Posts tagged ‘vietnam’


Shooting in Las Vegas? Could this be domestic terrorism? They found at least 10 guns in the alleged shooter’s room. Can we connect the dots yet? But the Dotard in Charge (DIC) is showing his empathy and labeled this an act of evil so I already feel better. I can’t figure whether to outlaw outside gatherings or multi-story hotels. Then again could guns be the problem? Oh shut my mouth! Nevada has legalized silencers! Apparently what happens in Las Vegas does not stay there anymore.

Meanwhile things are still fairly desperate in many parts of Puerto Rico although the relief effort is beginning to crank up. Of course once again the DIC is telling us the response has just been amazing. “We have it under great control.” That was after someone finally explained to him where Puerto Rico was and that they were actually American citizens (I don’t know that, but the big water statement and other comments indicates he did not). So if you want to find leadership, this is not it. His enablers are showing how empathetic he is and I just want to laugh. Empathy is not water, food, power, medical support, or a dry place to sleep. “Hey, get out there and fix it yourselves!” Really, that is leadership? He should have been on top of this from day one. Speaking of one, that was the first hole of his golf course he was on yesterday expressing his sympathy. Right on top of it.

Then we have the North Korean snafu (situation normal, all fucked up). Rex, doesn’t need a staff, Tillerson tells us we are talking to the North Koreans through back channels, and the DIC tells Rex he is wasting his time talking to Rocket Man. Of course enter the enablers who try to spin this as great strategy, good cop/bad cop approach when we all know there is no grand strategy. I expect Rex to quit pretty soon.

Then there is the story that the DIC can only respond to and hear good news or he lashes out so that is all he hears. On the immigration issue he is only told what they cost us, not what they add so he does not have to deal with complex thoughts or get confused by complex issues which might counter his policy ideas. Stephen Miller is probably the architect of that approach. He has no real intellectual curiosity and has decided what he believes, so telling him different is a good way to be unemployed. Remember the crowd size at inauguration? I am a normal person and I like to hear good stuff about me, but I also want to hear the bad so I can fix it. That is how I stay married. The DIC just reinvents reality so there is nothing to fix.

There was the vote and violence in Catalonia.  WTF.  People do not have a right to vote?  Spain’s reaction just reinforced the need to separate.  Oh, I understand that a nation, like ours in the Civil War, may have to go to war in a secession, but they were participating in a non-binding vote. There is a problem there Huston and it is not solved by a police riot and brutality.  And while I am at it, why is the United States against the vote for and secession of the Kurds?  Vice President Bidden even proposed that solution to Iraq years ago.  Why do we not understand the need for freedom and independence from a state that has repressed them?  We are really good at being on the wrong side of an issue.

Finally, I have been reading some snarky reviews of Burns’ and Novick’s The Vietnam War. Snarky because they said we should not be too quick to draw lessons learned, and some complexities were too simplified. Hmm. I wonder if these people lived through it? There were all kinds of complexities and all kinds of contradictions, but the big lessons are fairly simple. Here they are if you missed them:

  1. War is an atrocity. Entering into a war can only be done when our very survival is at stake. The wanton loss of life is never justified and what it does to us can never be repaired. It damn well better be worth it. See #2.  Oh and it wasn’t here.  Neither was Iraq.
  2. We humans find out things about ourselves in war, our savagery, that we did not want to know and that is what damages us the most because we find we actually enjoy it. And to be effective at it, we devalue the lives of the enemy through racism and hate.  That reduces our humanity.
  3. Our government will lie to us for political ends, and transparency and a vigorous free press is necessary so we the people can decide if we want to pay the price for war, or if the reasons are made up.  See both Voetnam and Iraq.
  4. As noted above about the DIC, generals/leaders are on top of an organization that needs to feed them what they want to hear.  Real leaders dig deep to find the truth, report it, and act on it.  There are not many of them in the real world.
  5. Governments glorify war to get us to fight them.  Medals, hero-worship ceremonies, and the lie that most wars are about protecting freedom, democracy, and the Constitution are the ways they do it.  Sure there are real heroes and we should admire them.  But because you wear a uniform does not make you a hero.  The guy who stopped the killing at My Lai was the real hero.  Somehow he maintained his humanity.  The idea of the fog of war and that this is understandable (only Calley was convicted and then had his sentence reduced to nothing) is nonsense.  Maybe it is in the sense that we lose our humanity, but it should never be tolerated.  It is the best argument against war itself.

