RANGER AGAINST WAR: February 2014 <

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gotta Serve Somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody
 --Gotta Serve Somebody, 
Mavis Staples and Johnny Lang

Take a look at the faces of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and wife in the audience of the above performance. Uneasy, no? The ex-Presidential Bushes try to jive, Mr. Harlem office Bill Clinton doesn't even. Mrs. Bush's face does not move. (Amusing for a Floridian is to note JEB! Bush ensconced behind them, his pasty face unmistakable, trying to do something with his hands that looks like a bad take on Saturday Night Fever.)

The video ties in to this brief excerpt below which landed in my Inbox this a.m. If you're seeking a scriptural retort to your friendly holier-than-thou compassionate conservative, you'll find it below:

delanceyplace header 

Today's selection -- from No! by Paul McGlasson. We don't often feature selections on religion, and have no real expertise in this area, but we recently came across a beautifully expressed sentiment regarding helping the poor. It comes from the debate within contemporary Christianity on this very subject, where the "religious right" tends to take the position that it is not government's place to use state funds to help the poor. Today's selection is a rebuttal to this position from a prominent Christian scholar -- and it includes a heartfelt reminder of our collective responsibility to help the unfortunate. This reminder is imbedded in a powerful and terrifying portrait of "Judgment Day" so prominent in the Christian New Testament. It underscores the central role of charity in almost all religions -- such as the Rigveda's "Bounteous is he who gives unto the beggar who comes to him in want of food and feeble" and the Quran's "The righteous are those who feed the poor, the orphan and the captive for the love of God, saying: 'We feed you for the sake of God Alone; we seek from you neither reward nor thanks'":
"[C]onsidering the issue of state obligation to care for the poor. [Some among the religious right] systematically deny that the state has any obligation to the poor; indeed any obligation to the general welfare of its citizens overall. Care for the poor is assigned solely to families and churches. ... In an era when the income gap between wealthy and poor is only growing greater, the question is hardly insignificant. We will proceed along two levels of reflection.

"Our first answer is simply to point out that the Bible does in fact assign care of the poor to the state, without any ambiguity. Psalm 72, perhaps written by David for Solomon to describe the duties of the ideal king, stresses obligation to the poor: 'May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy and crush the oppressor ... For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight'. This is not describing a family, or the church; this is a clear mandate to state obligation for the poor in a description of the ideal government. Again, the book of Proverbs likewise describes the duties of the ideal king in very similar terms: 'Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy'. It is precisely the role of the king to give voice to the voiceless in society.

"But here we need, in closing, to dig to a deeper, more profound level. "Jesus describes a final judgment in which all nations -- not families, not churches, but nations, including their governments -- will be gathered before him (Matt 25:31-46). Notice, by the way, that the much vaunted issue of national exceptionalism is a divine prerogative, not a human one; only Christ alone has the right to decide which nations are truly exceptional. How will he decide? He makes it crystal clear in this passage. Care for the poor is not an obligation of the state; it is in some sense the obligation of the state. Nations will not be judged by whether they have a powerful military; nor whether they have a strong middle class. Nations -- all nations -- will be judged, not by a fallible human judgment, but by the only judgment that really matters, by the Lord of all nations -- on one basis only: how did you care for the weak and the needy? Did you feed the hungry among you, or let them struggle to survive? Did you give the thirsty something to drink, or watch callously as they scrambled for every scrap? Do you provide for the health and well-being of the sick and the dying, or force them to choose between the medication they need and food to keep alive? Did you welcome the stranger to your shores, or with hardness of heart build walls to keep them away? Did you treat even the prisoners among you with the humanity they still retain, despite their mistakes in life? Did you provide clothing to the naked, or turn away from what is 'no concern of mine'? This is not a question of 'social policy.' Christ makes it all too clear that far more is at stake. How nations -- including their governments -- treat the poor, is how they treat Christ himself: 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me'."
Below is the passage the author refers to from the Christian New Testament, Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 31 to 46.

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'

Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

No! A Theological Response to Christian Reconstructionism
Author: Paul C. McGlasson 
Publisher: Cascade Books
Date: Copyright 2012 Paul C. McGlasson
Pages: 130-132

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Word Misusage: Affordable Health Care Act

Lies, lies
I can't believe a word you say
Lies, lies
Are gonna make you sad someday 
--Lies, The Knickerbockers

I been hangin' around libraries
I been learnin' 'bout books
I been talkin' to playrighters
I been workin' on words, phrases 
Running Back to Saskatoon, 
The Guess Who

Writing from the Piney woods (swamps) of Northern Florida, Ranger will give a perspective on local politicos and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). It is another installment of Ranger's, Misuse of Words series. And who better to suss out sneaky word usage than a former snake-eater?

