RANGER AGAINST WAR: November 2013 <

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Rethinking Resrepo, II

We say "We'll never forget" our soldiers,
but we will forget their needs 
--Ranger observation

 The tough part is, uh...
Not knowing if you're doing any good.
That's the hard part
--The Thin Red Line (1998)
Returning veterans from the recent wars suffer a 20-30% incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), according to recent pieces in the Purple Heart and Disabled American Veterans publications. What does this signify?

It is hard to imagine that an Army which fought in Corregidor, Bataan, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Guadalcanal, Anzio, Normandy, The Bulge, Huertgen Forest or the Imjin had a PTSD rate roughly equivalent to today's (with a PTSD evacuation rate of 10%, according to most histories.) This casualty rate seems appropriate for the intense level of combat sustained by those troops.

But have troops in the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) experience those levels of sustained violence? All of the battles in the PWOT were small unit actions, not sustained significant battles. So why the high PTSD rate?

The questions arises not from malice, but concern. The answer seems to devolve to the questions of legitimacy and truthfulness. Regardless of the propaganda, the troops know the Truth. They see the poverty of the people, the meaninglessness of their mission, the corruption of the host nation's government for which they and their fellows die and sacrifice.

Our soldiers are sacrificial lambs on an altar of deception. They know they are not fighting for liberty and freedom, and it is this tension which causes the long-term stress. In the documentary Restrepo it was evident in the eyes of many of the soldiers interviewed.

They know that their service will change nothing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that is the rub -- so how do they deal with this understanding?

Our society must recognize the dire loss of fitness suffered by these soldiers and citizens. Forget compassion, but on a pragmatic level alone, we should recognize that some missions are not worth the effort, and that our soldiers are not unfeeling G. I. Joe's; while they may escape physical harm, they will not escape the mental effects of warfare.

Soldiers should not live or die in vain, and when we place them in a position of futility, we are imposing that nullity upon them. Moreso than the violence it is rather the meaninglessness of the entire effort that damages their psyche. The soldiers know that their lives means less than the mission; that's what they signed up for.

But when the mission means zilch, you enter the realm of the surreal. When the rational mind meets with that, you end up with a crash-up.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Strawberry Fields Forever

 We ain't gon' do shit about it. Close it up.
Throw it back in the trunk. Everybody go home.
Have some pumpkin pie, warm apple cider... 
--American Gangster (2007)

Rethinking Restrepo, Pt. I:

Last night Ranger couldn't sleep for incursive thoughts of the film "Restrepo" which featured the travails of an Army Airborne Infantry unit stuck out on an Afghan hillside with an unknown mission in the Korengal Valley.

The official cover story is that the Outpost was intercepting anti-government forces infiltrating across the Pakistan border, but the truth seems shadier.

It was clear that the people of the Korengal had no love for the United States' troops and less for the alleged Afghan National Government. Korengal's documentarian, Sebastian Junger, declared the Korengal "the most dangerous place in the world." But it was this assertion which jolted Ranger awake.

Being a Cleveland boy, he wondered about his foundering home city. Only a fool would walk the perimeter of an inner city neighborhood there after nightfall. And further, what of the rest of the Rust Belt, or even our nation's capitol? None safety zones.

The kill rate of our urban metro areas exceeds that of the Korengal occupied by U.S. troops any day of the week. The kills in Detroit enjoy a conviction rate of only 10%, but Detroit's homicide rate and dismal prosecution record is not the subject for any documentary Ranger knows of.  This is not to detract from Junger's and Hetherington's superb efforts, but who speaks for the means streets of America?

During the panel discussion following the film, a member of the 26th Mobile Amphibious Warfare unit took exception with other panel members who lauded the" great beauty" of Afghanistan. He said, "I must've missed that," but that he did remember the blood red fields of poppies in the South. A RAW reader recently sent photos of Marines guarding those fields in Afghanistan (that nation's moneymaker, while the U.S. continues its futile "War on Drugs.")

How much of the world's heroin originated in Afghanistan while our troops protected the crops? How many inner city denizens were imprisoned or died surrounded Afghanistan's bounty, being protected by our soldier. It is a riddle wrapped in an enigma.

