Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tommy This, An' Tommy That...

An' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,,,

On the New York Times' Op-Ed page, General Daniel P. Bolger* has a small request.  He would like us to start telling the truth about our wars.

See, he knows what happened:
The Truth About the Wars

AS a senior commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, I lost 80 soldiers. Despite their sacrifices, and those of thousands more, all we have to show for it are two failed wars. This fact eats at me every day, and Veterans Day is tougher than most.

As veterans, we tell ourselves it was all worth it. The grim butchery of war hovers out of sight and out of mind, an unwelcome guest at the dignified ceremonies. Instead, we talk of devotion to duty and noble sacrifice. We salute the soldiers at Omaha Beach, the sailors at Leyte Gulf, the airmen in the skies over Berlin and the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, and we’re not wrong to do so. The military thrives on tales of valor. In our volunteer armed forces, such stirring examples keep bringing young men and women through the recruiters’ door. As we used to say in the First Cavalry Division, they want to “live the legend.” In the military, we love our legends.

Here’s a legend that’s going around these days. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and toppled a dictator. We botched the follow-through, and a vicious insurgency erupted. Four years later, we surged in fresh troops, adopted improved counterinsurgency tactics and won the war. And then dithering American politicians squandered the gains. It’s a compelling story. But it’s just that — a story.

The surge in Iraq did not “win” anything. It bought time. It allowed us to kill some more bad guys and feel better about ourselves. But in the end, shackled to a corrupt, sectarian government in Baghdad and hobbled by our fellow Americans’ unwillingness to commit to a fight lasting decades, the surge just forestalled today’s stalemate. Like a handful of aspirin gobbled by a fevered patient, the surge cooled the symptoms. But the underlying disease didn’t go away. The remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgents we battled for more than eight years simply re-emerged this year as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

The surge legend is soothing, especially for military commanders like me. We can convince ourselves that we did our part, and a few more diplomats or civilian leaders should have done theirs. Similar myths no doubt comforted Americans who fought under the command of Robert E. Lee in the Civil War or William C. Westmoreland in Vietnam. But as a three-star general who spent four years trying to win this thing — and failing — I now know better.

We did not understand the enemy, a guerrilla network embedded in a quarrelsome, suspicious civilian population. We didn’t understand our own forces, which are built for rapid, decisive conventional operations, not lingering, ill-defined counterinsurgencies. We’re made for Desert Storm, not Vietnam. As a general, I got it wrong. Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and persist, to “clear/hold/build” even as the “hold” stage stretched for months, and then years, with decades beckoning. We backed ourselves season by season into a long-term counterinsurgency in Iraq, then compounded it by doing likewise in Afghanistan. The American people had never signed up for that.
But he would really like to under why it happened:
What went wrong in Iraq and in Afghanistan isn’t the stuff of legend. It won’t bring people into the recruiting office, or make for good speeches on Veterans Day. Reserve those honors for the brave men and women who bear the burdens of combat.

That said, those who served deserve an accounting from the generals. What happened? How? And, especially, why? It has to be a public assessment, nonpartisan and not left to the military. (We tend to grade ourselves on the curve.) Something along the lines of the 9/11 Commission is in order. We owe that to our veterans and our fellow citizens.
Speaking for pretty much everyone on America's political Left, I share the general's desire to see our nation's deep and terrible wounds finally cleaned and dressed.   I share the general's desire to see our our martial fever dreams finally break,  America's grown-ups on the Left have been militating for just such an accounting almost since the first days of Shock and Awe and after more than a decade I can only tell you two things for sure.

First, on every subject, America's grown-ups on the Left remain just as ignored and reviled as we were during the Age of Bush.  Turns out, being right over and over again matter not one iota, just as being catastrophically wrong over and over again is no barrier to continued and lavish success in American politics and media.

Second, we will never begin paying down what we owe that to our veterans and our fellow citizens. -- or ever paying the interest on it -- as long as the people who control our media and our public debate have vested personal and political interests in making sure questions like "What happened? How? And, especially, why?" are never, ever aired in public.

What a pity that half of this country and all of our media have decided that history began on January 20, 2009.  
... You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

* Thanks for the catch, D!


D. said...

General Bolgernov seems to be Bolger at the Times, by the way.

Speik Drago said...

I have always took veteran and memorial day as "Happy lost limb day"

We have these days as means to honor the sacrifices of our vets.. but in truth we don't really care about them. Of course due to the media.