Those are fairly simple. There might be all kinds of lessons about how to fight a war, who should be our friends, tactics in the field, yada, yada, yada, but really, they are minor players to the big ones above.  So Monday morning and another WTF wakeup.

A Ken Burns Vietnam Update

Notice the distinct shape of the nose area where the cameras are.

In the third installment, there is a description of the battle near the Viet Cong stronghold of Chu Pong Massif in the La Drang Valley.  It is the story of Lt. Col Hal Moore and the debacle at Landing Zone X-Ray, made famous in the movie, We Were Soldiers.  Just before the scene where the Napalm canister comes down on our own troops, there is an RF-4C going by at about 100′, trying to identify enemy positions with their cameras.  It just a flash, they were trucking to stay out of ground fire, but you get the idea of the job.

After the brave fight by the Americans and South Vietnamese, Burns uses journalist Neil Sheehan to bring home this thought I always thought but never said, “I saw them fight at La Drang. It always galls me when I read or hear about the WWII generation as “The Greatest Generation”. These kids were just as gallant and courageous as anybody who fought WWII.”  Amen to that and that was my experience also.  I was against the war, but I worked with amazing people who gave everything to the mission.  In many ways it is the closest you will ever be to a true brotherhood of purpose.  We did our jobs as best we could under difficult circumstances to say the least.

By the way, Neil wrote what I consider the best book on the war, “A Bright and Shinning Lie“.  It is the best book because it got you into the psychology of how the war became a never ending nightmare.  Burns has already introduced John Paul Vann, who was an officer in the field who realized the way we were fighting the war was counterproductive.  But over the many years his ego overtook the reality of the futility of the war and he became compromised to the military mission. According to The New York Times Book Review: “If there is one book that captures the Vietnam war in the sheer Homeric scale of its passion and folly, this book is it. Neil Sheehan orchestrates a great fugue evoking all the elements of the war”.

From a guy who watched every moment of it and finally was in it, this book told a story that resonated with my experience.  Oh, and yes, the tears rolled as I watched this.

Ken Burns’ Vietnam

The reason I used this picture is because strip away all the rest and this is the reality of war. The little girl was badly burned from Napalm, but did survive. The photographer, Nick Ut took it in 1972. He won a Pultitzer Prize for it in 1973 and Facebook censored it in 2016. Tell you anything?

I had a strange reaction to the first episode last night. I could not stop the tears that kept welling up in my eyes. The first episode was mostly history, flashing forward from the French colonial rule to some of the parallels of our own involvement, but there was nothing there to make one tear up. Or maybe there was. You are watching us go down the road to massive suffering, killing, and stupidity for no good reason. Well there was at the time, the belief in the domino effect, which belied our understanding of the whole region or the real war we were getting involved in. Yes, those who tell you Iraq was nothing like Vietnam, miss the point entirely. It was the same stupid rush to war without understanding the dynamics of the region and what is really going on.

But I will leave that for Ken Burns to tell. You make a major mistake if you think Vietnam is ancient history. For me and many of my contemporaries, it defined our lives in many ways most of us still have not come to grip with yet. To understand my reaction you have to understand that I grew up in a military family in the middle of the Vietnam war. It was just getting really hot when I graduated from high school in 1964, and by the time I graduated from college in 1968, we were going if we could not get some kind of deferment. That is what George Bush was doing in the National Guard as did many of my college friends who had connections.

Having grown up in the military, I was pretty much buying the whole stop communism thing when I went to college. But we entered turbulent times and everyday was in one way or another consumed with the war and protests.  And knowing you were going put a whole other dynamic on the whole nation. Try to remember that at one point we had over 530,000 troops on the ground there when I graduated from college. And the nation was being torn apart as the body bags were coming home. In that year, 1968, 16,888 kids came home in body bags. The older generation saw it as pushing back the threat of communism, a no-brainer, and the younger generation were asking serious questions about what we were really doing over there. It turns out that in hindsight it was the draft that got people engaged and did not leave the war to a professional all volunteer military that would not be raising questions and saying “Hell no, I won’t go.”

