War Stories
Local and national perspectives

Only the dead have seen the end of war.


Not since Vietnam has this country been so polarized by war, in a brother-against-brother kind of way. Everyone's angry.

Desert Storm stirred up dust among activists who were quick to label it a "blood for oil" proposition, but it was over quickly-with so much oil gained and so little blood lost, that the rhetoric faded quickly.

The battle of Mogadishu remained under most Americans' radar (despite the loss of Army Rangers in a doomed urban combat), with the exception of some coverage of downed pilot Mike Durant. It only gained "popularity" when Hollywood got ahold of Mark Bowden's excellent book, Black Hawk Down; the movie (unsurprisingly) preserved almost none of the journalist's account of the political nuances of America's involvement in the UN's "humanitarian" mission there, which was less about food than it was about unseating a clan-based regime (which was, admittedly, starving its people to death).

It seems the only lesson learned from Vietnam was that the troops are doing a job (and in Vietnam, it was a job many were conscripted into, against their will), and spitting on them (figuratively and literally), even if you disagree with their bosses, is despicable.

In response to those dim memories and maybe a few repeats of Platoon and Coming Home on cable, Americans have gone to the other extreme, equating support for the troops with a necessity to march in goose-step formation with the Administration (has anyone mentioned, lately, that this Administration has proposed tax cuts that will reduce veteran benefits by billions of dollars?). Whatever it is these kids are fighting for, it won't be affordable health care and a decent pension.

The military (contrary to what you may have seen in the latest Bruce Willis movie) does not make policy.

And this conflict isn't nearly as black and white as pundits, on either side, would have you believe.

Simplicity is for simpletons.

When Bill O'Reilly (unencumbered by the burden of complexity) labels peace activists as "terrorists" he has, in his own small way, done his part to neuter the word and bastardize the lexicon.

"Terrorism" cannot be broadly applied to everyone who disagrees with you, or annoys you. (Anyone who applies it as such, might be a "fascist" or possibly merely "illiterate.")

Peaceful protest is a constitutional right. Violent protest (for example, throwing acid at a police officer) is not. It's already a felony; we don't need new laws to "criminalize" that behavior.

Bill Maher may be long past his sell-by date, but he makes a valid point when he says, it is possible to hold two thoughts in our head at the same time. It is possible to support and pray for the safety of the troops and oppose the war.

Most polls are worded in such a way that the two seem indistinguishable. They are not.

The Iraqis have managed this feat (two thoughts in one head) in that many seem to be quite capable of hating Saddam Hussein AND hating the United States. Iraqis seem justifiably reluctant to embrace the idea that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Maybe the Kurds remember being asked to "rise up" against Saddam Hussein - a request that was quickly followed by an exit of U.S. support. (See also: Three Kings.)

Embracing that very idea has is what put the United States' foreign policy into bed with such savories as Afghanistan and Iraq in the first place.

The fact that protests have turned violent, on both sides, and that what started out as passion seems to be succumbing to a national atmosphere of anger, hatred, and impotent rage merits far more diverse discourse than it's getting.

And if you're relying on the mainstream press (left or right) to keep you apprised, forget it.

Embedded press: Big mistake, or bad idea?

The Pentagon has already called on Fox News to remove Geraldo Rivera for breaching national security on-air. That seems hasty. Perhaps they could take a page from the enemy and use him as a human shield? (By the time you read this, the Marines may've at least beaten him to a pulp.)

The real point is, Geraldo had no business being in a position to reveal national secrets. (No more than say, Jerry Springer.)

While Geraldo's an obvious and easy target (maybe literally, by now), the concept itself is flawed. Ted Koppel doesn't belong there either. (For one thing, he's about as combat-ready as Helen Thomas. Probably less so. His coif alone takes more time.)

Geraldo aside, security is already compromised, by the media's very presence. Witness the early footage of surrenders, in which U.S. armed forces gently patted down refugees and politely escorted them to the prone position-while the cameras looked on approvingly.

It would not be nearly as tele-friendly to have grandmothers and children stripping and walking the length of a football field to surrender. But in a country known for jihads, guerilla tactics, and suicide missions, that should be SOP.

The safety of our troops comes first and there are no points for politeness. War isn't charm school.

Within hours of that initial footage, "fake" surrenders, ambushes, and suicide attacks became the headlines of the day. (We learned during Desert Storm that the enemy watched CNN.)

The military censored itself, the press corps obligingly applauded, and troops were compromised.

The media is dangerous in infinite ways as they live on the front lines: they are not combat-ready and run the risk of slowing troop movements; they're sitting ducks as potential hostages (and are not trained to be POWs); and of course they broadcast troop weaknesses (endless photos of equipment repair and malfunctions along with supply line problems, for example). They also make themselves the subject, which is never appropriate for war correspondents, which Peter Arnett knows.

And if the embedded media are there for the purpose of "truth," then they ought to stop acting like lap dogs.

Having them in the theatre is a lose-lose proposition.
The protests for peace hit home in Lexington.

That said, the national discussion needs to be broader. And deeper. (And since all politics are local, we are all invested in this conflict far beyond gas pump prices, and the officers we may know who are now outside Baghdad.)

Why are we there? To stamp out terrorism? Does terrorism have a current mailing address and is it headquartered in Baghdad these days? Are we there to wipe out a threat to the United States? (We entered Vietnam, theoretically, because communism in Vietnam meant Texas was clearly next.) Everyone seems to agree Saddam Hussein is a thug, but is he (was he?) a threat? There's a difference. Are we just protecting our economic interests (and if so, has someone shown the president where the oil pipeline is? Remember, he failed at his first few jobs by losing money for his daddy's friends who paid him to find oilin Texasand he couldn't).