Obamacare is a damnation in local parlance. It is what got former Rep. Allen Boyd (D) booted from office.

The congenial 7-term, former Vietnam veteran Mr. Boyd was generally well-liked (as a local boy he understood the needs of his often abject constituents; he helped bring telephone dial tone to his entire region -- a fairly recent accomplishment), but he could not survive his vote for Obamacare. We sat in his office and heard his assistant telling voter after outraged voter that he would in NO circumstances vote "yes", when in fact he later did, such is the dastardly game of politics.

His inevitable replacement, Rep. Steve Sotherland (R), runs local adverts swearing that he is protecting North Floridians from the evil Act. However, since O-care is the law of the land, and Mr. Southerland is sworn to uphold those laws, this does not jibe.

Aside from any merits of Obamacare, it is a linguistic abomination, for it has nothing to do with "affordable care". It is an insurance act, which is not the same thing as health care. It surely does not ensure health care will either be more affordable or accessible; in fact, it may produce the opposite effect.

The Affordable Care Act is another support program for corporate insurance programs. How will this corporate bonus program enhance the healthcare of the less literate among us who cannot discern the fine print of their proposed coverage? The government will not protect the "little men" from predatory insurance scams.

The priority given the law does not correspond with the reality of middle American life. Before health acre and insurance issues can be addressed, the dire economic situation of the middle class needs to be addressed. Unemployment, underemployment and rising costs are more pressing issues for this group than having them pay for mandated health insurance -- which will not guarantee that they can actually pay for their medical care.

Universal health care is the answer to the need. What the U.S. needs and deserves is a socialized national medical program based on the Department of Veterans Affairs template to bring us into the 21st century with our fellow industrialized nations. Funding could arise from a number of sources, including ceasing foreign wars, reducing our defense budget, scrapping the majority of our nuclear carrier groups and properly taxing corporate interests.

The New York Times reported today that the Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level. That's a start.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Terroir of Terror

 And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind 
--The Circle Game, Joni Mitchell

You like potato and I like potahto
You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto.
Let's call the whole thing off 
--Let's Call the Whole Thing Off,
George Gershwin

Contrary to Ms. Mitchell's lyrics, we can and do return.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai complained last year about United State's efforts to openly negotiate with the Taliban. This year, it is the U.S. that's complaining about Karzai's efforts to open negotiations with that group.

Game on in a country mired in violence, where momentary stability will only be achieved by the reinstatement of another strongman, whom the U.S. will then embrace until he becomes another jilted lover. Round and round it goes.

If the U.S. is awaiting Karzai's exit in order to negotiate a security alliance with the next guy, this alone reveals our policies in the region as wasted efforts. If a security treaty depends upon the good graces of one man, it is clear that democracy does not reign.

What was achieved by the war? Did the American public benefit? Neither our near nor far security has been enhanced, so why the effort? Why remain in a nation which rejects our way of governing and does not even want our presence?

Clearly, al Qaeda is a borderless entity which can operate out of a suitcase without a physical home station. Al Qaeda no longer needs "Terror training camps" in Afghanistan, but the State Department is not keen on disseminating this information.

In fact, the entire region is a Terror training camp. There is no shortage of combat-trained and willing members to take up the fight, but these are not the near threats to the U.S. They are a FAR military threat that can only become a near threat with specialized advanced training and integration into Western societal networks.

However, the U.S.'s presence in Afghanistan is not going to lessen that threat. In fact, it can only bolster it by romanticizing the cause. So tell me, why do we wish to continue our self-delusional behavior by keeping a presence in Afghanistan?

Maybe it is that we are so acclimated to self-delusions, graft and corruption that Afghanistan seems as good a place as any to soldier on under these auspices.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Keeping the Peace

 --Peaceable Kingdom, Edward Hicks 
 Do those eyes look at peace? 