For me, it was a struggle. I am intellectually curious so I started reading to understand the war and the Vietnamese people. By this time I was a young officer in the Air Force training in RF-4Cs, reconnaissance fighters. It was becoming quite apparent to me, as Ken Burns will demonstrate, that we were in a civil war, backing brutal and corrupt leaders, and on the wrong side of right and wrong in the name of fear of communism. Remember, they were going to vote on uniting the country and the South pulled out when it was clear Ho Chi Minh would win. There was no domino theory if you understood the fierce independence and historical hatred of invaders, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, French, or us. The ARVN (Army of the Republic of (South) Vietnam) were really controlled by warlords fighting for their piece of the pie. In other words, as I am sure as Ken will show us, it was a mess.

To say I was conflicted was an understatement. I was from a military family, all supporting the war. My older brother was in Saigon during the Tet Offensive. My last two years of college had been picked up by the Air Force. My Dad was a general officer in that Air Force. And finally, I had sworn an oath to the Constitution to support and defend. Was I now going to walk away because of my political feelings? I wrestled with this one mightily and to this day I am not sure I did the right thing by honoring that oath. Those that at great personal risk to themselves did the very hard thing and either went to Canada or served jail time for refusing to serve. They were in many ways much more brave than I was. My decision was to go when called because the Constitution required it. There was nothing I knew of to make this war illegal, Congress had authorized the fighting and as a military fighting man, politics were suppose to be put aside.  At least that is how I justified it.

So after being consumed for years with the debate, watching the tragedy on both sides, struggling with my own family on my political views, when I got called, I went, After about 8 years of turbulent conflict, I went. My time was not particularly dangerous or memorable. I did my job and did not think too much about it in the sense of fear. Southeast Asia during that time was the focus of a massive military machine and you just got in the pipeline. It was an experience you can’t really convey to people who were not there. If you knew how to work the system, you could do just about anything.

But there is another side few people talk about, although this is quite familiar to our present day warriors. It is another world where the knowledge and mental attitudes you need to survive and be successful has nothing to what we used to call the real world (home). You learned about defenses, burst altitudes, SAM tactics, surviving in the jungle, how to resist torture (as part of my experience I brought a POW home after 5 years of captivity and suffered with him as he relived his experiences), how to survive in captivity, and being stoic, that steely eyed fighter guy. And when you came home you felt like an alien, except for the amount of hatred you attracted as the nation soured on the war.

You had this whole catalogue of knowledge and experience that nobody cared about or wanted to know about even in the Air Force (I went to B-52s after my tour). Not long ago I was out with some friends and I ran into a Wild Wiesel (Thud, F-105) driver who was stationed in Thailand when I was. We conversed about our experience in the war and later several people commented that we were speaking a different language. Yes we were.

So many of us just moved on. It was another life you left behind, but it was a costly other life where people suffered and died, and there was an insanity to it. Then you came home and you put it away. You started over again and you just forgot about it. Except you didn’t really. That I think is my reaction as I watched Ken Burns history. It all comes back, the bitterness, the loneliness, the fear, the doubt, the loss, the frustration, the anger, and how it forever changed the path of my life, and for many, ended theirs. And that I think brings tears. It absorbed so much of my life, and you lost and gained so much, and then it was like it did not exist.

It was just over and you will never be the same, but get over it and move on. Put it away. You arrived back in the real world and it was like that reality never existed. So many died on both sides and it was tilting at windmills. My life was totally absorbed by it, and then, it was meaningless, move on. Maybe some of it is that my days are now numbered (advanced stage prostate cancer). It would seem we put so much into it (that period of our lives) and it was such a large part of my life, and we learned nothing, and nobody really cares now.  And of course, we learned nothing.

We lost that war and we should be glad we did because it would never have been over until the Vietnamese had their country back. Don’t let anyone fool you when they talk about tactics, rules of engagement, no-fly zones. The Vietnamese were smart and they were tenacious. It was not winnable unless we wanted to kill everyone down there (my view from the air). It really was that simple.

It is their country and their future. And that is what really breaks my heart when I look upon the Wall (the Vietnam memorial). All those human beings thrown away for stupidity and hubris, and yet at the time we were all wrapped up in it. It is what made me who I am and yet looking back on it is so painful. That is the best way I can explain it. I guess the tears are just going to flow for all 10 episodes. Then I will get over it. Put it away.

