Category Archives: Military

It’s Confirmed: America Has Been Officially Militarized

Glenn Greenwald confirms what I wrote five years ago: that the militarization of our politics was a Bush/neocon goal and that it has succeeded. Joe Biden, a supposed Democrat, is referring to Obama as our next Commander-in-Chief.

Biden’s formulation here is a particularly creepy rendition, since he’s taunting opponents of  Obama that, come Tuesday, they will be forced to refer to him as “our commander in chief Barack Obama” (Sarah Palin, in the very first speech she delivered after being unveiled as the Vice Presidential candidate, said of John McCain:  “that’s the kind of man I want as our commander in chief,” and she’s been delivering that same line in her stump speech ever since).

This is much more than a semantic irritant.  It’s a perversion of the Constitution, under which American civilians simply do not have a “commander in chief”; only those in the military — when it’s called into service — have one (Art. II, Sec. 2).

Worse, “commander in chief” is a military term, which reflects the core military dynamic:  superiors issue orders which subordinates obey.  That isn’t supposed to be the relationship between the U.S. President and civilian American citizens, but because the mindless phrase “our commander in chief” has become interchangeable with “the President,” that is exactly the attribute — supreme, unquestionable authority in all arenas — which has increasingly come to define the power of the President. 

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As Long As You’re Happy….

Mike Luckovich

US General Uses Maoist Playbook, Creates Re-Education Camps in Iraq (Updated)

matttbastard at Comments from Left Field (where I’ve been posting this week, thus my absence from here) points to what he calls “the ‘WTF?!’ story of the day” – a piece by the WaPo’s Walter Pincus, one of the few real reporters the paper’s got left, on the way the commander of our detention camps has borrowed a leaf from the Chinese Communists’ Handbook of Re-education.

The U.S. military has introduced “religious enlightenment” and other education programs for Iraqi detainees, some of whom are as young as 11, Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, the commander of U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, said yesterday.

Stone said such efforts, aimed mainly at Iraqis who have been held for more than a year, are intended to “bend them back to our will” and are part of waging war in what he called “the battlefield of the mind.” Most of the younger detainees are held in a facility that the military calls the “House of Wisdom.”

The religious courses are led by Muslim clerics who “teach out of a moderate doctrine,” Stone said, according to the transcript of a conference call he held from Baghdad with a group of defense bloggers. Such schooling “tears apart” the arguments of al-Qaeda, such as “Let’s kill innocents,” and helps to “bring some of the edge off” the detainees, he said.

First, somebody needs to explain to me why we’ve got 11-yr-olds in jail. Second, Gen Stone’s optimism may be, it seems to me, slightly misplaced. I mean, wouldn’t it seem fairly obvious to the meanest observer that the occupation of their country, the murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and the fact that they’re in jail basically for being Iraqi might explain their “extremism”?

I guess not.

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Combat Soldiers Being Billed for War-Damaged Equipment

When Bush and Cheney said they were going to run the govt like a business, they apparently included ripping off their consumers and employees in their prescription. What with Halliburton, KBR, Blackstone, Custer Battles, et al, up to their ears in fraud, theft, and over-charging for everything, it should perhaps come as no surprise that the Cheney-inspired, Bush-built military is now actually – I feel I have to assure you I’m not making this up – billing combat soldiers who served in Iraq for lost or damaged equipment. From CBS-TV in New York:

A 2006 government report found more than 1,000 soldiers being billed a total of $1.5 million. And while fighting overseas put their lives on the line, this battle on paper could cost them their future by ruining their credit. Rodriguez will be reported to credit agencies next month.

“It makes a terrible point about the nature of military service today,” citizen soldier Tod Ensign said.

Ensign is a veteran’s advocate. He says this is all part of the military’s push to be run more like a business.

“They’ll just pound him and call him, call his employers, and make his life as miserable as they can until he pays up,” Ensign said.

Testimony before Congress detailed in a report found that “although unit commanders and finance offices are authorized to write off debts for lost and damaged equipment … they have not always done so.”

“It happens too often and it’s just disgraceful,” Sen. Charles Schumer said. “Here are people who are risking their lives for us and they come home and they’re being treated as if they’re criminals instead of heroes.”

And because they’re the military rather than an actual business, which could never get away with it, they don’t even bother to tell the soldiers they’re billing what the equipment is that they’re supposed to pay for, much less explain how it’s connected to them.

The Rodriquez mention in the above quote is combat engineer Brian Rodriquez, whose job was finding and defusing land mines and IEDs. The Army has been sending him bills for $700 all summer.

Although he was discharged some four years ago, bills recently arrived demanding payment, but giving no details on what or why — nor do they offer a way to dispute the charges.

“For doing my job you’re going to bill me?” Rodriguez said.

(all emphasis added)

Yeah. War is a business, pal. Troops that don’t pay with their lives or limbs have to pay some other way. Get used to it. This is govt-as-business, it’s what we said we wanted. Well, we got it. Like it?

What, you think corporations pay their own expenses? Hell, no. Corporate tradition: Pass It On. Customer pays, and if the customers won’t, the employees do. That’s life in Bush America. Hope you enjoy it.

(Via Crooks and Liars)

Iraq Vets Talk (Updated)

Three years ago I predicted, based on my experience with Viet Nam vets, that the day was going to come when we read of atrocities committed by our troops in Iraq.