As an old guy who once wore an Airborne patch on his right sleeve, Ranger would like to think that his country's wars have (had) real meaning, but the reality belies the belief.

NEXT: Rethinking Restrepo II: PTSD with tab.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Two Minutes Hate

--Suicide Bombers, Emad Hajjaj (Lebanon) 

I'd like to teach the world to sing
in perfect harmony
I'd like to buy the world a Coke
And keep it company 
--Coke Commercial jingle (1972)

 We're all going to die, all of us, what a circus!
That alone should make us love each other but it doesn't. 
We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities,
we are eaten up by nothing
--Charles Bukowski

He had raised hatred into an art.
He hated better than anyone had loved 
--Do you know the source of this quotation?

After recently reading the excellent Stories From Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch covering the Rwandan Genocide, and seeing pictures of the fighting still going on in the same region by the same players in the next day's paper, Ranger was reminded of one of his pet theories: The world is held together by hate, and not love. 

Whether we are talking of the Balkans, Asia, Central Asia or wherever the world is not a Coca Cola commercial, and hatred is the prevailing glue that binds us together -- not politics, religion or any other enlightened philosophy.

Further, the United States both participates in the divisiveness and deviates incrementally from this fact as we are bound and riven by more seemingly benign tribal affiliations like sports teams and "reality" t.v.; a subset of reality t.v. would be the 24-hour news cycle programing. What this implies for America's future is unclear. Additionally, the maintenance of the tribes albeit once- and second-removed (via Tweets, feeds and other remote reportage) poses the question of whether the affiliations will be diluted via distancing, or strengthened via need for some defining connection, regardless of how ersatz  or remote it is.

We claim to be civilized, and have our differences mitigated and attenuated by various attempts at fellowship, but at bottom, love does not triumph. As U2 sang in "Pride", "What more in the name of love?"

Hatred runs and rules the affairs of our daily lives.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Warm and Cuddly

  Why Can't a Man be More Like a Cat? 
--The title of a chick book

Women like soft things;
men would have sex in a box if they could
--Dave Chapelle 

My second point is that the shape of each human being
was completely round, with back and sides in a
circle; they had four hands each, as many legs as hands,
and two faces, exactly alike, on a rounded neck.
Between the two faces, which were on opposite sides,
was one head with four ears. There were two sets
of sexual organs, and everything else
was the way you’d imagine it from what I’ve told you.  
--Plato, The Symposium 

What's the longest hour?
The time between when you come, and she goes
--A man's joke

[Ed. comment: Ranger wrote these thoughts for RAW in August, but what a propitious moment to share them now, following the previous piece on rape (NOT this kind.) It is a certain man's point of view -- Ranger's, a man who stated, non-malificently and unawares, "Everyone wants more than one sex partner, right?" Please jump in and validate or differentiate, as is your inclination.]

In the war of the sexes, women say that what rings their bells is that sex be safe and protective. Their claim that sex be about candles and soft bedding is used to beat men into sexual subservience, but this is not what sex is about.

Sex is not about safety or warmth, it is about sex. Sex just plain and simple. It's not about feelings of warmth but rather, spreading the seeds.  Men do not need to be comfortable. We do not need to feel secure or any of that stuff. We just need to deliver the goods, and then we may provide security, if the we think the benefits of sticking around outweigh the benefits of leaving. This is not always an easy call.

Sex is not about security. It is about danger, intrusion, stealth and strength. It is the thrill of the hunt. We are watching the perimeter, securing the cave and preparing to go hunt, build the fire and sharpen the spears. If nature wanted sex to be about security, our sex organs would be on the other side of our body so that four eyes would be pointed in 360 degrees for safety and alertness.

When Ranger hears women bemoaning not getting reassurances of safety from men, he wonders if the whole ball of wax (WACS?) is worth the effort.

Nature has provided women with the security but man sure has been shortchanged in the evolutionary effort.

It is Ranger's contention that when women describe their ideal warm and cuddly man, they are actually describing the attributes of another women. How can a man be both?

Has society destroyed our evolutionary function qua men?