Old Wars Teach Lessons We Should Not Forget and We Always Do

11 TRS RF-4C comes home, Udorn, 1968.

There is a wonderful essay in the NYT about understanding who the people were who fought that war.  Since I am one of them, it really strikes home when I think a writer (or writers) capture what I think we have forgotten about that war and how unlike Iraq or Afghanistan it was.  We forget it was also fought in the streets here at home.  There are a lot of old guys like me that wonder what the hell Cheeto-Head and the politicians are thinking most of the time.  First understand that this was not a volunteer war:

In popular memory, the boomers quickly turned against the war. Many did, but many also served. Over 10 million boomers served in the military, some 40 percent of the males of their generation. Many of them served in Vietnam. More baby boomers died in Vietnam than went to Canada or to prison for refusing to serve. Those boomers in uniform were more blue-collar and minority than their generational median, but they were not some marginal part of it, nor were they the only ones to fight. So did college dropouts and graduates — and not only as officers.

The second is how we became disenchanted with that war even though we though we were saving the world for Communism:

They were soldiers and marines, sailors and airmen, doctors and nurses, who learned about survival, about protecting buddies, about cruel death. They witnessed the suffering of the Vietnamese and they served even when an ending to their war and a clear meaning for it seemed increasingly elusive. Their favorite song was the Animals’ recording of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” But when they did get out, their homecoming was often difficult and lonely. The impact of their indifferent, if not hostile, reception was all the greater because they had assumed the responsibility of citizenship they understood was theirs.

And what I think is most important is not just the lesson of this generation, but of those past who understood getting tough has severe consequences.  We as a nation have a leader that does not have a clue about service or consequences.  We have a public that likes seeing our selves get tough (Cheeto-Head’s poll numbers went up after his Syrian strike that did nothing).  We are on the precipice of making the same mistakes all over again.  Or as the essay ended:

We cannot come to terms with the Vietnam War until we acknowledge the story of the generation who served there and understand the emotional complexity they confronted. In the years after the war, as civilians they have continued to serve their country and their world and to make a difference. Powerful, often unshared, memories remain.

Understanding this is essential: Those with responsibility to send the young to war need always to consider the enduring consequences of war and the human cost of undertaking this action. Winston Churchill, reflecting on the Boer War, understood it a century ago, and the Vietnam generation experienced it a half century ago. As Churchill wrote, “The Statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.” He argued, “Let us learn our lessons.”


Some Painful Memories and Irreverent Thoughts About Vietnam, War, and What we Should Do in the Middle East

Update Today:  I wrote this a few years ago, but never published it.  Now I think it is time.  I added one paragraph at the end to try to relate it to today’s choices.  We have an administration coming in that has no idea what war is except what they have seen on TV.  Here are my subjective thoughts which I now feel comfortable publishing.  I doubt unless you have live this, you will understand it.

This blog is really written for nobody but myself. It is my subjective and probably unfair thoughts of the war as I knew it, from the air. Most of us have put this away. It is like another life you lived in on another planet. It all came rushing back to me on a hot smoky day recently when the forest fire smoke near my home had driven me inside and I watched three hours of the Air War in Vietnam on the Military Channel. I felt like I was transported back in time. I knew these people or ones just like them. I could smell it, taste it, and feel it. I was transported back to Udorn Thailand, Vietnam, and the friendly skies of Cambodia and Laos. In some ways, I did not want to go there, but I couldn’t turn it off. They spoke a language I had not even thought about in years and brought back so many conflicted thoughts and feelings.

Now before I describe some of those thoughts, I want you to understand something that most people who are younger don’t get about that war. It was big and it was turbulent, and it was the focus of the nation for years. Here are some numbers comparing Vietnam with Afghanistan and Iraq (War on Terror)

Vietnam versus Iraq and Afghanistan
Deaths: 58,209 to  6,717
Wounded 153,103 to 50,897
Missing 2,489 to 3

One in ten Americans who served died in Vietnam. And what is not listed is death to the other side, which was estimated at about 2.3 to 3.8 million in Vietnam. In order of most casualties in our history, Vietnam ranks 4th after the American Civil War, WWI, and WWII (deaths per population). The War on Terror ranks 9th after the Mexican American War. My point is to not compare the sacrifice of the soldiers in the War on Terror with Vietnam. My point is to explain why its impact was far greater and the emotions still far deeper for so many of us.