I thought it would come as My Lai came or the depredations of Tiger Force–in gonzo attacks on Iraqis in the field. I expected Fallujah might very likely be that moment. Marines storming into a beleagured city where you can’t tell the enemy from the friendlies and mowing down everything in sight without fear or favor. It’s still possible, don’t kid yourself. The troops are exhausted, angry, betrayed by their own commanders (anybody remember “fragging”?) and by the President who lied to get them there and then put them in the position of jail-keepers, only the jail they have to watch over is an entire country. It is hard enough to control an army when it believes in its mission; it is almost impossible when it doesn’t.

I’m not making excuses for those involved, only trying to put what’s happened into the context of the reality they are now facing, a reality most of us–lucky us!–will never have to face. If you ask young men and women to die for you in the name of some great humanitarian cause and it turns out to be a crock, it turns out that you’ve asked them to die for some cock-eyed dream of empire or the piling up of your personal wealth or the fortunes of yourself and your family–and in this case, your contributors–you have turned those young men and women into mercenaries, Hessians. You have made them not a force of liberation but a force of occupation, not liberators but oppressors, and don’t think they don’t know it. Their rage, depression, and growing sense that everything they’ve just done was pointless, worthless, a sham, has to go somewhere.

Unfortunately, though we haven’t yet seen fragging*, we’ve seen massacres of civilians in Haditha and elsewhere, and a slaughter of probable innocents in Baghdad. I warned in a different post (that I can’t find at the moment) that the effect of a dirty war on the men and women who had to fight it wasn’t going to be pretty, especially when they came home and had to somehow learn to live with what they’d done.

The Nation has just published a major report (via Sadly, No) that proves it’s happening.

Over the past several months The Nation has interviewed fifty combat veterans of the Iraq War from around the United States in an effort to investigate the effects of the four-year-old occupation on average Iraqi civilians. These combat veterans, some of whom bear deep emotional and physical scars, and many of whom have come to oppose the occupation, gave vivid, on-the-record accounts. They described a brutal side of the war rarely seen on television screens or chronicled in newspaper accounts.

Their stories, recorded and typed into thousands of pages of transcripts, reveal disturbing patterns of behavior by American troops in Iraq. Dozens of those interviewed witnessed Iraqi civilians, including children, dying from American firepower. Some participated in such killings; others treated or investigated civilian casualties after the fact. Many also heard such stories, in detail, from members of their unit. The soldiers, sailors and marines emphasized that not all troops took part in indiscriminate killings. Many said that these acts were perpetrated by a minority. But they nevertheless described such acts as common and said they often go unreported–and almost always go unpunished.

The effect on the troops who do such things or see them done is devastating.

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CB Takes the Prize


CB in Iraq (Reuters)

Back in July of ’04, I was writing a blog about literary blogs – blogs that used the form for fiction or poetry or photography, or that featured exceptional writing – and in surfing for them I stumbled across one called My War: Fear and Loathing in Iraq by an anonymous Iraqi soldier stationed near Mosul who called himself “CBFTW”. The writing was raw, honest, and vibrant. CBFTW reminded me of a cross between Norman Mailer and Hunter Thompson (even without the clue in the title, it would have been impossible not to recognize CB as a Thompson fan from the style of his writing). I was very impressed and said so when I reviewed it.

This is, as far as I know, one of a kind. Not only is it a blog written by a soldier now serving in Iraq, it’s written by a soldier who can write. His grammar isn’t great, his spelling is OK, his punctuation is horrible. All of that is beside the point….[H]e can communicate a sense of time and place so clearly that it’s almost physical–you can hear it, you can see it, you can almost reach out and touch it.


He…seems to write at least one post a day, sometimes two, and they all slice directly into the heart of what the troops are up against and, to a degree, how they’re coping. He doesn’t make judgments and he doesn’t talk poilitics; if he has opinions he mostly keeps them to himself. What you will read is raw, frontline reporting, practically in real-time. In other words, everything we don’t get–or only rarely–from our Bush-addled media.

This is one of the best combat soldier’s diaries I’ve ever read. It has the immediacy and authenticity of an eye-witness account under extreme stress, and the power of a Hemingway novel to punch you in the gut when you’re not expecting it. Consider it a Must-Read and check it every day. If he can live it, we can read it.

Somebody told him about the review and not long after I got an email from CBFTW, thanking me for the attention and the nice things I said. He wrote that it was encouraging to get that kind of praise because he was just a low-income kid from a suburb of San Francisco with no education to speak of who had never written anything before and often felt lost, like he wasn’t sure he was doing it right. He told me his name – Colby Buzzell – and that the “FTW” stood for “Fuck This War”.

Well, I was hooked, of course. A working-class kid – like me – who wanted to write and actually had talent? I couldn’t resist. Continue reading

US Soldier Demoted and Disciplined for Remarks Against Bush

This letter was published on the website of what appears to be an Italian magazine called Bellaciao. It was written by the parents of a soldier serving in Iraq, both of whom are themselves retired from the military.

As a military family with a combined total of 57 years of active service in the U. S. Army, myself, son, and daughter-in-law have accumulated over 80 combat medals, one or more of us have served in Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, El Salvador, Kosovo, Bosnia, and three of us served together during Desert Storm. My son recently returned from the Iraq War, his third war, and, being fed up with Bush lies and back-to-back deployments, applied to be discharged from his “indefinite enlistment” status.

Six days later he was under investigation for making “disloyal comments” about George Bush…which amounted to saying in general conversation with other soldiers that “Bush should have never started the war” and “Bush is no military leader.” He was charged under Article-15 and was denied an attorney and could not cross-examine the case against him. His 14 years of military service up to this point was flawless, he was an excellent soldier, and in spite of numerous superiors who testified in his favor, he was demoted and sentenced to 45 days of extra duty.