In truth, I don't even know what we as American owe our vets. I can think of Vietnam.. and for that much I think at least you're allow to vote at 18 due to that. But besides that I'm running on empty. Any conflict or war we had after doesn't seem to benefit this country besides our leaders playing politics with the world.

So considering that our media isn't telling the truth of our wars, I'm going to assume our media is feeding us dogma on how we're suppose to feel about our military and we should look at it deeply... and after looking at it.. Vets is just another name for a stooge.. a very pricy stooge who will be used up and thrown away once they're usefulness is over.

Our military is a political tool, and being used as such. I don't like it and i want that abuse to stop, but I don't feel we as a country owe them a thing.

Anonymous said...

You want to know why? I can tell you why. I know, cause I was there. I was there in the gulf before 9/11 and I was there after. The why is fucking easy.

Gulf War I never actually ended. Which is why I was there shooting, and bombing, launching TLAMs before 9/11 ever happened. I was part of something called "Operation Southern Watch", and while it was not a declared war, war sure did a lot of killing and many of us sure got killed.

Now you could say that situation was working, and to an extent it was. But of course the Frenchies and the Russians were helping them smuggle oil out and undoing the work, Saddam was still killing his people, and the entire region was freaked out that he'd do it again. Plus we were freaked out, it was only a matter of time until this turned into a real shooting war, a ship got sunk, or a plane got shot down.

So the prevailing wisdom, even under Clinton, and yes even for Gore, was that we were going to have to go back. We were going back, end of fucking story. It was only a matter of when, and what the fiasco would be that kicked it all off.

Then 9/11 happened, and whelp that was as good an excuse to get it over with as any.

The problem was the idiotic Bush administration deluded itself into thinking this would pay for itself, cut taxes, fired all the generals who knew how to fight this war, and so we went in with less troops then needed to create a free market utopia. Which was precisely the moment most of us knew this was going to turn to shit.

Grant G said...

Beautiful story..

milegrinder said...

Spek Drago wrote:

"Vets is just another name for a stooge.. a very pricy stooge who will be used up and thrown away once they're usefulness is over."

And yet they still show up at the recruiter's office. Show up they do. Even after the substandard flak vests and rolling armor in Iraq, and Rumsfeld kissing it off. Even after Walter Reed, after Phoenix, after the pre-emptive discharges to get around dealing with the behavioral effects of neurological casualties, even after it's as clear as fucking day their government--and those who refuse to fund it--are ready to throw them right under the bus, over the curb, and into the landfill. Overwhelmingly, the new recruits come from families whose opinion of the government is that it could fuck up a wet dream, is not to be trusted to do anything worthwhile, wants their families' guns, etc. A nation of cretins, believing there is nothing but benevolence in the Army's sponsoring high school all-star football games, nothing but benevolence in sports plutocrats' outfitting their teams in camo to "honor the troops."

Of course, if the economy is tilted so that non-military employment is nothing but a shit show with stagnant wages, limited advancement, and real wealth increasing year after year for only the oligarchs, maybe a couple years lugging a carbine isn't all that bad. Until it is.

Because, after all, isn't it about defending "freedom?"

Anonymous said...


I'm not saying we should have done it, or that it was the brightest idea in the world. I'm simply stating what was the prevailing political and military views on the situation... from my viewpoint of having been there.

Was the entire "WMDs" bullshit, yeah. We had the receipts for what we sold him vs what he used and that didn't add up. On the other hand we'd been the ones blowing that stuff up. He was also engaged in keeping up the illusion that he had them to scare the shit out of everyone, mostly Iran... but there was little doubt the programs were anything more than jokes and that we could blow that up as well. Yet Bush lied about it, rather than stating the actual case.

Was it run poorly, fuck it was poor from the planning stages. Firing all the generals who tell you "hey moron, you aren't going in there with the right amount of troops, supplies, or logistical backing" is a sure as fuck way to screw things up. So is appointing political cronies to run a government in a region they know nothing about... and the free market utopia was even more nuts.

But this "fight" was going to happen one way or the other. There was no way out of that, and electing a D wouldn't have changed it. Now I'm sure Gore would not have lied about it, not have fucked it up so massively, and not have gone to full blown invasion... but we were going to escalate the conflict there. It had been a slow boil we were keeping the lid on since the end of Gulf War I, it never really ended.

I spent the first two years of my professional life either over there or training to be over there. There's a lot of shit I'm pissed about and I want answers about. But I know why it fucking happened.

dinthebeast said...

Armistice Day, Armistice Day
That's all I really wanted to say.

-Paul Simon

-Doug in Oakland