Ain't it funny how you feel
when you're finding out it's real
 -- Sugar Mountain, Neil Young

 Blessed are the peacemakers:
for they shall be called the children of God 
--KJV, Matthew 5:9 

Ev'rybody's talking about 
Revolution, evolution, masturbation,
flagellation, regulation, integrations,
meditations, United Nations,
All we are saying is give peace a chance 
--Give Peace a Chance, John Lennon

One of RangerAgainstWar's gripes is the misuse of words in the Phony War on Terror (PWOT  ©). Take the term, "Peacekeeping".

In  the book Blind into Baghdad: America's War in Iraq, James Fallows quotes Army War College scholar and Afghanistan War veteran Larry Goodson thusly:

"When the security situation in Afghanistan was collapsing, we might have come much more quickly to the peacekeeping and "nation-building" strategy we're beginning to employ now (125)"

Aside from the fact that strategy -- a word which implies a thought-out and concerted effort to achieve a desired goal -- is NOT a word which describes the United States' PWOT efforts, let us look instead at the term "Peacekeeping", a term often misunderstood and misused, often in an effort to justify a military presence.

Who doesn't want peace? Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) is an admirable yet elusive concept usually pertaining to efforts to lessen violence and chaos in failed states or in Low-intensity conflict situations. PKO can be a long-term or short-term solution to a problem, if not a resolution of the situation. The three United Nations' guidelines for PKO's are:

1) The consent of all parties
2) Impartiality
3) Non-use of force, except in self-defense and the defense of the mandate

Think of the efficacy of peacekeeping while considering some recent PKOs:

1) The British effort in Northern Ireland --

Was this PKO? Were the British impartial since they were supporting the Royal Ulster Constabulary? The reason for the violence was the Irish Republican Army's desire to rid Northern Ireland of the British presence.

2) Beirut, 1983 --

Was this U.S. operation a PKO? Were the U.S. forces impartial? Did both sides in the violence accept the legitimacy of the U.S. unilateral effort? Since the Marines were bombed in their barracks and HQ, it would seem not, so this was not a PKO.

3) The NATO effort in Kosovo --

Were the NATO forces impartial? No, since NATO warplanes were bombing one side of the equation, so another "no".

4) U.S. in Afghanistan --

Was the U.S. impartial? Did the anti-government coalition accept our presence? Did the U.S. have legitimacy?

A PKO that met UN guidelines but was ineffective was what we call the Rwandan Genocide. While the PKOs were impartial and accepted by both parties, still the genocide continued apace. So simply following UN guidelines may not be an adequate yardstick to measure a successful PKO.

An exception to the general failure of PKOs would be the Sinai PKO separating the Egyptian and the Israelis, keeping peace between former enemies. The peacekeepers are impartial and are there at the behest of both parties. The peace has been maintained.

For a PKO to succeed, both the peacekeepers and the opposing parties must be dealing from the top of the deck, and this is usually not the case in the usual scenarios, unfortunately.

So, is there such a thing as Peacekeeping? "Peacekeeping" is not the same thing as "Peace Making". Peacekeeping is a bit bromidic and euphemistic. One is not so much "keeping the peace" but holding the boxers apart until they can join in the fray once again. PKO's are doomed to fail, until the day honest brokers step up to the table and resolve their differences otherwise. Diogenes is still out there with his lamp ...

Being as we inheritors of the primate legacy, we do not look for rational, non-fighting solutions anytime soon. Perhaps, as with the schoolyard bully, the fight should be allowed, and until someone appears who can trounce him, the most brutish wins they day.

[cross-posted @ milpub.]

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Most Wanted Man

Are there control agencies?
There are only control agencies.
Of course they aren’t meant to find errors,
in the vulgar sense of that term,
since no errors occur,
and even if an error does occur,
as in your case,
who can finally say that it is an error? 
--The Castle, Franz Kafka 

If my thought-dreams could be seen
They'd probably put my head in a guillotine 
--It's Alright, Ma, Bob Dylan 

I love this place.
I love the freedoms that we used to have!
I love it when it didn't take a major catastrophe
to get people to care for one another!
I love the fact that we're on camera all the time,
everywhere, from all angles! 
 --The American Dream,
George Carlin

Ranger just finished Le Carre's A Most Wanted Man, a thoughtful novel on intel operators in the War on Terror.  The author reveals the ease with which such people can construct a false file on an innocent person using data often provided by foreign nationals, indicting said person as evil incarnate.