His crime involved nothing more than expressing his personal political opinion as guareeteed under the Bill of Rights, the very document that he had risked his life defending. Our government claims to be fighting for democracy, however those who risk their lives for democracy are being denied their basic rights of freedom of speech and opinion. My friends, the Bill of Rights and democracy are dead under the Bush Administration. This is only a sampling of what will happen if this administration is re-elected.

For generations we have been a loyal and faithful military family, however with this recent action taken against a member of our family, we will no longer encourage military service to our future generations. In other words, we are going to do the same thing that Bush, Cheney, Wolfovitz, and most members of congress do, WE AIN’T SERVING NO MORE!!

The Iraq War was based on lies and exaggerations, poor intelligence, a mass deception with no rhyme nor reason for invading Iraq. For those who still have kids and loved ones in this illegal war, our blessings and best wishes go out to you. We pray for their safe return. It is refreshing to see an organization like Military Families Speak Out because our active service members are silenced by the system and need all the voices that can be mustered.

Charlie C. Carlson II
Command Sergeant-Major USA Ret.
Dot Diehl-Carlson
[Ex-Major USA Vietnam Vet]

An ex-military commenter noted that Article 15 discipline is company-level punishment, the lowest type of discipline there is. Still, at the very least it’s ironic that troops supposedly fighting for ‘freedom’ are denied it themselves.

A while ago, I wrote about Gen John Abizaid’s order that any soldier dissing Junior was to be punished. This would appear to be proof that they are.

(Thanks to Polis for the link. In the same post, he links to an article in the Guardian about Rep Henry Waxman’s on-going attempt to trace the $$$Billions$$$ earmarked for Iraq that are unaccounted for.

He wrote to the Republican chairman of the reform committee on July 9, suggesting there was a serious case to answer. Subpoenas should be issued, he said, “to investigate potential mismanagement of the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) by the United States”.

The DFI was set up after last year’s invasion as the depository for Iraq’s multi-billion-dollar oil revenues and was administered, until June 28, by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) – with notional UN oversight.

In particular, Mr Waxman is curious about “the [Bush] administration’s last-minute ‘draw-down’ of billions of dollars from the DFI for unspecified expenses” prior to last month’s transfer of sovereignty. “For example, $1bn [about £550m] was withdrawn from the DFI during the last month of the CPA’s existence for unspecified ‘security’ purposes.”

The administration provided no information about how these funds would be spent, Mr Waxman says, and has yet to do so.

Officials from Congress’s financial watchdog, the general accounting office, have pointed out meanwhile that while the CPA was keen to appropriate Iraqi oil revenues, it was much more reluctant to spend bilateral US aid funds.Nearly all of the $20bn in the DFI was spent or allocated by June 28 – but only 2% of the $18.4bn promised by the US for reconstruction was actually spent. According to White House figures, for example, and despite all the rhetoric about building a new Iraq, not a cent of America’s own money had been spent on construction, healthcare, sanitation and water projects as of last month.

Last month, Iraq Revenue Watch, part of the Soros Foundations network, accused the CPA of “committing billions of dollars to ill-conceived projects” using Iraqi rather than US funds, effectively pre-empting budgetary decisions that should have been left to the interim Iraqi authority.

Yet another story in which the US media is interested. NOT. If you read the whole piece, what Waxman is basically saying is that the whole ‘reconstruction’ effort seems to be a) riddled with possible corruption, and b) a rip-off of Iraqi resources by US corporations. Well, mainly one US corporation–can you guess who?

Halliburton was the largest single recipient of Iraqi oil funds during the occupation, according to the Army Corps of Engineers’ figures released last month. And among US politicians, according to the Center for Public Integrity, Mr Bush has been the largest single recipient of US oil and gas industry campaign contributions since 1998 – his total stands at $1,724,579.

There is, of course, no connection between those two facts.)

Offered Without Comment

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Reservists’ paychecks riddled with errors By KEN GUGGENHEIM
Associated Press
Published on: 08/23/04

WASHINGTON — Army Reserve payroll procedures for activated soldiers are so convoluted that mistakes occurred in 95 percent of the cases examined by congressional auditors, the Government Accountability Office said Monday.

Soldiers sent to Iraq and Afghanistan have had to spend a year or more straightening out problems affecting their pay, allowances and tax benefits, the GAO said.

Most errors involved overpayments, but those proved to be problems for soldiers who didn’t acknowledge the extra pay or didn’t set aside enough money to pay it back. In one example, the GAO recommended a criminal investigation for a soldier who didn’t report $36,000 in overpayments.

The GAO found the payment system was so “error-prone, cumbersome and complex that neither [the Defense Department] nor, more importantly, Army Reserve soldiers themselves could be reasonably assured of timely and accurate payments.”

It warned that the payroll problems could hurt morale and the Army’s efforts to retain reservists.


A LAT editorial notes that the process of beginning–not doing it, just starting to do it–of obeying the Supreme Court’s order to let the Gitmo detainees have access to lawyers and courts has been moving at the speed of light. A stop light.

Yagman’s efforts to force Justice Department lawyers to justify Gherebi’s continued imprisonment have provoked a blizzard of paperwork, court motions and foot-dragging. But there’s been little progress toward a face-to-face lawyer-client meeting, let alone a hearing on the merits of his case.Gherebi’s case is hardly unique. Lawyers across the country trying to represent Guantanamo clients report that the government is, as one put it, “trying to neutralize the Supreme Court decision.”