The other major difference was that everyone saw Vietnam on television, they hated it, and most of us who fought it were conflicted. Of course coming home was different. Nobody gave a rat’s ass and nobody was trying to make themselves feel good not serving by telling us they appreciated our service. Grow some hair and get out of the line of fire was about the best advice you could follow. But the big similarity will be that both veterans served admirably and in the end, it, the war, really didn’t matter. The War on Terror veterans still have to come to grips with that one.

In my own theater of combat, the air, 1,737 aircraft were lost to hostile action, and 514 in accidents. 110 of the losses were helicopters and the rest fixed-wing. The plane I flew in lost more aircraft than any other type, 382 combat losses for the F-4. If you add in my aircraft, the RF4C which had 76 combat loses there were a total of 458 Phantom loses. A close second was the F-105 and if you include the wild weasels, the same combat loss as the F-4. My point is that this was a very different war than the war on terror. But what came ripping home to me, was this re-immersion in the mentality of war and survival, and the controversies that broiled around us.

There were the missions, the strategy, the lessons learned, and strategy applied; tactics ingressing and egressing a target, the people, everyone focused on the mission. There were the tactics to defeat a SAM, and what altitudes the various AAA was effective at. There was the anger and RoE (Rules of Engagement), targets not allowed, breaks in the bombing that allowed the North Vietnamese to restock and further defend targets that later got people killed. There was identical planning each day that told the NVA just what routes we would come in on and what time. There was the Mig 21 which was by far a better aircraft than any of us were flying. There was poor training (primarily AF) in fighter engagement tactics. It was learn by the seat of your pants. The Navy had far superior training and were not afraid to lose aircraft in training if it advanced their ability to deal with the enemy fighter threat. There was Disco (orbiting EC-121) and SAR, and your strategy if you got shot down. There was counting missions till you went home, and the celebration on your last mission.

It was another world where the lessons you learned were critical to your survival. And I am fairly sure when it was over, most were lost. When I got back and went into B-52s, it was like it didn’t even happen. A whole world, way of life, critical knowledge, that no longer existed. And I don’t think many people cared. You were transported to a different dimension on the other side of the planet and none of that stuff was relevant anymore. I am sure the War on Terror warriors feel the same way. And as you get older, there are fewer and fewer people who have any idea what you are talking about, except for morbid curiosity about that war in Southeast Asia.

But here is one thing on those films I watched that transported me back in time and place, that those guys still have wrong. They are sure that if we had just been able to fight the war without all the restrictions, many of our comrades would not have been killed and the war would have been shorter. They are right on the first part. The tactics and micro-managing from the White House maybe kept China out of the war, but got a lot of brave airmen killed. But the war wouldn’t have been shorter, it would have been longer and slower. We could have closed down North Vietnam and shutdown the supply routes, but they would have just waited us out. The war was never about shock and awe, but about the will of the Vietnamese people. The South was a muddled mess of corruption and selfishness, and Ho Che Minh always knew he would prevail if it took 5 years or 50.

The ultimate lesson is you can not win a war for another country, they must win it themselves. The Vietnamese just wanted the violence to end and us to go home. The war was never about who had the biggest guns or the best bombing strategy. It was about securing the homeland for all Vietnamese and we were the barbarians who invaded their country and set up puppet governments. It was always destined to fail.

I wonder today about how that translates to the Middle East today.  I wish we could do more for the Syrians and Aleppo.  But do my lessons from above translate?  I guess that is why Presidents leave office with white hair.  It is almost an impossible choice.  I am truly afraid that the ones coming into office have no idea about war and its costs.

The Decline of Senator McCain

Senator McCain, it has been noted, is thrashing in Arizona where he could be in trouble in his re-election so he threw this one out there to try to grab his own White Mob:

“Barack Obama is directly responsible for it because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al Qaeda went to Syria and became ISIS and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures, utter failures by pulling everybody out of Iraq thinking that conflicts end just because we leave. So the responsibility for it lies with President Barack Obama and his failed policies.”

First, one might ask after a careful examination of this attack whether ISIS was anything more than a cover for an American citizen acting out his homophobia and most probably self hatred?  So whose fault was 9/11?  Better yet, one might ask Senator McCain who created al Qaeda in Iraq with their invasion that destablized the region and told us it would be very easily?  Um, that would be you Senator McCain. Oh, and who keeps up the narative the gays should not have equal rights in this country?  That would be your Party Senator McCain.  You have tried to continue an atmosphere where gays are targets of discrimination.  So if the real cause of this slaughter is easy access to assault weapons and homophobia who has aided and abetted both?

