Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Worth hunting down

I've just finished reading Tom Bissell's Improvised, explosive, and divisive: Searching in vain for a strategy in Iraq in the latest issue of Harper's. Sadly, it's offline, but I'd recommend hunting it down for an in-depth look at the stupidity and pointlessness of the Iraq war. As the title suggests, he's looking for some idea of what the US is actually doing in Iraq which might help them "win". Unfortunately, from what he's written, the search seems to be in vain; nobody knows what the strategy (if there is one) is, and few even want to talk about it. And so instead, they waste their time in missions of almost comedic pointlessness: every day the Marines go out and clear the IEDs off the road, and every night the resistance puts them back. They risk life and limb to deliver truckloads of air conditioners and TV sets to other bases, and have to deal with Iraqi civillians without any knowledge of Arabic and no translators. And in the free, "improving" Iraq, they have to go out loaded for bear, in full body armour (and having sat through a lengthy security briefing) for a breakneck-speed trip down the road to the adjacent Iraqi military base which takes all of 90 seconds.

There's a lot in it worth quoting, but the bit that stuck with me was right at the end:

It is one of my last nights on Taqaddum, and I share a non-alcoholic St. Pauli Girl beer with a Navy commander who works in TQ's surgical ward. We speak not of the war but of home: what he misses (golf), what he will do when he gets back (golf). It is near dusk, and we both agree that, sometimes, Iraq can seem almost pleasant and its violence very distant. The moment comes for the commander to do what we are waiting for, which is to take down the U.S. and Iraqi flags that fly in tandem at every official site on the base. "Take hold of the grommets," he tells me when he unhooks the U.S. flag from its ropes. As I hold the grommets the commander carefully folds the flag, leaving the star side up, and by the end he has managed a tight triangle of bright, perfectly bundled cloth. The Iraqi flag is next. I stand there, waiting to be handed my end, but after he unclasps the Iraqi flag he bunches it up and throws it onto a nearby chair. I look at this sad, rumpled bit of cloth and then at him. He catches himself and does not quite smile as he looks down at his boots. "We don't usually fold that one."

And that's America's attitude to Iraq, Iraqis, and arguably the rest of the world, right there in a nutshell. And then they wonder why the people they're occupying hate them...


That's what I pick up - an almost total lack of respect for anything non-American. How sad.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/18/2006 07:16:00 PM

I think the reason is less to do with the overly-pervasive nationalism of US troops and more to do with how they are trained. To get the average person to kill a complete stranger without hesitation you have extensively desensitise them. Part of the process is convincing your troops that your enemy is different from you, less than human, inferior, and not deserving of life. The problem with that approach in an urban insurgency situation 98% of the time your enemy is indistinguishable from the civilian population that you are ostensibly there to protect ... modern military training turns men into monsters by design.

Posted by Frank Stupid : 1/18/2006 07:34:00 PM

I agree with Mr Stupid.

Posted by Muerk : 1/18/2006 08:47:00 PM

Last month, a world-wide survey was conducted by the United Nations. The question asked was... "Would you please give your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?"

The survey was a complete failure because...:

In Africa no-one could recall what "food" was.

In Eastern Europe they didn't know what "honest" meant.

In Western Europe the term "shortage" had respondents very puzzled.

In China everyone knew the word "opinion" was not allowed.

In the Middle East the word "solution" caused a huge fight.

In South America the word "please" resulted in blank stares.

And in the good'ol the US of A, no-one gave fuck what "the rest of the world" meant.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/18/2006 09:38:00 PM

And yet the soldiers are dying in Iraq.

The story of one soldier trying to get a little Iraqi girl to the hospital was sad. She got killed by "Freedom Fighters" who waited until the children gathered around the American truck before setting off the bomb. That soldier certainly wasn't desensitized. The terrorists obviously are.

And the Pakistanis are most upset at the US, but willingly took their generous aid after the earthquake.

Anonymous, what I also pick up is a total lack of respect for anything American.

Posted by ZenTiger : 1/19/2006 10:34:00 PM

In the PX here they have for sale various patriotic Zippo lighters. I'm tempted to buy the one that features the outline of Iraq, filled in with the Stars and Stripes. A lot of Americans have a sense of patriotism that borders on the pathological, so no-one sees an American flag in the shape of Iraq as suggesting anything objectionable.

I try to avoid going home at 5pm, because that's when the bugle sounds and everyone has to stand to attention and salute the flag. Some people who are driving on post will even get out of their cars and face the flagpole. The first time I got caught by it I was in my car with the stereo blasting, couldn't hear the bugle, wondered what all these dumbasses were doing stopped in the middle of the road and tried driving around them. Soldiers stepped out into the road to stand to attention in my path, and when the bugle finished they were clearly wishing there was a nearby tree to hang me from. Foreigners disrespecting the stars and stripes can expect to be in serious shit, but the foreigners' flag, well who's going to take that seriously? Not the patriotism enthusiasts, that's for sure.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 1/20/2006 12:10:00 AM