The Pentagon has let a few detainees meet with a lawyer as a goodwill gesture, providing the lawyer agrees to let officials listen in and promises not to ask about conditions of the client’s confinement or if he has been abused. However, the government is contesting almost every motion and writ, tying up the cases as it continues to claim, incredibly, that the Guantanamo detainees have no constitutional right of access. At the same time, detainees are pressured to plead their cases before a military panel without the due process guarantees available in federal court, a move some are resisting. (emphasis added)

Gee, I wonder why. Does the term ‘railroaded’ come to mind?

It has been a full two months since the SCOTUS decision and the military authorities at Gitmo haven’t even begun to comply. What’s happening there takes foot-dragging to a whole new level–the level of paying no attention to it whatever. They are simply going on as before while making a few token gestures here and there. After two months it’s fair to ask: ‘Are the Gitmo authorities ignoring the court order? And do they intend to go on ignoring it until they bully the detainees into accepting military tribunals rather than civilian trials?’

Given that we now know that what’s been going on at Gitmo is even worse than the most cynical and pessimistic among us thought, can it be that the military is trying to drag this out until after the election in order to spare Junior yet another scandal? And since the military is, in essence, the final enforcement arm of the govt, who’s going to make them obey the SCOTUS order if they continue to flaunt it? The Florida State Police? (Not that they have jurisdiction, mind you, but they’re the closest.) The National Guard? Are we willing to make the services discipline each other? If the Army continues to pretend the SCOTUS decision is unimportant and doesn’t apply to them, are we going to send in the Navy to bombard Gitmo from the sea and order the Marines to land in full battle gear to take Gitmo by force? I hardly think so.

The Gitmo authorities clearly believe that by being off-shore they are above the law and can do what they like–or not–and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. Well, isn’t that the reason Bush established Gitmo in the first place? So it would be outside the realm of any possible domestic oversight or intervention? Still, it’s hard to believe, even in BushAmerica, that the military would be so contemptuous of civilian control unless they had orders to do so from civilian authorities like, for example, Dick Cheney or Don Rumsfeld.

The restrictions on the lawyers are telling: maybe they can see their clients but only if they agree not to ask them about ill-treatment and torture? Almost makes you think the military is afraid of the answers, doesn’t it? Only the naive think that the previous scandal caused the Army to abandon what it euphemistically calls its ‘softening-up’ techniques; scaled them back, possibly, but no more. Army officials continue to defend the techniques by asserting that they’re working, providing reams of ‘intelligence’ we wouldn’t otherwise have. Of course the quality of that intelligence is something they rarely address and only when forced to–it seems it’s been pretty useless overall.

So what we have here is a military that has been engaging in at best dubious and at worst illegal interrogation techniques in an off-shore facility patently untouchable by civilian authority–not even the Supreme Court cuts any ice here–that is protecting its own ass and that of the president by thumbing its nose at a legal order from the Highest Court in the Land and practically daring them to do anything about it.

This is getting uglier by the day and nobody is covering it. So what else is new?

Injured Soldiers Denied Disability Pay

Capitol Hill Blue is reporting that nearly a third of the National Guard soldiers and Army reservists injured in Iraq are being denied disability, and at least one soldier says Army physicians falsified his medical records to do it.

Jesus Oliveras, a chief warrant officer in an Augusta, Ga., reserve unit, was among those ordered back to duty without compensation.Oliveras said doctors wrote on his records that he had a hearing loss. He contends they gave little recognition to his real problems: debilitating back and shoulder injuries. Despite those injuries, the maintenance technician volunteered for service in Iraq.

“At times I felt lousy, as a second-class citizen, especially coming from a war zone,” Oliveras said. “They sent us to fight an enemy and when we returned, we had to fight another enemy – us.”

Less than 10% of the injured reservists who apply for disability get it, a lower ratio by far than any of the other ‘regular’ military services.

Lavoda Anderson of Ninety-Six, S.C., said she suffered a life-altering injury to her back while under fire in Iraq last year. In constant pain, she was jolted anew when the Army calculated her compensation for medical retirement at $13,400.”I feel I was treated very unfairly,” said Anderson, who did not return to her prewar job as a dialysis technician and is raising her 4-year-old daughter. “I didn’t get adequate care. I feel like I’m useless most of the time.”

Brower, the lawyer for the Army disability agency, said, “You can’t give higher disability ratings to soldiers who you feel emotionally deserve it. It would be nice to give every soldier 100 percent (disability), but as a taxpayer, you might not like that.”

As a taxpayer, we’re going to end up paying $$$500Bil$$$ for this war, but we wouldn’t support using some of that to support shanghaied soldiers injured in our behalf as opposed to, say, Halliburton’s outrageous overcharging for its minimal and shoddy work in Iraq? Bullshit.

Spc. John Ramsey, a deputy sheriff in Orange County, Fla., had medical bills in the thousands of dollars and was dogged by creditors. Meanwhile, the state and federal governments fought over responsibility for his shoulder injuries suffered in Iraq.”My wife and I and two kids were put through hell because of this,” Ramsey said.

Sgt. John Beard of Jacksonville, Fla., who returned from Iraq with shrapnel wounds in his back, legs and face, said he painfully waited in long lines for processing. On one occasion, confronting an irritable soldier handling pay records, Beard said, “I snatched my orders out of his hands and left.”

Staff Sgt. Dwayne Fitzpatrick of Orlando, Fla., won his appeal of an initial offer of a one-time, $23,000 severance payment. He qualified instead for a disability payment of $1,300 a month.

