"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Winter Soldier

In 1776, Thomas Paine, referring to the numerous desertions from the Continental Army encamped at Valley Forge that winter, wrote the famous words:
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

In January 1971, the antiwar veterans group Vietnam Veterans Against War organized several days of hearings in Detroit and asked combat veterans of that war to come forward and talk about the horrible things they had seen and done in Vietnam. The event was called Winter Soldier. The intent was to demonstrate to the American people that events such as the then recently uncovered My Lai massacre were not isolated events, but part of a larger, predictable pattern resulting from U.S. policy and orders from the top. The men talked of prisoners being thrown from helicopters, ears and heads being taken as trophies and wanton and indiscriminate slaughter committed against civilians -- behavior that was not just tacitly condoned, but often encouraged by their commanders. It was this event that led to the Fulbright Senate Committee hearings on the war in April 1971, at which John Kerry, then fresh out of the Navy and active as a leader of the antiwar movement, famously asked "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

About ten days ago (things are slow getting to us on the other side of the Pacific at times, and at other times we are slow to get to things) the Iraq Veterans Against the War organized new Winter Soldier hearings.

You likely didn't see anything about it on MSNBC or CNN and certainly not on FOX -- the talking heads were all too busy discussing whether Barack Obama's speech on race had made white people feel icky--but Amy Goodman from Democracy Now did several days worth of programs on the event, mostly just playing tapes of the testimony offered. KPFA radio also offers an excellent series on the event. Sadly, five years after the start of the Iraq war, most people have been distracted by other shiny objects, like whether Hillary is macho enough or whether Obama is black enough/too black-- last week the Iraq war got just 4 percent of the newshole in the US media.

The stories from the latest Winter Soldier are not as harrowing as those from Vietnam in their details - there are no ears taken or captives thrown from helicopters - but several themes recur, notably the dehumanization, as a matter of policy, of anyone not wearing the uniform of the United States armed forces. In Vietnam the enemy was "Charlie" and the civilians were "gooks" who could be shot for sport. In Iraq, the local population are all "Hajis" who can be shot for the simple crime of "not knowing how to drive" on the roads of their own cities.

But on a day in the early summer of 2005 in the area of operation of the 42nd Infantry Division, there was a traffic control point shooting. Traffic control point shootings are rather common in Iraq; they happen on a near or daily basis. What happened was, a vehicle was driving very quickly towards a traffic control point. A young machine gunner made the split-second decision that that vehicle was a threat, and in less than a minute put 200 rounds from his .50-caliber machinegun into that vehicle. That day, he killed a mother, a father and two children. The boy was age four, and the daughter was age three.

I was in the briefing that evening when it was briefed to the general. And after the officer in charge briefed it to the general in a very calm manner, Colonel Rochelle of the 42nd Infantry Division, DISCOM Commander, turned in his chair to the entire division-level staff, and he said—and I quote—“If these [expletive] hajis learned to drive, this [expletive] wouldn’t happen."

Others testify of being told to shoot anyone talking on a cell phone within sight of a convoy, to fire on any taxis seen on the roads after a rumor that they were being used by insurgents for transportation, of being encouraged to carry throw-down weapons so that they could justify the shootings of civilians. The most moving testimony was from the mother and father of Jeff Lucey, a 24 year old marine who killed himself less than a year after coming back from driving a truck in Iraq. He suffered severe PTSD but could not get treatment through the military or the Veteran's Administration Hospital, even though his family begged to have him committed on couple of occasions. So much for supporting the troops, I guess.

videos of the Luceys' testimony

There are those who dispute the veracity of the original Winter Soldier testimonies, but they are mainly Nixon enthusiasts and lying political operatives like the widely discredited Swift Boat Veterans For Truth who tried to smear John Kerry. Then there are willfully ignorant twits like this one, who's convinced that the culture war veterans like Michelle Malkin know more about what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and what happened in Vietnam than the people who were actually there. What do they and White House tenants have to say to the Luceys and tens of thousands like them?

4000 US soldiers have died, about 30,000 have suffered physical wounds and it is estimated that as many as one in four of the hundreds of thousands who have returned suffer from PTSD.
No one knows how many Iraqis have died, but estimates run from about 90,000 to more than 650,000 (as of 2006), Multiply that by who know how much for the number of wounded. The entire population may be considered to have PTSD by now, but there is nothing "post" about their trauma - it is ongoing.


Anonymous said...

...Then there are willfully ignorant twits like this one, who's convinced that the culture war veterans like Michelle Malkin know more about what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and what happened in Vietnam than the people who were actually there...

So, rather then addressing the points article makes, you name call and move on. That is a hell of a principled stand to make.