Intel is not factual but rather a reflection of reality as interpreted by someone sitting behind a desk, a person usually all too happy to receive or interpret data to reflect what the boss wants to hear. Intel operators are not police and lack arrest powers yet, they too often produce damning dossiers based upon innuendo and assumptions which are then employed by highers up to function as judge, jury and executioner of the implicated. But intel and judicial requirements are worlds apart; legal evidence is based upon produceable fact.

While al Qaeda is a violent organization which needs to be countered and contained, this can and should be done legally lest our democracy be corrupted and superannuated. Simply: illegal terror violence cannot be countered by illegal governmentally-sponsored acts of terror.

An example would be the extrajudicial, Presidentially-ordered killings of Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, Abduhlramen, in 2011. Where was the trial and the evidence? What was the death offense committed? If the President can justify the murders of two American citizens, then no one can rely on his democratic safeguards.

A great nation does not kill people on the basis of affiliation, because they are Taliban or al Qaeda. When the U.S. kills, it should be because a person has committed an executable offense which can be proven in a court of law. The cases of OKC bomber Timothy McVeigh and Boston Marathon bomber DzhokharTsarneav are examples.

Ever since the beginning of the War on Terror and the suspension of the liberties and protections to which we had become accustomed, the usual psychological justification enlisted by the many has been, "I don't have anything to hide, so what need care I if my transmissions are secretly monitored?" U.S. citizens are naive -- the majority having been relatively safe from such fascist-type State intrusions -- and do not understand the slippery slope that is government overreach until they have been overreached.

The Bill of Rights concept of "probable cause" is seen as impossibly naive in a nation allowed unfettered State Secrets in its war against terrorists, which becomes de facto a war against your privacy. A people not accorded privacy is not a free people. The notions of secrecy and privacy are neither Republican nor Democratic (though it is usually the Republican electorate which is more willing to abdicate their rights, and the Republican leaders more willing to take them away.)

Only we can destroy our democratic principles, and the intel types are not always right. Those are the only givens in the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

CPT William Swenson

MOH recipient Capt. William Swenson

Purple Heart magazine featured recent Medal of Honor winner Captain William Swenson in their Jan/Feb (2014) issue ... currently unemployed Capt. Swenson, according to the piece.

And though Mr. Swenson has requested a return to active duty, to-date there has been no action on his personnel request. Capt. Swenson left the Army after nine years Active Duty; he is the only living officer of the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©).

"In a rare move, Swenson has asked to return to active duty. "We are currently reviewing his request and processing it within established policy," an Army spokesman, George Wright, told Purple Heart magazine."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but MOH recipients should be an exception to policy -- so why is an MOH recipient being treated so shabbily? The Army is a large institution and it's hard to believe they cannot find a place for a man like Swenson. If President Obama were acting as Commander-in-Chief he would directly order the Army Chief of Staff to create a special slot for this man.

MOH winners are akin to demigods in the Army. CPT Swenson was highly regarded by his men, capable and brave; none of this is in question. How could the Army not embrace him with open arms? Answer: he spoke the truth to power. He was correct, but he crossed the thin green line. Ranger knows what happens when you speak the truth (ref. his "Disillusionment" series.)

Swenson has already been shafted once by the Army. In the magazine's list of "Five Key Facts About Captain Swenson is, "#4. His path to the Medal of Honor was marked with Army politics":

"After the September 2009 battle, Swenson criticized senior Army officers in written reports, stating that they refused to send air and artillery support during the firefight, costing lives. The Army launched an investigation into Swenson's allegations. Eventually, the officers were reprimanded and their careers ended. As a result, Swenson's Medal of Honor nomination was "mysteriously deleted form [sic] the Army's awards tracking database. Speculation is that senior officers, perhaps friends of the reprimanded officers, were responsible. ..."

Ranger would like to congratulate Capt. Swenson. Having personally known and served with three MOH recipients, he can say Swenson stands as tall as all of them.

Whatever happens in this case we at RangerAgainstWar wish former Captain Swenson the best life has to offer.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, February 10, 2014

Then There's Maude

I am very glad to have in my cabinet
such able statesmen as you have proved yourself to be.
And I shall be pleased to avail myself
of your counsel and advice.  
But I can never consent to being dictated to. 
I am the President 
and I shall be responsible for my administration
--U.S. President John Tyler

Re. the words of President Tyler and the desk plaque of Harry Truman: if only President Obama were a "buck-stops-here" kinda guy. Alas.

Let us begin with an oft-forgotten precept in 2014: America is a nation governed by laws, and we oppose the concept of cruel and unusual punishment. This is foundational. But then there's Gitmo (Hearing Offers Rare Peek at Guantanamo.)

