Category Archives: War

Memorial Day

Cemetary-01193Somehow, the post that I made about Memorial Day disappeared into the either, or, maybe, the Dark Web. Rather than trying to reconstruct it, I’ll take it as a sign to write something different.

For Memorial Day, Michele and I went up the Golden Gate National Cemetery and then went home and watched Hacksaw Ridge, a true-story war movie by Mel Gibson. While we were walking around at the Cemetery, I felt like a voyeur and it struck me that I have nobody to mourn who is here. Other people did, other people who were here had friends or family members who were killed in combat, but nobody I loved or even knew, died in combat and I don’t think any of my friends mourned anybody either.  Cemetary B-01203

America has been at almost constant war my whole life and it hasn’t personally touched me. That is more than sad, it is tragic. Not for me,  but for our country. By eliminating the draft, we have separated most of the American people from the consequences of our constant war.  By eliminating the draft, the Military-Industrial Complex – us, really, as in our country – have been able to change the dynamic from people protesting the war because they or their loved ones might get killed to fetishizing our military.

When we had the draft, most rich people could get deferred still enough people got drafted for it to change our national dynamic. Enough people actually went into the military to see how stupid the military was. During the 60s and early 70s – when we still had the draft – people joked that “military intelligence” was an oxymoron because enough people saw the military from the inside. They were much less likely to believe the fantasy of an all heroic, all-conquering military. When a large portion of the population are faced with the potential of being sent into whatever meat-grinder our government is currently touting as critical to saving the world, they are more likely to question the actual worth of that war. I think that lack of national involvement is tragic. Cemetary A-01177



Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic. Joseph Stalin

Michele and I saw Eye in the Sky the other night and we both were a little rattled by the realism of it. It is the kind of movie that seems very true even though it pushes the boundaries of what is possible right now. Eye in the Sky takes place in a small city in Kenya, two places in England, Las Vegas, Hawaii, an arms-trade conference in Singapore, a ping-pong match in Beijing and they are all connected; in real-time . It is the war of the future, now, and it is about how each of the players, up and down the Chain of Command, sees the world through their own lens. It is about how seemingly connected we are, and how isolated.

I have read reviews that refer to this as a study in morals, but it isn’t. The moral question was decided at an earlier time at a level higher than any of the players in this movie. As an aside, in Objective Troy, a Terrorist, a President and the Rise of the Drone, a book about drone warfare that I have not read – but have read a review – the author, Scott Shane, in talking about how the President has reserved the authority to kill when it involves a terrorist’s family, quotes Obama, “It turns out that I am really good at killing people.” End aside.

The movie does not make judgements, but it does make it very clear that the Drone War – for lack of a better name – has consequences. The pilots flying these Predator drones are safe in Nevada and the targets, in this movie, are unsafe in a house in Nairobi, Kenya but, unlike a F-16 carpet bombing a site, these pilots are connected to their targets. The two person crews, a pilot and sensor a operator, know who the targets are, they have been watching from a drone that has been hanging around the target area. Everybody up the Chain of Command knows who the targets are. Counter intuitively, this is warfare at it’s most intimate.

Eye in the Sky, the movie, is terrific. Helen Mirren is the star and the center of the action, a tough – one could even say battle-hardened – Army Colonel, Katherine Powell, who is trying to manage the situation both up and down the chain of command. Above her is Lieutenant General Frank Benson, played by Alan Rickman in his last role. Barkhad Abdi, the bad captain in Captain Phillips, plays a good guy here and Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman – Aaron Paul – is the drone pilot. I recommend Eye in the Sky to anybody who is interested in what is happening right now, all over the world.


A modest proposel


If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna. Napoleon Bonaparte

First, a disclaimer. I only understand what is happening in Syria in the most fuzzy and incomplete way. That said, it very roughly seems to be a civil war against the Shiite minority government of Syria by that country’s Sunni majority, a war by the Sunni minority against the ruling Shiite majority in Iraq, a war by the Kurds for their own territory, a war by Turkey on the same Kurdish separatists, a war between the Kurds with both the Iraqi Army and Shiite militias against the Sunnis who have captured what they consider their land, and a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In addition, we are backing the Iraqi Shiite government, along with Iran, against the bad Sunni separatists but we are also backing the good SSunni separatists that – theoretically, at least – are against the Iranian supported Shiite government in Syria. In the middle of this is a group of Sunni fanatic thugs, ISIS, and disenfranchised Baathist military.

