It is galling enough to commit acts of stupidity,
but it is even more galling
to commit them uselessly
--Absent Without Leave, Heinrich Boll
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire's center.
Born of the sun, they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor
--I Think Continually of Those,
Part of our eighty-seven billion dollar budget
provided for us to have some secondary armor
on put on top of our thin-skinned Humvees.
This armor is made in Iraq, and it's high quality
... metal ... and it will probably slow down the shrapnel
so that it stays in your body
instead of going clean through.
And that's about it!
--Gunner Palace (2004), SPC Stuart Wilf
Several thoughts have popped up like targets on a rifle range after revisiting April 1970 HERE; let us watch our lane and direct our fire accordingly.
Back in those days Ranger's Officer Efficiency Reports (OERs) always dinged him in the "tact" and "judgment" area (some things never change.) But he always wondered, "What need has an Infantryman of tact?" Simply put, they fuck up things and people to the Nth degree -- including themselves -- so how does that behavior relate to tact? We were not in training to become U Thant, after all.
Onto "judgment", another confessed area of weakness. In addition to his choice of Infantry, there were other choices along the way that hinted at Ranger's deficit, straddling both the personal and professional arenas. But what about the judgement of a nation that continues to allow its soldiers to die from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in stupid encounters that benefit no one or nothing, beyond the pockets of the war profiteers?
First Lieutenant Mabee was killed by a buried roadside bomb 10 April 70, and 42 years hence our soldiers continue to be laid low by similar explosive devices. We give the tools new names, like IEDs, but the reality is the same: The U.S. strides into an impoverished region and the locals use every nasty bit of discarded metal they can to rip through the flesh of the perceived invaders. Nothing new under the sun.
In Vietnam our Mechanized Infantry and Armored Cavalry Troopers used 114's which were nothing but "armored" personnel carriers with a 1-inch thick aluminum exoskeleton. A .50 calibre round would penetrate the armor skin, and a booby-trapped 105 or 155 round would rip the vehicle like a discarded beer can.
So in Iraq and Afghanistan we up-armored Humvees in a re-play of 1970, but doing nothing to actually save soldier's lives. This is how our soldiers died for the judgement of a President.
What does judgement mean to an Infantry leader? Does it mean assaulting a bunker complex defended by dug-in machine guns with interlocking fires? What man with judgement would order such an assault; yet that is par for the course for an Infantryman following orders from superiors.
Bill Weis, college friend of Doug Mabee about whom we wrote yesterday, today kindly shared the terminal paper which he gives his graduating business classes called, "Reflections on Reality". In it, he refers to the documentary on former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara as “The Fog of Arrogance," lamenting McNamara's inability to achieve clarity on his errors:
An old man who once led our country into a senseless and gruesome war exhibits just how vacuous we can sometimes remain, despite the benefits of age and hindsight. Lightly tossing about abstract clichés like “I’ve made many mistakes –we all have” illuminates a personal reality blinded by self-importance, arrogance and a delusion of infallibility – a reality that still cannot name one of those “many mistakes” that cost so many so much.
Acknowledgement of error is the first step to making reparations. Absent that awareness, the hope for making amends is nil.
Ranger lacks tact and his judgement often flapped in the breeze, but he calls the same down on the national leaders with infinitely more power who signed off on such hopeless operations.