“They dangle some money in your face, so many soldiers will take it and run,” he said. “They low-ball everybody. I’m looking at the long term.”

We’re ‘low-balling’ troops injured in our war and high-balling war profiteers? What’s wrong with this picture?

Sgt Missick Rebuts

On Sunday, I reviewed three blogs by soldiers from Iraq, including one written by a Sgt Chris Missick called A Line in the Sand which I suspected wasn’t legitimate because of the way it read. It would seem I have done Sgt Missick a gross injustice.

Much of the following was written tongue in cheek.1. To address Mr. Arren’s fist fallacious statement, that I am “a PR flack for the military,” I have this to say: I am a 31 Romeo, a multi-channel systems transmission operator/maintainer. I am currently working with Army phone and internet networks, administrating them to ensure they run properly. Unfortunately I can not go too much further into my daily job descriptions because of something the military refers to OPSEC, Operational Security, and I can not breach that trust. I have never admitted to being on the frontlines on a daily basis and have always made quite clear that I am simply proud to be a cog in the wheel that is the machine of the US Army. Mr. Arren, you may just be receiving a confirmation from my lieutenant after he reads this, he’s a good man and can verify that my word is good. I do have PR experience in my civilian career, but when I am in uniform, I simply a soldier with a blogging hobby.

That isn’t necessary, Sgt Missick. I believe you. That was Charge No 1. Charge dismissed. To the charge that the required disclaimer is missing:

I beckon you all to now examine my pages, each one of them, and look at the very bottom. On each page I state, “© 2004, please request permission to use any images from this site: This site reflects the opinion of the author and is in no way connected to the US Army, DOD, or any Federal agency.”

He’s right–it’s there and I missed it. It’s in very small letters at the very bottom of the screen, but it’s there. Charge No 2. Dismissed. To the charge that it’s a complicated site that must have required a lot of time:

The essays are the same thing as the blog, the two are actually the same page. In terms of the pictures, check the last time I had a chance to post any: May 4, 2004. That’s nearly three months ago! The letters page is long, but again, I have not had any time to post new one’s since sometime in May. The video section is complete with a list of recuitment videos’, (er, wait) I have actually never posted anything up there. And the guest book, where I even request e-mail addresses… I am sorry Mr. Arren, but this is not a dark recruitment scheme. Rather, I have tried in the past to thank those who take the time to sign it by sending them a thank you e-mail for supporting the troops. Hhmm, I’ve never been told I look like Oliver North, that’s a first. And finally, the Signal Battalion reference: I do help build and monitor the phone networks, sounds a lot like the Signal Corps to me. Take a look at the pictures, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

For this, there is no excuse. I made a snap judgment without actually checking and jumped to a conclusion I shouldn’t have made. My abject apologies, Sgt Missick and I assure you I will not make that mistake again. It was bonehead, bush-league, and arrogant. Truly, I’m not usually any of those things–well, at least I’m not usually amateurish; one out of three is better than nothing, isn’t it?

In any case, I grovel at your feet. I fucked up, Big Time, and I’m sorry. I should have checked the tabs and I should have looked more closely at the bottom of the page. I owe you an apology and you may consider that you have it. Now let’s get to what’s really important.

In this entry [Desperate Enough to Serve–MA], I made the case that people all too frequently make the assumption that military personnel are the most desperate of our society, the intellectual dregs and simpleton’s who have no other opportunity than to work for Uncle Sam until s/he can receive their pension and finish out their mediocre American dream. Within this typecast soldier that some media personalities have fostered as indicative of the American soldier, many honestly begin to doubt the ability of our fighting men and women to do anything but kill. My blog has been my own attempt to help break that stereotype and allow people to open their minds and see a soldier who has undying love for his country, his Army and the people whom we have attempted to liberate in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sgt, what I just quoted above is much clearer, more passionate and more readable than what’s in that post. I think I need to make this point clear: My critique has nothing whatever to do with what you wrote and everything to do with how you wrote it. If what you wrote above was the point of that post, you buried it in so much institutional language that it was all but invisible, and that’s a goddam shame because your point is well-taken and deserves real discussion and thought. And my question is: if you can write as well as you do in the above paragraph, which is clear, direct and provocative, why in god’s name are you putting such an important human issue under layers of bureaucratic PR-speak like this:

I am however typical of many of the people I know in the Army, who were driven to service in recent years by a determination to serve this country, to make a contribution, and to earn our freedom.

It isn’t that I disbelieve the emotion, necessarily, but that it’s so general, so remote from personal language that it could have been ripped whole off a recruiting poster, which means, to me, maybe it’s true and maybe it’s something he thinks he’s supposed to say.

Blogs aren’t recruiting posters or campaign speeches, they’re personal journals. What you wrote above (in the bold) are nothing but slogans; as a reader I want more than that. Tell me why you believe them so passionately; tell me about some of the people you’re talking about, in their own words if possible–what did you and they sacrifice to be answer this call? why did you decide to do it? why did they? If you have seen things or heard things since you’ve been there that confirmed your belief–or didn’t–what were they? what happened? who was involved? how did it go down? what did they say to you? You, Chris, not the Army or the politicians or the Great Geo-Political Imperative.

Come out from behind the bureaucratese and write as you did in the passage from your rebuttal: directly. There isn’t one slogan in that passage. Instead, that passage contains this:

…the intellectual dregs and simpleton’s who have no other opportunity than to work for Uncle Sam until s/he can receive their pension and finish out their mediocre American dream.