ISIS, it seems, wants to be fighting with everybody who is not their brand of Sunni extremist. They are killing Shiites, Christians, and random foreigners at home while blowing up Russian airplanes, killing Chinese workers in Africa, and killing people with guns and bombs in France, Mali, Yemen, Libya, and – it seems – any place else they can. Either they have no idea that their actions will result in retaliation and are killing people thinking they will not get hit back or their actions are in an effort to get us to strike out at them.

If ISIS is attacking and terrorising people all over the world for a reaction, it brings up the question, What do they want the reaction to be? When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the purpose was to shock us enough to keep us out of Southeastern Asia. In retrospect, that attack seems suicidal, all it did was enrage us. Seventy five years later, it is naive to think that ISIS  is making the same mistake. Much more likely is the scenario that they are trying to get us to strike back. Strike back at Syrian refugees so we make it harder for them to escape ISIS by leaving Syria, getting politicians to attack Muslims living in Europe and the United States so they will become alienated in their own country, and, of course, attack ISIS territory directly to help them solidify their rule. If we are really going to let ISIS suck us into this, how are we going to win? The scenarios range from doing nothing to nuking Mecca. The problem is that all the scenarios are bad and what we are doing now is one of the worst.

ISIS and alot of other people don’t like us because we invaded Iraq and terrorized a big portion of the population. We disenfranchised the Sunnis, especially alienating and pissing off the young Sunni men whose lives were trashed by the invasion. Now we are bombing them again, or, at least, some of them again, just like ISIS wants. This is the worst of all possible worlds, we are not doing enough to win but we are killing, mostly, innocent people and making more people hate us.

Bombing is not an effective way to win a war. During World War II, the Allies dropped more than a million and a half tons of bombs on Germany, killing between 400,000 to 600,000 civilians and we still had to move troops into Germany – or put boots on the ground if you prefer – to win the war. War can only be won, the enemy can only be conquered, by occupying the other’s territory and running the place. The ruler can rule directly or install a puppet regime but, either way, the ruler must be prepared to stay for a while.

The easy way to do this is to provide air support and let some local army put their boots on the ground. But which locals and how many boots on the ground? The Kurds are on our side and are pretty good fighters especially with our air support. However, the biggest reason the Kurds are good fighters is that they are defending their own ground and they are really only interested in regaining and protecting greater Kurdistan.

The Iraqi Army which is, primarily, a Shiite Army, along with Shiite militias and Iranian leadership and support, are pushing back at ISIS both to the north and east of Baghdad but they are not going to move into Syria and take over ISIS’s capital, Raqqa and we don’t want them to. They will have a hard enough time holding on to the Sunni parts of Iraq which, after all, is a major factor in Sunni deflections and ISIS’s ascendency. I doubt Saudi Arabia is going to put a million boots on the ground to kill Sunnis when all they want to do is defeat Iranian backed, Shiite ruler of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.

If we are serious that ISIS is an existential threat to our way of life, if we really think they are out to destroy us and our way of life and the only way to stop them is to, in Hillary Clinton’s words, defeat and destroy ISIS, then we are going to have occupy their territory.   The French seem game to help but it is doubtful that most of Europe will be offering up troops. That means we will have to make this war the national priority like our war against Japan and Germany. We can’t diddle around like we did in Afghanistan where we spent thirteen years and changed nothing but the price of rental housing in Kabul. The boots on the ground has to be lots of boots on the ground.

It is hard to believe that even Marco Rubio or The Donald really want to do that. What everybody seems to want to do is just poke at the problem hoping – I guess – that ISIS will change their mind and go away. But that is not going to happen.

I think we ought to do the opposite, I think we should withdraw our troops and drones from the region and continue Obama’s approach of blockading ISIS territory, stopping  them from selling oil and buying weapons. I think we should contain them. I want to quickly say that I know ISIS is loathsome, closer to the 1930’s Nazis than anybody else that comes to mind. They are great at propaganda and even better at perverting their host civilization. The leaders are thugs. They are killers and rapists and their behavior is attracting other thugs. If we leave, we leave a terrified country to be plundered and brutalized. That is sickening. If we really ran the world, we could wave a wand and have ISIS disappear or order some client state to defeat and destroy them, or cajole some ally, if you prefer, or convince a neighbor that it is their best interest to take them out. The problem is that, while it is in most countries interest to have ISIS gone, it is not in anybody’s self-interest to move the million troops into Syria to make it happen.

We should just get out, the world will not end any more than it did when we pulled out of Vietnam (and, remember, the hawks said that, when we pulled out of Vietnam, the neighboring countries would fall like dominoes, including Thailand and Japan). Will they try to convince alienated Muslim children to attack us, of course, and some will be successful, and that will hurt. It will hurt our country and, especially, the Muslim community, but it will hurt less than putting two million boots on the ground. We should just get out.