Why can't President Obama, as Commander in Chief, order the military to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center -- the shining promise of his early administration?

Can the President not use one of his exalted Executive Orders to do it? If Obama can EO the minimum wage, then surely he can EO the closure of Gitmo. He could grant Presidential pardons, and send the prisoners home. Mea culpa.

What have 60 prisoners done that the rebels in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria have not done? Why are the prisoners at Gitmo evil, wicked, mean and nasty, but the jihadists supporting revolt in the region treated to the munificence of U.S. tax dollars? In Syria there are jihadists from about 55 nations whom it is U.S. policy to support.

We the people deserved to witness fair and open trails for the terrorist events of 9-11-01, but have not. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the one inmate who very publicly fits the bill for being tried, has inexplicably never been before a court. 

If a prisoner has been charged with a war crime, then he should be tried in court. If found guilty, then execute him. What does it mean that some inmates are being considered for a war crimes trial before a military commission? After 12 years the U.S. has not moved to try these inmates; it's time to piss, or get off the pot. Gitmo is a stain which has done nothing to make the U.S. safer, or to counter the al Qaeda threat.

America should admit that it has poisoned the well, and even if these inmates were complicit, it is too late for a fair trial. We committed torture and did not obey our legal protocols.

Just as a review for the Rangers in the class:

If a man is al Qaeda and captured on the battlefield then he is a prisoner of war -- UNLESS he can be proven to have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. Generally, terrorists do not fight on the battlefield and even if they did, they are not a threat to the U.S., which is the tag affixed to the Gitmo detainees. (If an al Qaeda is captured on the battlefield this generally means that the person is a military member of the organization and not a classic terrorist threat.)

Military threats are far threats and hence, of minimal concern to our citizens at home.

Here is an idea: send the Gitmo detainees to the Syrian rebels and call it a day.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Disillusionment of Ranger: Once Bitten, Twice Shy


The first thing learned in the Army is to adjust the declination of our moral compass. While in actual compass course we are expected to be precise, "close enough" will do on the moral course.

We learn to lie, cheat and claw our way to the top by any means necessary. The savages rise to the top, while the non-cannibals drop out of the competition. If one will lie for the Army then why not for ourselves? That is the question one faces after first losing our moral "cherry", especially while working in a system that values, consistency, order and repetition (predictability). Everyone is "One Each", so if he lies, then we all lie.

As with Infantrymen, once blooded, killing is often less difficult the next time. Special Forces are admiringly called "Sneaky Petes", but that duplicitous skill once inculcated does not turn off at the doorstop. Anyway, what are "truths" and what are "lies" when working in the fields of violence? Has anything truthful or life-enhancing resulted from killing human beings?

It seems primitive to hawk honor codes while sitting on enough nuclear weapons to destroy humanity many times over. Can we see beyond the speeches, the clutter of our everyday lives and banal beliefs? Do we realize that our priorities, our assumptions of reality and our lives are based upon folly, whim and uncontrolled emotion?

Leadership is not about greatness but rather disregard for humanity and the ability to manipulate underlings to do things that go beyond the bounds of reason. In for a penny, in for a pound.

We soldiers are raised in a liberal democratic, humanistic society, and are then expected to perform functions that are 180 degrees to these closely-held beliefs.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Disillusionment of Ranger Pt. II: The Genesis

 Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters
cannot be trusted with important matters
--Albert Einstein 

I prefer to be true to myself,
even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others,
rather than to be false,
and to incur my own abhorrence
--Frederick Douglass 

In a room where people unanimously maintain
a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth
sounds like a pistol shot
--Czeslaw Milosz 

Scratch any cynic and you will find
a disappointed idealist
--George Carlin

The Disillusionment of Ranger Pt. II -- The Genesis. (This is an extension of Ranger's Disillusionment, PT I):

One of the most common comments heard in the Army is that it eats its young; here is one of those tales.

All Ranger ever wanted to be was a soldier, and his start was stellar. Number One cadet in his ROTC class, Distinguished Military Graduate, regular Army commission, Jump and Jump Master qualification, Ranger, and then onto his first assignment. But within four months of his first troop assignment, his career was over before it started. He was dinged on his first Officer Efficiency Report (OER), and for the next 44 years he has agonized over the question of why his Battalion Commander hated him, and/or why was he willing to kill him before I even left "shavetail" status.