But I find this logic actually quite consistent with McCain from his days after Vietnam. He has always said we could have won that war if we had fought it the right way.  Now I am not trying to criticize his moral leadership while a prisioner of war and he certainly learned that torture was morally wrong.  But he did not learn the big lesson of the war, you can’t win somebody else’s war.  As Slate (link above) tells us:

Very few military historians agree with McCain’s bitter analysis, which suggests that a ground invasion and an even more destructive bombing campaign, with an unimaginable cost in human life, would have achieved an American victory. But perhaps because he is obsessed by the humiliation of defeat — which fell directly on his father, Adm. John S. McCain Jr., who served as the commander in chief of Pacific forces during the Vietnam conflict — the former prisoner of war seemingly can formulate neither a rational assessment of that war’s enormous costs nor of its flawed premises and purposes.

But he seems to be oblivious to what most of us knew about the war as we were on the ground there:

But the politics of Vietnam and the geopolitics of the war were at once more complicated and simpler. Complicated because South Vietnam was a corrupt dictatorship that had forfeited the loyalty of most of its citizens, who regarded the United States not as a liberator but as the latest invader in a long procession that dated back centuries and included the French and the Chinese as well.

The Vietnam War was premised on strategic misconceptions and cultural stupidity (sound familiar for the Middle East?), it was also based on plain old lies, as the true history of the Tonkin Gulf incident has long since revealed.  And the most important thing, where was the domino effect, and where is the monolithic communist state in Southeast Asia today?  We lost it, and it had no impact on our national or economic security.  Millions were killed for nothing (including Americans and Vietnamese).  But he thinks we should have stayed there and won it at a horrendous cost for what?

Now we have him telling us we should have stayed in Iraq even though it was Bush who saw the light and negotiated our withdrawal.  But as Slate again said it best back when he ran against Barrack Obama in 2008:

But it is easy to understand why a man who thinks that we should have escalated the Vietnam War after 10 futile years would talk about occupying Iraq for a century. And it is hard to imagine why voters would elect a president who still believes that 60,000 American dead and more than 300,000 wounded in Vietnam were not quite enough.

So the man no longer makes sense and is casting wild dispersions to save his job.  As Thomas Friedman put it the other day: 

“Et tu, John McCain? You didn’t break under torture from the North Vietnamese, but your hunger for re-election is so great that you don’t dare raise your voice against Trump? I hope you lose. You deserve to. Marco Rubio? You called Trump ‘a con man,’ he insults your very being and you still endorse him? Good riddance.”

Now he doesn’t just endorse Trump, he has become him.  May you rest in peace John McCain.  Apparently the Sarah Palin choice was just the beginning.

Send in the Advisors

Have we been here before?  I am talking about a move by the Obama Administration to decide to send in advisors/trainers to train Sunni fighters to take back Ramadi.  Remember Vietnam?  Oh, I know, that was a jungle war and this war is nothing like it.  Said like a true fool.  It is exactly the same.  We are clueless on the cultural issues that are being resolved bloodily, we think the solution is a better managed military campaign (see the 500,000+ troops we had in Vietnam), and never deal with the underlying political/cultural (or in this case religious) issues, and you will get the same result.

But hey, forget Vietnam, did we not set up a government and train hundreds of thousands of Iraqi’s before?  And they ran leaving their guns behind them.  And if you go back a little further, did we not arm the mujahideen (read Sunnis in our current situation) to throw out the Russians in Afghanistan to have them become the Taliban?  Okay we are now arming Sunnis who hate Shiites, but this is good because now it is Sunnis fighting against ISIS Sunnis, but what happens when they win?  Will they give their weapons back or will they then turn their aggression on the Shiites who have oppressed them since Sadam got ousted?

President Obama said the other day we have no complete strategy for training Iraqis.  He could have said we don’t have a complete strategy yet for the whole Middle East.  Here is the reality.  In order to “beat ISIS” we need boots on the ground, and as we have seen, those boots are going to be American.  Secondly, once you win the military battle, the real battle begins.  You have to fill the power vacuum.  So are we going to run Iraq and Syria?  The only one who is telling us a straight story is Lindsey Graham, and that is exactly what he is recommending.  Is that what we want to do?

