Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Helmand Incident

Ah, the U.S. Marines, Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children; you dress them up in really cool dress uniforms, but you really can’t take them anywhere. If you have been hiding under a rock, or have been attempting to forget this little bit of idiocy, let me fill you in on the particulars. It seems a U.S. Marine sniper team decided to participate in a little cinema verite’ in Helmand Province. Whoever came up with the brilliant idea of documenting a war crime is definitely regretting his decision now. The video got on the wild wonderful web, and the rest as they say, is history .

A three star general is now been tasked to find out the who, what, when, where and why of the incident. And well, if you know how the military works, that means that sniper team is about to have the entire chain of command land on top of them like a ton of bricks. By the time the military justice system is done with them, they will be ground down to a fine powder. The military is going to strip them of everything they have, including their birthdays.

I am not too worried about those five junior servicemembers, their doom is sealed. What I am worried about is how that incident happened in the first place. The Helmand incident did not happen in a vacuum. There has been a serious breakdown in what the military calls “good order and discipline.”

We are in four wars of choice gentle reader and the military is starting to seriously crack under the pressure. Iraq is still an area of concern, ditto Libya, Afghanistan is on a rolling boil and our efforts in Pakistan are careering about like a New Years drunk on a icy patch of road.

Our effort in Afghanistan, where the incident happened, has now passed a decade. Afghanistan is the longest military effort ever attempted by the U.S. Servicemembers are now on fifth and sixth tours, plus more, in the badlands of the Hindu Kush. It has been a long, hard, haul; with not much to show for it. Forget all the happy talk coming from the brass hats and high level politicians, out in the field the reality is not so rosy. Ask any trooper what is really going on when s/he is not being minded by mid-level officer and s/he will unload a long diatribe about how ineffective the whole nation building effort is.

We saw this in Vietnam, when the brass hats and high level politico were issuing all manner of happy talk that had no relation to the grim realities in the field.  Fortunately the All-Volunteer Military is still a much better outfit than the conscript armies of Vietnam.

But lets not fool ourselves, the fault does not lie in the present military as much as it does in the nation. Our leadership is rotten to the core. Not a one of them has any notion of what national service is. Not a one has any true understanding of what sacrifice to the nation really means. Look at the very heights of the political class. Neither Barack Hussein Obama, nor Willard Romney has spent one minute in the military. I doubt either one of their very deep staff has one person who has served in an active duty capacity. Only Vice President Joe Biden can claim a family member in the military, and that is as a reservist and a JAG officer; still not a trigger-puller to be found. The separation between the military and the political elites could not be more profound.

Still, it should be no surprise that our elites do not serve because most of us do not serve. The military and military family members make not even one percent of the population. Military service is concentrated in the working class and the lower middle class. Some of the middle class do serve, but almost none of the upper middle class serve and the wealthy have not been in the fray in any  meaningful way since World War 2.

This is why a clueless Dana Loesch can treat the Helmand incident like no big deal. This is why she can treat the whole notion of armed conflict like a Chuck Norris movie, or the latest installment of the Call Of Duty video game series. Dana Loesch has never had to hump a sixty pound ruck, nor get into full battle rattle, nor fire a weapon in her life. She never had to ride a slab of steel in broiling sun of the Persian Gulf, nor get tossed about in that same vessel in the brutal cold of an Alaskan winter. She has never had to stand a post, do a watch, work ridiculous hours, be separated from loved ones, nor had to deal with the countless incidents of “ hurry up and wait” every soldier, sailor, Coastguard man, Marine, or Airman plus their family members have to on a regular basis.  War for people like Loesch is a lark, an outsized team sport with guns, you root for the home team and abuse the opponents. Not for these arm chair generals the finer points of the Geneva Conventions. Not for these sunshine patriots the discipline of core values.

This is not to excuse the actions of the Marine sniper team, but I am not in the least surprised by their actions. If you have ever served with Marines, or have been around them for any amount of time you will understand that the ground pounders are not blessed with high levels of intellectual wherewithal. In other word the grunts can be rather foolish. They tend to do foolish things, not thinking of the consequences. Even in peacetime junior Devil Dogs find, um, interesting ways of getting into trouble. Now add to that tendency to act before thinking the stresses of a fire fight. Add to those stresses a mission that is ill-defined and going exactly nowhere. Add to that long, repeated deployments with no end in sight. Add to that the feeling that their own country is oblivious of the sacrifices they make day in, day out.  Add all those things together plus a lowering of standards for inductees and you have all sorts of kindling lying around for just the right match.

Those five Marines will be held accountable for their actions. Brother, are they going to be held accountable. But they are only  the tip of an ice burg. Our endless war against terrorism is corrupting and corroding our military. From the black site prisons run by the Air Force, to the farce that is Guantanamo Bay, run by the Navy, and beyond to the shadow drone war fought in too may places to enumerate, we are tasking our military with ever more dirty deeds. Is it any surprise that when the mission boils down to “act like Visigoths on the rampage” that our military acts like, well, Visigoths on the rampage?

The incident in Helmand is the result of an interventionist foreign policy gone off the rails. It is a reflection of a deeply dysfunctional government unable to set priorities; unable to discern the true National Interest from chaff.

This is your nation, the victory junkie. It got its first good hit during Gulf War One and has been looking for its next high ever since. Time for an intervention gentle reader, time to take away the crack pipe of military action before this addiction gets any worse. Time to seek a twelve step program and clean up our act. We cannot afford this drug anymore. We are going economically and morally bankrupt chasing this high of military victory, of world hegemony.
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