Why? It's a small and pitiable story, but not unique.

As a Mortar Platoon Leader there was a lot of time spent planning and running range firing for the Battalion. This was one of my duties and I excelled at the task, but one day changed that -- the day that began my professional death. (Keep in mind that Ranger's Commission was Regular Army/ROTC, while the Battalion Commander was a West Pointer, if you think that matters.)

The Battalion was a bad luck unit as was the entire European Command at the time Ranger entered. The war was raging in Vietnam, and the seams were stretched tight. While his Platoon passed all of its tests and was ready to perform its tactical mission, the Battalion and Company failed its Command Maintenance Materiels Inspection (CMMI), and was dinged badly on several operational evaluation tests.

So we find our young LT on a freezing hillside in Germany with a range set up to familiarize and qualify the HQ Company personnel in their in their assigned weapon -- the M3 grease gun, a .45 cal submachine gun assigned to support personnel found in the support platoon of HQ Co. This was simple, clear and unambiguous job, until the S-3 (Operations Officer) and Battalion XO (Major) drove up.

The S-3 and XO directed Ranger to pencil in all the personnel requiring training because they were preparing to be re-tested for the annual CMMI (as the Battalion failed their first attempt.) Failure usually equates to Battalion Commanders being relieved, or at least, not promoted.

So young LT Ranger stood before the S-3 and the XO who, in the name of our lord, the Battalion Commander, were directing him to pencil in the trainees as having received instruction which they had in fact, not, which meant he had a choice: either falsify official records, indicating that soldiers had received training that they did not receive, or to not lie on an official document. You can guess the decision made by an idealistic young LT unversed in Army politics.

Neither Infantry Officers Basic Course nor ROTC mentioned any scenario like this in either ethics or leadership training. As a result of the absence of a bootlicking unit in his education, his career died the day he chose not to lie, as did his hopes and aspirations. You may call him a fool, but the moral dilemma surrounding honor and integrity in the military forces of our nation remains the same for both him and others today.

In his 20 years of active and reserve duty, the "grease gun" scenario  was replicated many times, on much higher levels.
In mobilization drills and exercises, there were major units certified for deployment which were measured with elastic yardsticks. Units were certified as combat-ready which could not pour piss out of a boot. (If you doubt this, look no further than current scandals concerning cheating, lying and corruption regarding the certification of nuclear weapons specialized units.)

It is a long way from that frozen hillside in a 1969 Army unit and our little submachine gun training to 2014 and nuclear surety problems, but they are the same issue. If you will lie about a grease gun, then what else will you lie about?

Lest you think these are isolated events, ask a veteran if they have their own "grease gun" story, for the issue is pervasive and universal. The upshot is, I never again believed any official, unofficial or any other word uttered by any government or military official. I know the system is not run on honor.

Ranger's disillusionment is insignificant in context, but it indicts the system through and through.

[cross-posted @ milpub.]

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Cinema Paradiso

 The illusion I wished to create
was that of reality
--Heinrick Ibsen, on Emperor and Galilean 

 Half the work that is done in this world
is to make things appear what they are not
--E.R. Beadle

Pay my respects to grace and virtue
Send my condolences to good
Hear my regards to soul and romance
They always did the best they could 
--Human, The Killers 

Freedom is the freedom to say
that "2 + 2 = 4" 
--1984, George Orwell

The shooting last month at a Florida CineBistro matinee showing of the war film "The Lone Survivor" reveals many of our current problems in stark outline, sans distractions of race, economic status, etc.

The two men involved were both paragons of society: One, a retired Police Captain; the other, a Desert Storm Veteran. Both men are white, attending a matinee of a war film at an upscale suburban theater. An altercation ensues; one man is left dead.

How did this happen? The local news reports the theater has a "zero tolerance policy" for "weapons of any kind" on the property as well as "use of cell phone (including talking and/or texting) or other electronic devices while inside the auditorium." Both men were in violation of those rules.

It is easy to say the presence of the gun caused the murder, but a gun merely makes it easier to kill. A soldier and a cop both know how to deliver killing blows, sans gun, so why were they "fighting mad"? Let us look at the context to see how the tragic outcome was reached.

1) The retired Police Captain had his "Falling Down" moment, combined with that of the castrated male figure in the film "American Beauty". He is reported to have risen to anger when a women was texting the previous week during another film screening. The theater had rules against texting, and a policeman spends his life enforcing the rules, yet no one was obeying or enforcing them. He had reached his breaking point.