I don’t think so, but President Obama seems unwilling or unable to communicate an alternative plan so we are on the up-ramp starting with send in the advisors.  I would strongly suggest that we have a clear end game, one that is stated so we can see where we are going.  One possible scenario (not suggested by me, but possibly viable), is in fact to train those willing to fight with the tacit assumption that they get to keep their spoils, that is no longer be under the thumb of the Shiites in Iraq.  In other words the fiction of a united Iraq is gone.  It probably was gone a long time ago.  My plan is more limited (See ISIS), but there are other scenarios.  Pick one.

But when you send in the advisors, what is the end game?  Come on Mr. President stand up and be a leader.  Winning military battles isn’t even half the battle so what are we really doing?  And can you beat ISIS if you don’t go into Syria and who fills that power vacuum?  No the choices are not easy but right now not making one is Vietnam all over again.

Torture Part V – Some Personal Thoughts

I know the subject better than most.  I flew combat missions in Vietnam back in the 70’s and was faced with the very real possibility that I would be a prisoner of war if I got shot down.  I was trained in resisting torture (later reverse engineered for the torture program).  I met with ex-POWs who were released early who were tortured.  I debriefed a POW who spent five years in captivity and was tortured relentlessly.  The ropes were the torture of choice.  Tie your hands behind your back and then tie a rope to your hands through a pulley in the ceiling and lift you off the ground until your shoulders dislocated.  So I know a little more about torture than most.

I was terrified that I could not hold up to the standards of my fellow airmen when faced with torture.  One thing we learned was that they did not really want “military intelligence”.  They want us for propaganda purposes.  To turn us.  After the first 36 hours or so, your military intelligence is no longer valuable.  The other thing we learned is that everyone broke eventually.  The new code of conduct among POWs back then was to recognize that so you weren’t totally destroyed when it happened to you, and then to give just the minimum of what they wanted to make them stop. That was the new success instead of name, rank and serial number.  That was the reality.  What you finally gave them was a total lie, and that is what they wanted.  See today.

What allowed me and many others to overcome our fear and to face this possible reality was to know that we Americans were different.  That we had values and we did not do this kind of thing. It made the fight noble.  It allowed me to face my fears and maybe be a little better that I really was.  It is what John McCain so eloquently expressed in his comments on the Senate floor*.  When we the people in the United States began torturing in 2001, we threw all that away and I am ashamed of America.  It put us all at risk and belied our basic principles.

I know it doesn’t work.  I know there are much better ways to get actionable intelligence because I have followed this thing for years.  Remember the key intelligence we got that allowed us to go to war with Iraq was from a tortured prisoner and the information was false.  Under torture, you will simply tell them what they want.  John McCain also made that point.  Real professional interrogators were getting good intell before the CIA stepped in and destroyed that work (See Jane Mayer’s book, The Dark Side and her interviews with the FBI interrogators or the Torture Report).  And it cost us our soul.

One other observation:  I watched a Republican strategist (Nicholle Wallace), one who I think is fairly intelligent, say she didn’t care, it kept us safe.  It kind of makes my case about Republicans as fearful people.  First politicos have no clue and I resent their even weighing in on this topic.  Second this is a fairly intelligent woman considered a moderate Republican, who has not looked at the data of whether this actually works.  She doesn’t care, she is afraid and it overcomes her rational side.  The issue is sadly becoming partisan, but I guess that is no surprise.  Once again our President is missing in action as he fails to weigh in on its efficacy.  I keep wondering what the spooks have on him.  Well, what the heck, bring on the drone program, another moral atrocity.

*See Whining About the Report

Why did We Invade Iraq Again?

While some are shocked at the collapse, this is what was predicted by many of us. And as some are pointing out, this is Vietnam all over again. We cannot win an internal civil war for someone and expect the results to stand. If they can’t win it for themselves, we have no business propping them up because the root issues are never resolved. Well now they are going to be.

It must be hard for those who fought there to watch this, as I remember watching the fall of Saigon those so many years ago. You can have the John McMean (McCain) reaction which is to get out bigger weapons and dig yourself a deeper hole, or you can do what I did, try to learn from our bluster and arrogance. In Vietnam, the people were not engaged and the armies were political arms of various warlords who spent more time fighting each other than the communists. In the end, they like the Iraqis, just fell apart.

