responsibilities. This is especially critical as we lose readiness due to budget cuts and fiscal uncertainty. Some options may not be feasible in time or cost without compromising our security elsewhere. Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper invovlement is hard to avoid."
Commander William Adama on the Battlestar Galactica (via whatwouldthomasjeffersondo)
Very nice quote. The lines between the police and military are blurred more and more every day. In fact, I don’t think a line exists anymore. I can’t think of one area where the military isn’t present in Law Enforcement.
Jason Ditz discusses the case of Bowe Bergdahl, the last American POW in Afghanistan who’s been in Taliban custody for four years, despite multiple offers from the Taliban:
Sunday marked the four-year anniversary of the capture of Sergeant (then Pfc.) Bowe Bergdahl by Taliban fighters in the Paktika Province of Afghanistan. Four years and several Taliban offers later, he is still in their custody, and the Obama administration shows little interest in getting him released.
The opportunities have presented themselves time and again for the president to negotiate Bergdahl’s release, but vague promises to do everything he can have come up totally empty, and a prisoner exchange offer made by the Taliban earlier in June has gone totally ignored.
It’s unconscionable that Bergdahl should remain a captive for four solid years with ample opportunity to secure his release, and an international embarrassment that the U.S. has cheerfully left him to rot, particularly when other nations have shown a willingness to bend over backwards to secure the release of captured citizens.
A great example of this is Israel’s Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a cross-border raid in 2006. A similar situation of a low-ranking soldier taken away with no serious chance of being rescued through military means, his situation started much the same as Bergdahl’s.
But while America more or less forgot about Bergdahl within a few days of his capture, Shalit remained a major issue in the Israeli media for all five years of his. Public awareness of Shalit kept the pressure on Israel’s political leadership to do the right thing and see him freed.
And they eventually did. So determined was Israel to see a settlement that they agreed to release 1,027 detainees in return for Shalit. Before the deal was finalized, Israel even agreed to release 20 detainees just for a DVD video showing him in good condition, alive and well and waiting for an exchange.
Sgt. Bergdahl has had no such luxury. The offer to trade him for $1 million and 21 detainees was dismissed out of hand, and the Taliban’s new offer to trade him even up for just five detainees doesn’t seem to be going anywhere either. For a nation that is nominally so reverent toward servicemen, the U.S. has been shockingly willing to forget about Bergdahl’s plight, and seems loathe to make a public attempt to negotiate for him, even when the other side is making it clear they want to negotiate.
Ditz notes that the real scandal of Bergdahl’s continued detention is the fact that the Taliban is asking the U.S. to release a mere five detainees in exchange for Bergdahl’s release—something the U.S. government was originally going to do as a “confidence builder” to jump start peace talks back in 2012. So the Taliban is asking for something the U.S. was going to do anyway, yet the Obama administration has refused to agree to the deal.
To be sure, some have questioned whether Bowe brought the capture on himself. It appears that he was anxious to leave his military base, and was also critical of the U.S. Army in private e-mails. But none of that should matter, since no formal charges have been brought against Bowe regarding his behavior prior to capture. Speculation about his personal beliefs shouldn’t prevent efforts to secure his release.
The release of these five detainees cannot possibly be so dangerous that they are worth the continued isolation and suffering that Bergdahl is likely enduring in Taliban custody. How is it that the Government of Israel was willing to trade 1,000+ detainees to bring a captured IDF soldier home, but the Obama administration is unwilling to trade five detainees to get back an American soldier who owes his plight in part to the American civilian leaders that sent him there in the first place?
This situation should be a national scandal. Yet it seems we’ve demonized “the terrorists” to the point where saving the lives of captured American servicemen is less important than ensuring the continued exercise of control and dominion over our “enemies.”
Maybe it’s time to put national pride aside and bring Sergeant Bergdahl home to his family. Maybe it’s time to negotiate with “the terrorists” instead of trying to kill them. Who knows, we might even get to stop fighting them for a change. And then we could stop sending young men like Bowe Bergdahl off to war, to be left behind when national public policy and national pride are too rigid to allow his salvation.
American soldier Jessica Hanna posing with her family. Photo via American Military Partner Association.
"You don’t have to be straight to fight and die for your country. You just have to shoot straight." — Barry Goldwater
Hillary Clinton is the Democratic frontrunner for President in 2016....