Are we there to liberate the Iraqis? If the latter, do they want to be saved? By us? Are they ready to embrace the Osbournes and Britney Spears? Does the average American care, at all, about average Iraqis and the state of their freedom, or is the average American more likely to be pissed off, poor, and jobless-filled with impotent rage-and bombing a foreign menace feels deceptively superior?

We don't know. We're just asking.

It looks like there's plenty of time for debate.

Remembering the Global Policeman
By Lori Hartmann-Mahmud

Assistant Professor of International Studies;
Centre College (Danville, KY)

The Bush administration seems to be nostalgic for a different place in a bygone time. Talk of rebuilding Iraq, creating a democracy, and ushering in a new era for the country-and more ambitiously the region-harkens back to post-World War II action in Japan.

General MacArthur spent seven years as the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers helping to reshape Japan into a demilitarized democracy. But as Wesley Clark reminds us in this week's Washington Post (March 31-April 6, 2003, p. 21), the two places are vastly different. In 1945, Japan was defeated, devastated by two nuclear bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, forced to surrender. Japan was a relatively homogeneous society so ethnic/religious divisions were not a concern. Japan had a strong economic base on which to rebuild. Japan had some experience with power sharing among the elite. None of these conditions hold true for Iraq in 2003 (and even the Japanese "success" story has resulted in more than 50 years of U.S. occupation).

As the Iraqi conflict unfolds, other more accurate analogous conflicts come to mind. The guerilla warfare tactics of dressing in civilian clothing, using civilians as shields, and pretending to surrender, only to ambush unsuspecting U.S. soldiers, remind us of the Viet Cong in Vietnam. It should not be surprising-these are the tactics weaker actors resort to when faced with an infinitely stronger military invading their territory.

U.S. expectations that civilian populations would see the invading force as liberating and signs that food and other humanitarian aid are being used as weapons or tools of manipulation remind us of Somalia where the warlord Farah Aideed's people did not turn against him to embrace American "liberating forces."

Embedded Media: Big mistake,
or bad idea?
The barefoot "skinnies," as the Army Rangers called the Somalis, fought back in the streets of Mogadishu incurring thousands of casualties, and in the end, discouraged American troops came home without apprehending Aideed.

The U.S. rallying cry to establish democratic government in Iraq is not only unrealistic, it is puzzling. While the U.S. government likes the idea of promoting democracy abroad, it may not like a Shi-ite led government coming to power in Iraq (that would certainly be friendly to Iran's government); it may not like the Muslim Brotherhood winning democratic elections in Egypt; it certainly will not like the loss of influence and control that would result from a liberalized political system taking the place of the monarchy in Saudi Arabia. There are many examples such as these where democracy-defined as self-determination and rule by the people-really is not the Bush administration's desired end.

If a poll were taken, I would suspect that most Americans would not care to repeat the experiences of Vietnam or Somalia.

They may think about post-war Japan with nostalgia and hope; however, rose-colored glasses should not be allowed to blind American citizens to the reality of this conflict in this century in the most volatile, unstable, authoritarian region in the world. Wake up and smell the oil burning.

War is Good Business
By Thomas A. Herrick
Vietnam Veteran (Versailles, KY)

War is good business for investors in high-tech expendable munitions. At $1.2 million per cruise missile, Raytheon investors are shocked and awed with their profits. This war on Iraq-marketed as a campaign against terrorism-is simply a business venture for the Bush Administration. You and I send our tax dollars to Washington; our government uses those dollars to buy cruise missiles and kill people; and our dollars end up in the pockets of Raytheon, Carlyle Group, and Lockheed-Martin investors. Do your own homework on just who their friends and relatives are.

With any good business plan, you have to determine the market for your product.

What businessperson wouldn't want to be in the Bush Administration's position of actually creating their market? By inflaming an entire religion, rebuffing most of our allies, and thwarting the United Nations' authority, they are working to ensure a steady supply of people that will simply have to be bombed.

In this war business, the employees go where they're told and do their work with a rifle. Their civilian commanders-Bush and Rumsfeld-are managing their business on the cheap. They have sold our troops short: short on ammo, short on food, and short on fuel. And, significantly, they are short on their fellow soldiers. Military doctrine specifies four to five U.S. troops for every enemy soldier in situations like Iraq. That not only ensures victory, but also keeps casualties low-on both sides. Rumsfeld ignored the advice of his experienced generals and only authorized half of the troops they need. When you commit U.S. troops to action, you hope for the best, and plan for the worst. That is, if you actually give a damn about the troops.

Of Bush's Civilian War Managers, hardly any have served in active duty. They are out of touch with the gritty reality of warfare and feel no camaraderie for those on the ground who have to carry it out. George Bush himself couldn't be bothered to serve out the last 17 months of his creampuff Air National Guard service. Presidential photo-op hugs in Florida don't support the troops in Iraq.

I'm no pacifist.

Hell, I enlisted during the Vietnam Business Enterprise. Having been a soldier, my concerns are for the men and women who volunteer to place themselves in harm's way to protect our citizens.

I support a strong U.S. military equipped with precise weaponry.

But to use our troops as pawns in the Bush Administration's unnecessary war on Iraq while George and Don's friends line their pockets with our tax dollars is nothing short of criminal. Bring our troops home and arrest the Bush Administration-now!