Now that’s writing. You don’t need slogans. Your writing is far better–more forceful, more persuasive, clearer–without them. That’s a marvelous sentence (well, half-sentence): pissed off at a wrong-headed and unfair judgment by people who are making assumptions and generalizing about other people they don’t know but who are individuals and have more reasons than poverty for what they chose to do. All of that comes through that sentence (and the rest of the passage); none of it–NONE OF IT–comes through in the original.

Write more like that and A Line in the Dust will be not just a better blog, but potentially a must-read. You’ve obviously got things to say, and if they’re like your concern over the ‘desperation’ stereotype, I want to hear them. So will a lot of other people.

I write in a civilized tone and live my life in the very same manner because I am here not just for one demographic of our country, I am here for all Americans.

That’s the problem, Chris–no, not the civilized tone. You may be there for all Americans but you are NOT all Americans. You’re Sgt Chris Missick, one American, one soldier, as far as we and your blog are concerned, and you can only speak for yourself; you may represent the feelings and beliefs of others to some degree, but you can only speak for them effectively through your voice, the voice in that passage.

Your blog–and the others I read–prompted me to offer some advice on writing to military bloggers. One section was specifically the result of reading your blog. Here it is:

4. Write what’s in front of youWriting is about people, not things. Somebody once said that if you set out to write the Great American Novel about The Immigration Experience, you’re going to end up with nothing but social-scientist cliches and platitudes. You can only write about the people who immigrated–who they were, the experiences they had, what happened to them. The ‘Immigrant Experience’ comes through them. Blogs are no different. They’re about you, the people you work with, the people you hang out with, the people you meet, not about The Great Geo-Political Issues. Those things will come–can only come–from writing about the people who live with the consequences. A story about how a family’s life changes when its electricity gets turned on is worth a thousand stories repeating again and again like ad copy, ‘We turned on their electricty!’ Maybe it shouldn’t be but it is; that’s the way people are.

In the case of the ‘Desperation’ post, one story about somebody you know and why–in personal terms–they gave up so much to be there, or even you explaining your own decision writing as directly and honestly and passionately and convincingly as you do in your rebuttal, is worth more than 10,000 pages filled with slogans.

My criticism stands. In fact, having seen how you can actually write free of the stultifying cliches, it’s stronger than ever. You have an interesting and unique voice and I urge you to let it loose. You’ll be doing a disservice to those you would like to use your blog to explain and/or defend if you don’t. Sloganeering isn’t going to help them; explaining them to us as the people they are, will. I don’t say it will be easy; I say you have the ability if you choose to develop it.

PS: Sgt? It’s ‘Arran’, not ‘Arren’. But don’t worry about it. Everybody makes mistakes.

(Cross-posted at LitBlogs)

Army May Courtmartial Abu Ghraib Whistleblower

Sgt Sam Provance blew the Abu Ghraib situation wide open when he gave interviews to the American press after lodging his charges with military investigators. Provance, reassigned to Heidelberg, Germany, is apparently about to be courtmartialed by the Army–for not blowing his whistle soon enough.

When asked why he chose to jeopardize his career, Provance said: “I started getting bothered because innocent people were being held and they were getting lost in the system, and the military wanted to keep it secret. The abuse was being done by more than just a few bad apples. I don’t think military investigators had any interest in finding out how many people were involved.”Military investigators asked Provance why he failed to disclose what he knew after he arrived at Abu Ghraib last fall. [MajGen George] Fay, Provance said, told him, “You could have busted this thing wide open” if he had alerted officials earlier. The Army has informed Provance that he could face charges for not quickly divulging abuse allegations.

“I didn’t come forward earlier because I didn’t see anything,” Provance said. “It was just things I had heard. If somebody denied it, I’d have looked pretty stupid. I’d be the boy who cried wolf.”

The threatened courtmartial is nothing more than a blatant attempt by the Army to punish the messenger while appearing to be concerned with ‘justice’. It doesn’t seem like the storm has taught them very much. BAU for the Army.

Hero of the Week

Junior and the neocon crew may have no idea how to admit a mistake, let alone take responsibility–for anything–but there is one man who does: MajGen Paul Eaton.

TAJI, Iraq – Misguided U.S. training of Iraqi police contributed to the country’s instability and has delayed getting enough qualified Iraqis on the streets to ease the burden on American forces, the head of armed forces training said Wednesday.”It hasn’t gone well. We’ve had almost one year of no progress,” said Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, who departs Iraq next week after spending a year assembling and training the country’s 200,000 army, police and civil defense troops.

“We’ve had the wrong training focus — on individual cops rather than their leaders,” Eaton said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Gen Eaton goes on quite candidly to enumerate his mistakes, explain what he would have done differently, and accept responsibility for the desertion of Iraqi troops at Fallujah.

Eaton, a plainspoken officer who didn’t shirk responsibility for his role in the problems, said soldiers of Iraq’s 2nd Brigade simply ignored U.S. orders to fight their countrymen.”They basically quit. They told us, ‘We’re an army for external defense and you want us to go to Fallujah?’ That was a personal mistake on my part,” Eaton said.

When the uprising broke out in Fallujah, Eaton said he saw a chance to begin transferring the security mission to Iraqi forces. He agreed to allow the Iraqi army’s just-created 2nd Brigade to take on guerrillas that had seized control of the restive western city.

“We were premature,” said Eaton, 54, of Weatherford, Okla. “I could have stopped it. I had a bad feeling and I should have acted on it.”