{ed. addendum: Stumbled upon a site called, "MakeLoveNotPorn", which attempts to show the differences between porn ("today's sex ed class") and making love. For those who have been bred in the school of porn, good luck with that.}

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Higgledy, Piggledy

  Lenina shook her head. "Somehow," she mused,
 "I hadn't been feeling very keen on promiscuity lately.
There are times when one doesn't.
Haven't you found that too, Fanny?" 
 --Brave New World, Aldous Huxley  

Frank McCloud: He wants more, don't you, Rocco?
 Johnny Rocco: Yeah. That's it. More. That's right! I want more!
--Key Largo (1948)

Pentagon: Reports of Sexual Assaults up by 46%. Are we really surprised?

Combine humans plus power (or lack thereof) plus frustration plus few creative outlets = sex. Since so few of us communicate well or are entirely compassionate or skilled in the art of making love (or are even so motivated), these efforts are often sloppy and flubbed, and depending upon the maturity of the actors and the site at which they occur, the acts get labeled workplace harassment or rape (Reports of Military Sexual Assault Rise Sharply.)

Humans work and recreate, and no one tells us this is a bad thing to do. Recreation for the few is pursuing an avocation; for the many, it is hooking up. So we consume wings and rings and beer and porn, and feel like grown ups. The World State likes it that way. The Army has been rolling that way for a long time (the Pat Tillman's of that world are the exception.)

Telling of our priorities is the initial failure of Jeff Bezos' Amazon as an online bookstore; when he changed his format to the "everything" store, it took off like hotcakes. We want Chinese tchotchkes on-demand, and to be able to consume them, 24/7. Some want to play World of Warcarft (WOW) and any other violent action game or view films, on demand, because that is the world we live in.

The other day I was looking up a song with the lines, "Too many people / and not enough love to share", and while I did not find my tune, Google returned the following as the #1 search result:

"Too Many Niggas, Not Enough Hoes", by the performer Ludacris.

Ludicrous? Most young women I've asked say they don't find these lyrics misogynistic, rather, "It's just how it is." Likewise, it was overwhelmingly my black female students who could not understand why President Clinton or any other man was being skewered for extramarital sex. "It's just how it is." Perhaps a realistic take on their experience, and one might argue, a healthy acceptance of an immutable situation.

Surely we will not re-engineer the human animal, with its complex hormonal interactions. What we can do is to recognize our place in the puzzle and act accordingly. While the Women's Lib movement may have had a noble cause -- equality of the sexes -- that is neither a physical nor an emotional reality. Maybe, it is not even desirable, given our innate ways of relating.

Recent press pieces have asked, "should women get drunk?", in the face of the many sexual assaults that happen to women when they are under the influence. Of course women should be allowed to drink, as well as men, but if you are at a fraternity bash and get trashed, you are easy pickings. You may end up in front of your sorority in a grocery cart with "SLUT" written on your leg. Them's the facts.

It may not be the most elegant treatment of a woman, but we are often inelegant to each other, and the Madonna-whore archetype is going nowhere fast. Most women today reject the Emily Post-style etiquette, but have found nothing to put in its stead.

If we do not get real about capabilities and desires, and wish to act like putting on the same blue or green suit eradicates our essential differences (2 Democrats Split on Tactics to Fight Military Sex Assaults), then we can choose to be shocked by the more negative outcomes, but that is disingenuous and you can count me out.

[Cynical? Wait til you read Ranger's codicil, actually written several months ago. It will go on next.]

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Which Way is the Front Line From Here?

--WSJ Breakfast Briefing w/ 
Sebastian Junger

 Third boxcar, midnight train
Destination...Bangor, Maine.
Old worn out suits and shoes,
I don't pay no union dues 
 --King of the Road,
 Roger Miller

"Happy Birthday!" cried the four old grandparents as
Charlie came into their room early the next morning.

"Charlie smiled nervously and sat down on the edge
of the bed. He was holding his present, his only present,
very carefully in his two hands.
FUDGEMALLOW DELIGHT, it said on the wrapper."
--Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,
Roald Dahl

[Happy Birthday, to me.]

Mr. Junger has created a moving homage to his friend and fellow film maker, Tim Hetherington, in his Which Way is the Front Line From Here? screened yesterday at the third annual FSU Student Veteran Film Festival.