In the first instance, the transgressor was a woman. The Police Captain is a large male, and it would be against his instinct to strong arm such an individual. In the "Lone Survivor" scenario, the texter was a 6'4" 230 lb. man, a more fit adversary and someone who probably resembled the "punks" that Captain had dealt with over his career.

The shooter had gone out to the lobby to find an usher to ask the man to turn off his device. He returned to the theater alone, and piqued. The man did not cease from texting after two warnings on the screen, nor after having being asked to do so by the retired Captain. In fact, the man stood up and confronted the man behind him who wanted him to stop, throwing popcorn at him, his last act before being shot.

The Captain was operating in a mash-up mode of the Michael Douglas Falling Down character and Dirty Harry Callahan. He was both being disdained, and using the maximum power at his disposal.

2) The younger veteran was doing what so many of his cohort does, namely, staying wired 24/7. Texting is a way of living. He lived in his bubble of connectivity, and he can dial-up his virtual connections whenever he wants. His fellows see the requests to turn off devices are mere token gestures, and he does not have to relocate to the lobby as the world is his living room.

It was reported that he was texting his two-year-old daughter or her babysitter, supposedly to check on her wellness as she was suffering a cold. He was said to be a fanatical Facebooker when it came to his daughter. The press reports used this fact to garner sympathy for the victim.

3) The men were preparing to view a film on a puffed-up failed U.S. mission, Operation Redwings, in which 20 U.S. Soldiers were killed. In author Marcus Luttrell's hero set piece "The Lone Survivor", the audience is asked to believe that what should have been an aborted mission, was instead viable.

It feels like the revulsion we experience when the brain-dead Texan woman's body was recently forced to stay alive by the State as a placental medium for her "seriously malformed" fetus. We know it's not right to use humans as sacrificial breathing machines; we would not want it to happen to us.

So it is with "Lone Survivor" scenario. Keeping a blighted mission alive runs contrary to our notions of decency and wellness. The mission was sunk from the get-go, yet it is as though through exposure and good publicity, the malformation will morph into a good. Surely the vet and the former policeman could identify a beaten zone when they saw one.

Yet ... they were both willing to pay money, eat popcorn and share in the delusion and illusion. However, on some level, this must grate.

4) On guns: My friends remember walking through their respective downtowns 40 years ago toting rifles openly after school to go hunting in the woods, They recall their parents sometimes had a weapon in the car but there was never a thought to use it in a random episode of road rage, or any rage. Depending on the size and toughness of their neighborhood, fights would be resolved via fisticuffs or crude weapons like pipes or bats. Somehow, guns later became a go-to option for addressing matters of entitlement, disrespect, frustration and anger.

5) On disrespect: We no longer respect age, or anybody, really. People believe they have a right and perhaps even a responsibility to stay wired 24/7. With the advent of the cell phone and all that has followed, intimacy has been lost, and public space becomes our living room. The addition of televisions to most public venues adds to that perception.

As example of this disrespect, I was horrified by the disrespect of audience members at a Project Trio chamber performance last week. The standard warnings about turning off devices reduced the number of texters, but the awful part was the wailing children midway through the performance whom the parents did not take out to the lobby. Most of them were located near the back of the theatre and I presumed that was so they could beat a hasty retreat, but I was wrong.

Twice during the performance the musicians paused to thank the audience members for their "respect and interest" in attending a "non-amplified" performance -- in other words, please keep it down -- but to no avail. Amazingly, there was no oversight to ask these parents to leave the theater; this was a rude distraction for the last half of the performance. It was selfish on behalf of the parents, who din't want their experience interrupted.

6) On ego: On leaving the performance, two elderly patrons noted that the two girls behind them never stopped talking. What is it about our experience of life today that demands we constantly be commenting upon it? It seems that many experience a thing only once they document it.

Why even go to an event if you will only spend your time linking up with others remotely, or transmitting it in situ, like some unpaid newspaper intern? Interactivity is soulless when it is between you and an electronic device. We are like skittering amobas mindlessly engulfing - digesting - excreting all that we encounter.

Texting is not a killing offense, and if the officer had not had a gun, he could not have shot the man; these are givens. But what do you think about the context from which grew such ire? 

Are there any solutions, besides the predictable calls for gun control?

Labels: , , , , ,