The problem in Iraq as it has always been is religion and power sharing, and how we thought we had a play in this is beyond me. They have to sort it out themselves. Maybe a few years under Sharia law will help them pick a side and finally solve this. It is further complicated by the Iranians and the Syrians. So we would want to follow the advice of John McMean and the neocons and get right back in there because they did such a bang up job the first time and to what end? To kick the can down the road for a few more years. We are doing enough of that here at home. Oh, and who is it we would bomb exactly? It is a regional conflict of Sunnis and Shiites so whose side are we on?

I have blogged before about how the service men and women will react when they finally realize it was all for nothing. It was the lesson of Vietnam never learned. There are going to be some very angry veterans in the future. Afghanistan is no different and eventually the civil war between themselves and the Taliban will have to happen. The people of Afghanistan have to decide their own future and we have no play in it. That does not mean I do not grieve for all the women who will be subjugated, but again, we can’t win this for them.

It is interesting watching what is happening and listening to the blame game because it was all so predictable. In fact in did back in 2009 in a blog called No Good Choices, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is sad that we are listening to the morons who got us into this war in the first place, but the reality is Americans have no stomach for any more wars so hopefully we will stay out now. I wonder if we will learn anything this time. We never have before.

WTF Friday

Here are the headlines this morning that make you wonder if we are a brain dead nation:

Falluja’s Fall Stuns Marines Who Fought There – I wonder if there was a similar headline back in 1975 when the fall of Saigon represented the fall of the entire country and where at one time we had over 500,000 troops in-country. Or even more germane, was the lesson that we were fighting a battle we should not have been fighting just totally forgotten in Iraq. Both were civil wars where the real issues were internal and we had no real understanding. In both we decided we were fighting the wrong kind of war and had to learn guerrilla tactics, but we never got that all we could do was hold the two sides apart until we left when the root cause of the conflicts had to be sorted out. Yes Virginia, Iraq was Vietnam all over again and we learned nothing the first time. Apparently after reading the article and listening to those who think we should have stayed there, we learned nothing this time either.

U.S. Economy Adds Only 74,000 Jobs in December – That number is not enough to sustain the number of people entering the job market and that is in December when retail hiring should have been at its peak. Now remember all those end of year stories about how Wall Street was at record highs and the outlook for next year is just peachy. Tell that to the ever increasing number of people looking for a job, and no, the unemployment rate does not reflect the real unemployment. So in the meantime, we are fighting about unemployment insurance with no real plan to provide jobs. We are just waiting for things to get better and they are not. Maybe it will finally dawn on most Americans that the Republican agenda to make the wealthy wealthier and wait for flow down is not something they should be voting for. Oh, I forgot. Be afraid of the debt.

At Issue Two Troubling Cases, What to Do After the Brain Dies – Speaking of being brain dead, this article raises the two case I wrote about yesterday in California and Texas, but misses the larger story. While it gives us a look into what it means to be brain dead, it does not ask the really tough questions (which I did) about when the state should step in against the family’s wishes, or said differently, whose life is this anyway. This is the critical issue about who has the final authority and who it affects and the article danced around what is the central question.

After Chris Christie’s Performance – This op-ed in the NYT tells us that, ” If the governor wants to regain any creditability, he has to admit he set a tone or vindictiveness.” There are so many problems with his defense that he is not a bully and these people acted outside his knowledge or control. Just his statement that “he fired his ‘stupid’ and ‘deceitful’ deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, ‘because she lied to me’ about the gridlock scheme,” raises all kinds of question about whether he is not a bully and just who he will throw overboard to protect his skin. Just from a personality point of view, this man is unfit for national office, and no one has yet examined his truly conservative economic and social stances to see how out of step with America he really is. Right now the whole discussion is on form over substance, but now the substance is coming up and he is screwed. But we are better for it.

Chemical Spill leaves thousands without Water in West Virginia – Actually it is hundreds of thousands and is the result of an industrial leak into the Elk River. That coupled with the calls for investigation into the derailments and fires resulting from moving oil from shale oil areas through the United States by rail should tell you all you need to know about less regulation. Cheaper is not always better and there is a lot at risk when we let industries self regulate (like the banking industry back in 2007-2008). But the Republicans never change their tune and we seem to never learn.

Just another Friday in clueless America.