By accident though, you do make a point. ...know more about what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and what happened in Vietnam than the people who were actually there... That statement applies to you as well. But, I know that will not stop you and other malcontents in your crusade of ignorance.

If you are going to insist on further posting on the subject, the first thing you need to do is do a little research on suicide bomber tactics, then and oinly then might you understand why shootings at VCPs and during road convoys occur... I don't expect you to actually do such research, as that would be harder then calling me names and moving on.

Unknown said...

Predictable Alpha, you really need to read the articles referred to yourself. Even the bare bones wikipedia entry covers the "controversy" over the first Winter Soldier and discredits the propaganda campaign waged by Nixon against it.
The dingbats at Hot Air manage to toss up a few strawmen who have claimed to be vets when they were not, but none of them are involved with Winter Soldier. And I think Michelle "let's put the Muslims in camps" Malkin's record for partisan dishonesty and dimwittery pretty much speaks for itself for anyone who has looked around with their eyes open, even just a little bit.
Furthermore, I'm well aware of the tactics used by suicide bombers, as are the combat vets testifying at Winter Soldier. In fact that's what they discuss at length - the shifting rules of engagement resulting from suicide bombings and bad intel. Also the trauma resulting from being encouraged to shoot first at "Hajis" and ask questions later.
Finally, aside from bitching about my calling the dopes at "American Thinker" dishonest and the Swiftboating wannabees at Winter Soldier.com a bunch of douchebags, I notice you haven't responded to any of the issues raised.
What would you say to the Lucey's? What would you say to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who, as much as they were oppressed under Saddam, didn't have to worry about random car bombs or being shot for not getting out of the way fast enough or having their door kicked in at 3 a.m. by people who don't know they have the wrong address and don't care.
Go read the transcripts of the testimony Alpha and then come back and address the issues.
Until then, crawl back under your bridge.

Anonymous said...

I gave as much of an answer to the issues as you did... So stop playing the wounded hypocrite, and hit the books.

David Webb said...

Rev, how did this become all about the Alpha Male? In a stunning lack of self-awareness he comes by, insults you, addresses no points of fact, accuses you of same, and then acts like a wounded hypocrite. Why wouldn't you mock that nonsense and move on?

Still, he is brassy, and no doubt good go 137 rounds of bare-knuckle action against the titans of pugilism like Irish Jim O'Connel, Scotty Jack MacDonald, Fredrick Hurchell and even Joe the Gypsy.

But really Rev, do try to do some reading once in a while. Life is more than pounding rice and drinking Kirin on the train.

Unknown said...

David, are the girls out to bingo?

I can't be bothered to mock Omega Man at the moment as I'm not convinced he's not a parody troll, but at some point he must be reminded that the cub gives in to the old wolf, the cub does not give in to himself.

David Webb said...

They are at bingo, and blowing my beer money to boot! I suppose there might be somebody, somewhere, who doesn't get it.

I had not thought of Mega Man being a parody troll, but only because he is so bad at it. Still, that would be a brilliant strategy. And a trip to freeper land would provide an abundance of source material. And to be fair to Über Mensch, I was actually trolling his post in anticipation of a Yosemite Sam-worthy reply.

It has been many years since I thought of the law of the wolf pack. I will promise to do my best, but not my duty to God.

Unknown said...

I just hope he doesn't make me add a 30th set of bootmarks on the ceiling of the pembroke pub, 'cause I have from time to time been known to drink a bucket of gin.

speaking of which, I will back home this summer at the end of August and you better believe there will be gatherings of the faithful of one sort or another. Shoot me an email and hopefully we can arrange things

David Webb said...

That would be great. I will mark the calendar. And do remind me to look at the calendar.

Anonymous said...

David, unfortunately you said nothing that is worthy of any more of a reply then this.

I am afraid that predictability is boring really, and I already know exactly what you would say for the next ten posts (assuming I did not write this now, because now, you will just try to be unpredictable).

David Webb said...

Wow, The Midnighter is real.

David Webb said...

Beta Max, I decided to save you the effort:


At least we now have a handle on the source material for your parody.

Frank Frink said...

btw, Rev., 'Alpha Male' should already be familiar to you. Remember JeffT from his visit to TGB? One and the same.

Boris said...

head boy,

Iraqis die at checkpoints because some of them decided to resist invasion and the invader is 1)not capable of distinguishing them (your point), 2) not culturally (both as Westerners and as soldiers) capable of engaging the Iraqi population as equals, 3) generally resents Iraqis for reasons stemming from all the above. Your reason is the immediate tip of very large iceberg.