I see his film Restrepo differently from Ranger, however. The  documentarian's hand was subdued but quite visible in scenes like that of the flummoxed village elder before a Capri Sun drink packet; the frustration of the Captain with the tribal elders he felt were misleading him, and the relentless view into the soldier's faces as they appeared many leagues away from the camera's lens. As Junger said yesterday, the role of the film maker is not to tell you what to think, but rather, what to think about.

The relationship of Mr. Hetherington and Mr. Junger to the wars they covered is complicated, as they say. Mr. Junger's book War covers some of this ground. He looks at war from a sociological viewpoint, and seems most fascinated by the connections between soldiers and the even finer interstitial zones therein. He explained why soldiers miss war in an NPR interview, arguing that understanding is key to their successful reintegration into society.

Hetherington, who died from a mortar round while covering events in Libya in 2011, shared Mr. Junger's interest in the group dynamics of the men who carry out the war policies of their nation or tribal affiliations. In one outtake from the film, Restrepo, Hetherington had labeled that rocky outpost stripped of any civilizing luxuries as a "Man Eden", and we hear a voice over saying that regardless of a man's status or achievements off of the COP, if he's not shoveling sand into a HESCO, he's nothing. There is no "man-caving" to compare to the adrenaline of battle.

While Junger admits this, he said he decided to stop covering war within the hour of hearing of Tim's death. He says that he and Hetherington understood that by the act of documenting these tragedies, they were also playing a part in them. Though both had a goal of understanding how and why men commit these atrocities, they realized that they were at once outside of the action and yet also somehow complicit.

Perhaps Junger understood that though there would always be a new conflict to record, it would simply be a reiteration of the same actions in a new town, with men wearing different uniforms and perhaps toting different weapons; the urge to war always emanated from the same impulses, the bonds between the soldiers would remain. His work will continue now off the front lines.

In recognition of the freelance journalists who will continue the field work -- often without any sponsorship due to the extreme cutbacks in foreign news bureaus -- he has launched the non-profit  Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC) to help train reporters gratis in basic life-saving procedures. He formed it in response to Hetherington's death, which might have been prevented had someone in his group known basic triage procedure.

Junger's next project involves a cross-country tour of the United States following railroad lines which he took with a couple of ex-soldiers. They lived off the land and gathered perspectives from individuals encountered along the way vis-a vis war.

We wish him luck in his continued endeavors to reveal and heal fractured peoples.

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Letter to Mr. Junger

{Yesterday we were pleased to meet director Sebastian Junger at a local screening in the 2013 Veterans Film Festival of his most recent film, Which Way is the Front Line From Here?, an homage to war documantarian Tim Hetherington, his friend and co-director of the award-winning film, Restrepo.

Below is Ranger's open letter to Mr. Junger; I will post my impressions following. --L.}

Dear Mr, Junger,

Since military matters intersect with political considerations, I wish to clarify my comment yesterday that most documentaries and military coverage discusses the "how" of our wars, but seldom the "why".

Let's start with my war. As I write this I am wearing underwear made in Communist Vietnam, and we are happy with this arrangement. In that war, U.S. Special Forces fought and died protecting the populace from Communist forces. After the battles, the U.S. usually pulled up stakes and the deaths were meaningless. Examples abound, but Lang Vei and Hamburger Hill come to mind. 58,000 of us are still dead.

In Oct '83, 240+ died the Beirut bombing and we pulled up our skirts and left the AO. We did the same after the Day of the Rangers in Mogadishu.

We fought Gulf War I and Kuwait is STILL not a democratic nation. We fought in Iraq an the WOT and what was accomplished of long-term significance or of benefit to the American people?

All those killed are still dead and the wounded are still suffering. For what? Now to Restrepo.

The fights in Korengal, Waygul, Wanat, et. al. were not militarily logical nor did we introduce democracy or anything of value to the Afghan people, nor did America benefit in any appreciable manner. The entire WOT was an emotional response to a senseless act of violence. As such, the U.S. reacted and relied on violence, as did those attacking us. What did the killing in Afghanistan accomplish?

The film festival is a wonderful idea and your work is ideal for such a venue, but it cannot be a venture carried out by wrapping ourselves in the flag and pretending that our violence is somehow different from their violence. We older soldiers must ask, "Why"?