There is a reason for everything

Armored Car (1 of 1)

In the collapse of Mosul, we lost a lot of weapons, we lost 2,300 Humvees in Mosul alone. Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abbadi.

“Iraqi forces left hundreds of U.S.-supplied vehicles behind when they “drove” out of Ramadi, but were not “driven out,” in the words of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey. And now most of them are melted hunks of metal. On Friday, U.S. Central Command announced that airstrikes near Ramadi destroyed “five ISIL armored vehicles, two ISIL tanks, two ISIL vehicles, an ISIL armored personnel carrier…five abandoned tanks, two abandoned armored personnel carriers and two abandoned armored vehicles.” Quite a haul, and note the emphasis on the word “abandoned.” Juan Cole at Informed Comment.

I don’t want to sound too cynical about this, but I can’t remember when we have been on the winning side of a Civil War. I guess we can say that we fought North Korea/China to a draw, but we were the clear losers in Vietnam and Nicaragua. Yemen is turning into a clusterfuck and now the Iraqi army we have been training for ten years isn’t ready to go out and die.

Every time we lose, all the players talk about how this time it was a special case. If only we hadn’t backed that catholic, Ngô Đình Diệm, to be president, or Hasan al-Malikii for Prime Minister, if only we had done this or hadn’t done that. There is always a special reason and the pattern gets lost in the ground clutter.

The people fighting in a Civil War have their reasons too, they aren’t just running around at random. Yeh, sure, we usually like one side better than the other, maybe it is closer to our version of morality like the Northern Alliance educating girls in Afghanistan, maybe it is more stable – short-term, at least – like the generals in Egypt and we think that because we like it, it is better, and, if it is better, the side we like will win. We are blind going in, we only know what people with a vested interest tell us, thinking we know what is happening is delusional.

Put it like this: If you was in the first grade and you bit somebody every week, they’d start to think of you as a biter. Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen

CIA torture, Mercedes, Audi, and the Nazis

Mercedes Benz-0823

A little more than a week ago, during a news conference on Friday, August 1st, Obama said We tortured some folks, and went on to say It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. Either statement seems a little strange, together, they seem even more strange. Calling the US Army Military Police and CIA waterboarding, sodomizing, sleep depriving, freezing, and even beating, to the point of killing, various helpless people in their custody, tortured some folks, seems to be a bit aw shucksy. 

When I first saw the pictures of our troops torturing terrorist at Abu Ghraib prison, I was shocked and embarrassed. To me, it never seemed likely that it was just a couple of stupid, low-level G.I.s. Still, I had no idea how high up the chain of command, the crime of torture would go. And murder, as far as that goes.

It wasn’t until a week later, and – I think partially in response to what Obama said – that Dean Baquet, The Executive Editor of The New York Times, wrote Over the past few months, reporters and editors of The Times have debated a subject that has come up regularly ever since the world learned of the C.I.A.’s brutal questioning of terrorism suspects: whether to call the practices torture….Given those changes, reporters urged that The Times recalibrate its language. I agreed. So from now on, The Times will use the word “torture” to describe incidents in which we know for sure that interrogators inflicted pain on a prisoner in an effort to get information. The gist of the article – editorial? – between the opening quote and the ending quote, where the four dots are above, is that, heretofore there was not enough detail to know if it was torture. Of course there was enough detail, there just hadn’t been enough time after the torture.

Shortly after Mercedes’ 100th anniversary, Daimler-Benz opened its private records that showed they were a major player in the Nazi regime. It started in 1931 when Mercedes advertised in Volkischer Beobachter, the Nazi newspaper known for its anti-Semitic tirades and culminated – I guess you could say – with Mercedes  using slave labor during World War II. BMW has now admitted that they used about 20,000 slaves during the war. Just recently, Audi has gone publicwith its culpability during the nazi era. In Audi’s – then called Auto Union but with the same four ring logo – case, Dr. Richard Bruhn, ran the company before, during, and after the war. Under his tenure Audi used about 20,000 slaves and about 4,500 disabled workers were sent to the Flossenbürg concentration camp where they were killed. There is talk that his picture may come off the wall.

I don’t know anybody who thinks what Mercedes, BMW, and Audi did was acceptable human behavior and it took them a long time to face that. Obama doesn’t want us to be too sanctimonious in the period of our national panic after 911. Organizations, like people, don’t like to admit to being criminals. Everybody wants there to be a justifying reason that makes it OK to torture, kill, or roundup and put people in Concentration Camps, this one Special Time. I think it is still too soon for us to admit that just because we were panicking, it isn’t OK to torture. Or kill people with drones.