In short, dead families at checkpoints is function of foreign military invasion and occupation full stop

Anonymous said...

Predictibility... I wish I was this good at cards.

Boris, thanks for demonstrating your absolute ignorance as to soldiers.

Your points 2 and 3 apply to a very small, yet highly vocal minority. We never remember the ones who do their job correctly and quietly, but always remember the loud mouthed malcontents (yes, those exist in ever military on the planet, just not in the numbers some would have us beleive).

By the way... I do not beleive that the US or anyone should have ever attacked Iraq to begin with. The Iraq war is a fraud, and Shrub should be charged for war crimes for it.

In short, dead families at checkpoints is function of foreign military invasion and occupation full stop

In Afghanistan, what you describe above is false. Dead families are a function and a direct attributed result of terror tactics. FULL STOP.

Boris said...

protophallus (like a Macedonian horse, but different),
Well, aside from four years of service, several close friends who are Afghan veterans, experience working with the war affected, personal travel through two former warzones, and formal education in the relationship between conflict and culture, I'm probably not qualified to talk about any of this or something.

Anonymous said...

If you really want to play the penis size thing...

15 years service, 2 tours BiH, 1 Afghanistan (will be going back), and I worked with Afghans, and damn near ALL of my friends are vets... Not to mention that my job requires me to study insurgency warfare (it's everyone's job who deploys to Afghanistan).

Why would we study insurgency based warfare? How about so we can make a sincere effort to not harm civilians.

So, am I qualified to speak to this? I only lived it after all...

Oh, and no... I am not a career Cpl either.

So, when I say what I say... It is based on my life. Not something that happened to me in the 80's, or something I read about. I speak from the here and now, my life.

Boris said...

Now we get somewhere...perhaps we can open up the discussion a little and get beyond rhetoric. Several points:

1. You, being a soldier, part of a Western military force engaged as a belligerent in an utterly different cultural context are approaching the issue from a very subjective and narrow viewpoint. The CF as institution playing is role brings with it a Canadian/Western cultural context, and a military bias, right down to the subunit and individual characteristics/personalities of its members. This is utterly different from the experience of Afghanis. Just as Joe Afghan cannot know what it is like to grow up in Canada and be a Canadian soldier, you cannot not know what it's like the see the world through Afghan eyes. Further, in a multinational situation like Afghanistan, you have many different armies practicing their own craft as viewed from their own institutional cultural environments. Western military traditions and cultures are rooted in the colonial era and in the past century or so, built adapted to notions of mechanised state-to-state conflict against similar forces. Do you see a problem with adapting these institutions to highly nuanced, crosscultural counter-insurgency and development oriented situations where the local population, among other things, remembers the colonial era practices of these same armed forces and the empires that backed them?

2. Your comment "Why would we study insurgency based warfare? How about so we can make a sincere effort to not harm civilians." is interesting. Several points.

First, it's not entirely accurate. You study counterinsurgency to defeat insurgencies, and help those civilians who are not sided with the insurgency. As you yourself note, sentries kill innocents because they can't tell the difference between good guys and bad guys. This does not help the civilians killed and wounded by said sentries. No?

Second, "a sincere effort" is meaningless if it results in civilian deaths. It is also a highly subjective marker - the Afghan or Iraqi civilians under fire are the ones whose impression of your "sincere effort" actually matters. No?

Third, dead civilians hurt the cause regardless of justification because they undermine local support. Ergo, active force protection measures are in some ways self-defeating. No?

Fourth, as a belligerent force, you are part of the conflict, and part of the reason why civilians die and part of the reason why there is a civil war. Within this point, while you may sincerely want to help Afghanis, there are veterans of that conflict that really don't give a good goddamn about the welfare of Afghanis of any stripe. If I've heard the accounts of how this attitude translates into action, you've no doubt seen it. No?

So, another way of looking at Afghanistan might be as an attempt to adapt an institution coming from an alien society that is culturally and mechanically equipped to fight (not develop) in a specific sort of circumstances, to a counter-insurgency and development attempt to an utterly different context from that for which it was designed? A great military, social and cultural experiment on a live human population, iotw?

I await you response.

Unknown said...

Alpha, I'm glad you agree that having lived it makes you qualified to talk about it. So, I guess you would also have to agree that the men and women are qualified to speak about the reality of the war in Iraq.

They talk of being told it is okay to shoot unarmed civilians as long as there isn't a news crew around. They talk of rules of engagement that change constantly and how the doctrine of escalation of force for stopping vehicles often goes out the window - no verbal warnings, no warning shots, no walking fire up the front of the vehicle - just empty a box of .50 ammo into a car that might be approaching your position too fast.