The lesson learned was that the soldiers needed an Iraqi command hierarchy. Eaton said the soldiers may have battled Fallujah’s Sunni Muslim rebels if Iraqi leaders were spurring them on.

See, George? That’s how it’s done. You acknowledge the error and explain how you’re going to correct it. Why is that so hard for you to understand? I thought maybe you needed an example to see how it works. See how it works? Can you do that? Sure you can. Try. You’ll feel better.

By-the-by, along the way, another (anonymous) ‘US military official’ let slip this little gem:

One U.S. military official said Wolfowitz was partly to blame for those shortcomings.Some $257 million in spending authority was held up by Wolfowitz’s office for two months, delaying construction of Iraqi army barracks for four brigades awaiting training, the official said on condition of anonymity.

What happened, Wolfie? Figure we were going to be in-and-out of there so fast barracks wouldn’t be needed? Or did you have another corporate/neocon dream that told you training and housing were an unnecessary expense that you’d just as soon not bother with?

But the real puzzler is this sentence from the reporter, Jim Krane:

A credible, well-equipped national security force is crucial to America’s plans to pull its 138,000 troops out of Iraq, along with the 24,000 soldiers from Britain and other coalition countries. (emphasis added)

Excuse me? And when did we announce we were doing that, Jim? When did we say–when did anybody say–we had ‘plans’ to do that? I’m gonna need a source here, babe, or a footnote. Something.

Jim, dude, we’re building 21 new, permanent American bases in Iraq. Does that sound to you like we’re ‘planning to pull out’? And leave the second largest oil field in the world to *gasp* Iraqis? With Saudi Arabia under attack by terrorists, especially the oil fields? Think, Jim: Does that really make any sense to you? That the oilmen in the BA are going to relinquish control of Iraqi oil? Cause that’s what a pull-out means, Jim–no troops, no control over the oil. Did you forget what this war is about?

Or was this a slip of the tongue? Have you maybe heard something we haven’t heard? Like maybe the troops are going to be pulled out of Iraq and moved to Saudi Arabia where they will prop up the corrupt Royal Family? Is that what you meant?

I take it all back, Jim. You’re not as dumb as you write.

(Tip from Jo Fish at Democratic Veteran)

War on the Cheap

Jesus. I knew it was bad but it didn’t know it had come to this:

[O]n March 19, the night before the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Regiment, crossed the Iraqi border, Marines in Fox Company, drawn mainly from Utah and Nevada, learned they would not have armored vehicles equipped with powerful weapons. Instead, they would ride into combat in soft-sided trucks with few heavy arms.

In the days of fighting their way to Baghdad, Davis’ and Lee’s battalion, honored by the Reserve Officers’ Association as the nation’s finest Reserve infantry unit, found they were short on ammunition, hand grenades, signal devices, chemical weapon detectors and heavy guns.

At one point, food became so scarce that gunners held up signs to passing Army combat engineers scrawled with the words “Will Shoot for Food.”

Fox Company also was short on ammunition for its M240 Gulf machine guns, the largest weapon the infantry can carry. There were so few colored signal flares that the company scrapped plans to use them. Some Marines stuffed bullets into their pockets because they had no ammunition pouches. And the company had only 75 hand grenades for its 200 Marines, who are trained to carry two to four grenades each.

The Marines were so famished from hauling around more than 100 pounds of personal gear and digging foxholes that they begged food from passing Army combat engineers. The engineers tossed them extra MREs.Still, Marines picked through trash piles, looking for portions the Army troops hadn’t eaten. They usually found dehydrated cream and sugar packets intact. They gulped down the contents dry or mixed them with water for a concoction of calories and protein.

“We acted like Iraqi children,” said Lance Cpl. Brent Bower of Salt Lake City. “We were hungry.”

Finally, headquarters told the company to eat its humanitarian foodstuffs, which had been held in reserve for the Iraqis.

Donald Rumsfeld should be shot. Not impeached, not fired. Shot. At dawn by a firing squad of Marines from Iraq.

Unbelievable. There are no words for this. To send troops into battle without equipment or food. No excuse. No forgiveness.

Read the rest. You need to know how bad it was (is) and the excerpts only scratch the surface of what’s reported in the piece. It was even worse than that. Much worse.

I can’t go on.

(Link from Phaedrus)

Denial Hurts the Military

Tom Engelhardt in his Dispatch titled ‘State of Denial: AbuGrabbed in Washington’ is taken by the level of denial in Bush’s ‘lackluster Iraq speech’ as illustrated by his promise (spurned by the IGC) to tear down the offending building as if it were the building that was at fault.

In terms of the President’s speech, the strangest thing about his prison offer is that he’s so ready to shuck blame for our torture regime (though not Saddam’s) off on the building itself.

The essence of whatever was “new” in his speech lay in odd lines that popped up every now and then and were clearly meant to pass for a reckoning with Iraqi reality. In half an hour of otherwise forward-thrusting turns of phrase, all few of these swipes at reality were cast in the passive tense as if, out of a blue sky, something — call it history, call it chance — had done George in. Our own President, it seemed, had been Abugrabbed.Here are more or less all of those lines:

“There are difficult days ahead, and the way forward may sometimes appear chaotic….In the last 32 months, history has placed great demands on our country and events have come quickly… History is moving and it will tend toward hope or tend toward tragedy.”

In other words, if it goes wrong, history’s what done me in.