Why is a democratic humanistic-based philosophy so degraded that our policy is to always rely on military power even when there are no meaningful military objectives attainable.

Therein lies the rub.

--Jim H.

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Monday, November 11, 2013


An army marches on its stomach.
--Napoleon Bonaparte

One man's view on MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat), fr. the lad's site, Thrillist London:
What military rations taste like, according to an active serviceman

Today is Veterans Day, the day on which we honor our men and women in uniform for their service to our nation… and also for eating some of the worst food in the world while doing it. We had our active serviceman friend, who will remain unnamed so he doesn’t get deactivated, tell us the bitter truth about the contents of the MREs ("Meals, Ready-to-Eat") that the military somehow survives on in the field.
The blow-by-blow is in here. Brace your colon.

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Dirty Laundry


Packaged hysteria 
--A Murder of Quality, John Le Carre

We can do the innuendo 
we can dance and sing
When all is said and done 
 we haven't told you a thing 
--Dirty Laundry, Don Henley

Lisa has not watched a local or national news program in many years, having figured out that a commensurate amount of time spent with a worthwhile publication will render a faster and fuller data stream. However, she has taken in a couple of newscasts at a friend's house in the past week and was embarrassed by what passed as news.

The agenda is clear out of the starting gate: The three major stories to be covered are shadowed. They are presented so as to elicit basic emotions like anger, sadness, frustration or outrage; their will be a barely veiled relationship among them. The broadcast will conclude with an "Aw-gee" story -- a guy who's been toting Starbucks coffee to the cancer ward for a decade, or a dedicated canine. It is like Greek tragedy, and the viewer is left with the cathartic experience after having been run through the emotional thresher in the span of a half hour.

For those who gain their primary input thusly, it is a terrible skewed and limited view of life. In addition, what is the effect of having one's emotions so fully jerked around as pertains to their own lives and those of their fellows? It feels exhausting, and yet no works has actually been done.

We have addressed elsewhere the ET! effect and the (John) Tessification of America. While it is admirable that many continue trying to stay updated via this medium, surely it is futility.

What do you think keeps viewers watching?

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Starry, Starry Night II

  --Made in China,
Pavel Constantin (Romania)

Mad? Is it mad that you destroy other people
to save yourselves? You have done this.
Is it mad that one country must destroy another
to save themselves? You have also done this. 
--Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

[APOLOGIES to RangerAgainstWar readers for our recent absence. We will be back posting next week. ~editrix.]

Subtitle: A Generation Lost in Space.

In all United States battles since 1965, we ground-pounding, boot-wearing and  gun-toting soldiers have hugged the earth, dug in and fought and possibly died in the mud, ooze and frozen landscapes of foreign lands from Afghanistan to Vietnam. While we do this, spacecraft have delivered men to and returned them from the moon. At the same moment, our civilization reached for the stars while sending my generation to fight in the primordial ooze.

The Apollo 13 astronauts were feted upon their return as conquering argonauts while at the same moment, soldiers were fighting and bleeding out in the mud. Mankind celebrated space flight as that small step for man and reveled in exultation at the ennobling of mankind, while other men were carrying out a more primitive and destructive task, one not celebrated with joy.

Through our space program we sought to explore the possibility of extraterrestrial life, as though enervated by our trials with life here on earth. What would we bring to the hoped-for new life forms? Would we reveal the destructive actions of the other, earth-bound men who had been sent to fight their own kind?

If we cannot co-exist here on our planet, why would we care if there are other life forms? Would we not just risk encountering and introducing more dissension, spreading our own unease elsewhere?

If we cannot communicate with the Taliban (or even our own neighbors), why imagine we would do better with other life forms? Until we have decoded inner space, outer space will be a token acquisition.

As an older man, Ranger is fascinated by the sky, but as a young soldier he never spent an ounce of energy trying to understand anything beyond the depth of his fighting position or the range of his weapons. So which viewpoint is important? Do we look beyond ourselves, or continue to dig hasty fighting positions into the earth? Should not the earth nurture us rather than enabling our violence?

Man seems intellectually and morally too immature to reach beyond his horizon. Never-ending war seems his lot.

(dedicated to Dave.)

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