I know that force protection (ie: not getting killed) is obviously a pretty high priority, but declaring a rolling free fire zone of 100 meters around a convoy that is moving through an urban area-- while it might be effective-- might also be a bit counter productive in the "hearts and minds" department.

I realize that they use cell phones to detonate IED and that they use shovels to bury them, but that doesn't mean that everyone talking on a cell phone or carrying a shovel is the enemy and it should not be open season on them without a little more to go on -- and I know that "little more" isn't always readily available and "better safe than sorry" but if the US troops weren't there do you really think there would be endless carbombings and IED attacks? It takes two to tango. The whole purpose of attacks on civilians by the insurgents is to turn people against the occupation. The purpose of any insurgent is to provoke a response, to make the occupier crack down on civilian population until they turn against the occupier. And its obiviously working.

Anonymous said...

Short answer tonight (I just got home from work... Bleh, long day).

Rev, you get it, long response to Boris tomorrow.

Here it is, if you have soldiers from Iraq saying they were ordered to fire on civilians if the press is not around, that IS a war crime, even by American standards. So they should be naming names and giving dates. Failure to do so, and actually complying with those "orders" they are also guilty of war crimes as described by the Geneva Conventions. You are guilty of the same crime if you know it happened and did nothing to stop/report it.

It is pretty cut and dried, black and white. If what they have said is true, and they have not reported these war crimes to the proper authorities (and in some cases the press might be necessary yes), then they continue to perpetuate the war crimes. Period.

If that is the case, you are not describing heros, but cowards. They have not done anything credible to stop the war crimes, and instead merely ruin their own credibility.

Oh, and actual Rules of Engagement are written orders that do NOT change constantly... Full stop. If commanders are straying outside of the actual ROEs for a nation, then once again a crime is being commited, and failure to report this crime up the chain of command, or to the authorities makes you a party to the crime. Full stop. And again, failure to report does not make you a hero, but a coward.

Now is it possible that what you described is true? Sure. 100's of thousands of soldiers deployed on one of the most fucked up missions this planet has ever had the misfortune to witness... It is possible and likely that such things happen. I would argue though that it is not as wide spread as suggested.

Unknown said...

if, if, if...you still haven't looked at the Winter Soldier transcripts linked to and quoted from in the original post have you?

David Webb said...

Pretty amazing. All that writing, and he still hasn't "hit the books". I guess this way Mighty Man can agree with you on principle, but doesn't have to have his world view shaken.

Anonymous said...

I have read the transcripts... Were it not for the idiotic comments to follow mine, I would have wasted more time here.

Needless to say, apparently there is no need, as you two clown above this post could be bothered to read mine.


Boris said...

Are you copping out there Alf?

David Webb said...

We did read your points Alpha. You admitted to not reading the...oh forget it. You win! Hooray for you! You are the only predictable one here Beta Male.

Anonymous said...

David, you are displaying the fine fine art form of reading stuff that ain't there. WIsh I could say I was surprised, but I am not.

Boris, I will not waste my time on folks who won't even pretend to be willing to listen... There is no point, I have a view on this stuff, I was going to share more, but not now. If I have time, I will post more else where.

Oh, and do not try to correct me on things I am doing Boris. Your 4 years does not give you the depth of understanding to do that. It only makes you look foolish.

Boris said...

Correct you? HA! Pay attention. Tell me why I'm wrong. I'll probably challenge it, and send some arguments back at you, but that's the nature of discussion. I gave you the opportunity to deconstruct my viewpoint based on your experience and you appear to have run away from it. That's why I posed everything as questions. Or did you miss that?

Oh, and uh, consider a handle change. "Alpha Male" is piss-take magnet.

Anonymous said...

Boris, do try to learn how to read. I said "insurgency based warfare" you choose to 'correct' me with "counter insurgency".

When one deals with insurgencies, the first rule is learn accuracy. Something you lack, on top of the working knowledge of what is Afghanistan.

But not surprising. In reference to this article on this page, I wrote my own, and titled it "Useful Idiot"... It is very fitting, and descriptive of those who choose to talk about a subject that they have clearly not even the beginnings of an idea of the realities, and the mission it self.

Let me point you in the right direction... For all you half wits who argue "there is no clear mission" try typing www.google.ca and enter "afghanistan compact" into the search string. Click the first link.

That would be a start... They even wrote that document so that it is idiot proof.

Oh, and I am on course right now, so forgive me if it is another week before I bother with the garbage found here.

Boris said...

If you're going to discuss this, post something substantive. Like cite sections of the Afghan Compact and use it to support counter-points to what I've posted... You're almost there, keep trying.