Apparently they’re running out of individuals to blame and Rove has now decided to just blame ‘history’. ‘History’, after all, can’t talk back. History can’t defend itself or go on tv or testify in front of a Congressional committee or write a book explaining how the Bush Administration ignored its advice, denied its reality, and twisted its facts. From the Rove perspective, ‘history’ is the perfect scapegoat, especially if you’re busy re-writing it in your favor almost as soon as it happens.

When the President didn’t shift the blame for events to Abu Ghraib or history in the speech, he unerringly found someplace else for it to lie. On troop levels in Iraq, for instance, he had this curious comment:”Our commanders had estimated that a troop level below 115,000 would be sufficient at this point in the conflict. Given the recent increase in violence, we will maintain our troop level at the current 138,000 as long as necessary.”

Here he repays history for its indignities with a good, stiff jab to the jaw. At the Army War College, in front of an audience of military men some of whom must have been squirming with anger, he managed to wipe out his administration’s rejection of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki’s prewar suggestion that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to occupy Iraq. Now, it’s the “[military] commanders” themselves who made the only real mistake he manages to acknowledge, however indirectly — not Donald Rumsfeld or Paul Wolfowitz who laughed Shinseki out of the service. As it turned out, I guess, history (division of rewriting) had its uses after all.

The damage of denial grows by the hour and spreads from one area to another like weeds in a neglected garden. One of the most serious–and least talked-about–of its effects is liable to be on the state of the US military itself. When Generals like Tony Zinni and Eric Shinseki get fired for their honest evaluations and are promptly replaced by yes-men like Myers and Kimmet who will faithfully regurgitate the political-party line without questions, express no doubts, refer to no reality in their assessments beyond the capacity of the ‘presidential bubble’ to understand, you inevitably create a military unable to respond effectively to anything.

History has desperately tried to teach the Bushies a lesson or two, and it has been spurned like a clueless CEO spurns his tech expert because she’s an ‘egghead’ who doesn’t understand the cold realities of the business world; refuse to listen, though, and before long all your systems crash.

There are, as Wanda wrote, new stirrings about the necessity for a draft again to keep America’s many adventures around its empire stocked with a steady supply of cannon fodder, and it may come. But the alternative–and it’s happening right now–is even worse: a privatized army–highly paid mercenaries hired to do the dirty work in our colonies around the world as another George hired Hessians 240 years ago to put down the insurgency in that other upstart colony full of terrorists who fired at you from behind trees and then blended back into the population so you couldn’t tell who was who. Using mercenaries is a tacit admission of empire as well as an unavoidable signal that government has become a corporation and war is now a business expense.

The proud tradition of the US military, while inevitably marred from time to time by the political uses to which it has been put (see Gen Smedley Butler for detailed examples), has by-and-large been able to believe that it serves the nation’s interests for love of country, not love of money. What happens to that belief when it sees itself replaced by much higher-paid mercs in the field? when its logistics are serviced by corporate contracts given without a bidding process to companies that have ties to govt officials? when more money is thrown at the latest unworkable high-tech battlefield gadget while their health care, travel expenses, death benefits, hazardous duty pay, combat pay, and personal equipment budgets are being cut to the bone and their families are having bake sales to buy their body armor for them?

Recruitment apparently remains at its usual levels but the number of re-ups is diving toward the cellar. The call to help protect and defend our country is as strong as it ever was but when soldiers see how the Bush Administration is mis-using and abusing their sacrifices, many more than ever before decide they want out after a single hitch. The National Guard–a home-grown, part-time militia intended, like the Minutemen, for defending against an invasion–has become little more than the maid service for a stretched-thin military, filling in gaps, cleaning up after it, and getting no respect.

Once again, what has happened is the result of standard corporate attitudes held by the ex-CEO’s and high-level corporate flunkies with which Bush has filled the govt, men–and women, at least one–who see the military as they have always seen it: a corporate asset whose only legitimate use is to further their business interests, and to do so as cheaply as possible and shut up about it. Can it really surprise anyone that when young men who join believing they are serving their country discover that in fact they’re serving Halliburton, they turn away in disgust?

We are looking at the potential creation of a privatized, corporate military serving at the exclusive pleasure of the business interests of the dominant companies, a sort of US East India Company that is expected to function according to the highest corporate values: No military analysis is to contradict stated corporate policy; no military department is to exceed its budget and every budget is to be cut; anyone dissenting from the corporate goals will be considered disloyal, negative, and ‘not a team member’ and will be disciplined accordingly; no military employee is allowed to express a personal opinion not in line with the corporate agenda; all military employees must sacrifice any and all benefits for the good of the corporation; no corporate goal, agenda, or business plan is to be discussed by the employees in public or private; no employee below the executive level has any rights whatever beyond those granted by the corporation–and the corporation grants NO rights.

In short, we are witnessing the US military being turned into Wal-Mart, which Dick Cheney called ‘one of our nation’s best companies’, blithely ignoring little things like ‘its poverty-level wages, mistreatment of workers and repeated violations of…law.’

He claimed the company “exemplifies some of the very best qualities in our country—hard work, the spirit of enterprise, fair dealing and integrity.” He failed to mention the 60 federal complaints against the company for workplace violations, Wal-Mart’s decisions to lock workers into stores and charges that it doctored hourly employees’ time records in order to skimp on wages. Instead, he parroted the Wal-Mart executives, the same ones who are bankrolling the Bush-Cheney campaign, and called for “litigation reform,” saying the problem afflicting America is pesky workers who have the nerve to challenge corporate malfeasance in court.

If the BA is allowed to continue the way it’s going, the US military may well become the equivalent of Wal-Mart security guards. Does that make you feel safer?