RANGER AGAINST WAR: January 2015 <

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Do You Love Me?

Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love 
--An Irish Airman Forsees His Death, 
W. B. Yeats

Uzi like a metal d*ck in my hand,
Magazine like a big testicle gland 
--Uzi Lover, Fur Q.

In every job that must be done
There is an element of fun 
You find the fun and snap! 
The job's a game 
--A Spoonful of Sugar, 
Mary Poppins

The film American Sniper based on Chris Kyle's eponymous book did better than it deserved to based upon some fortunate confluences.

In addition to its propitious opening date (the Martin Luther King holiday weekend), the recent murders by Islamist gunmen at the Paris office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo added a bump of renewed outrage in the viewing public. Clint Eastwood, the aging film gunman who had softened in his recent cinematic depictions of bad versus good (The Unforgiven, Flags of Our Fathers, Grand Torino) has gotten right back on that black hat /white hat horse with Sniper, and that simplicity is what an angry and confused audience craves.

The pairing of Eastwood and Kyle -- the two outlaws for good -- provides a uniquely American antidote to evil. The pairing is as perfect as Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers -- a pas de deux where each understands the dance executed from the pull of the trigger to the hit of the target. It is a ballet, and a love song.

However, a conflict sits in the heart of the solution. For every "American" sniper, there is a Syrian, or Iraqi, or an endless array of other nationalities, thus making sniping a zero-sum game. Moreover, the sniping has no forseeable end-point either in time or place, and Kyle can't be everywhere, so what began as a bromidic story of bravado and sacrifice becomes one of ultimate failure.

Moreover, the "Good" Bad Guy archetype in American films (from Zorro to the Outlaw Josey Wales and Dirty Harry Callahan) has been trounced by the level of brute violence demonstrated by the Islamic fighters. In a reversal of Crocodile Dundee's dictate to not bring a knife to a gunfight, now the knife or the scimitar wields more terror than the surgical strike with the grandest destructive materiel.

It seems the late Mr. Kyle was something of a fabulist who claims to have killed 150, and maybe 225 enemy. But even had Mr. Kyle killed twice as much, he did not make the American public safer, for the enemy is like a hydra. Each head cut down generates two more. The murders we commit lead to an animation of the rising generation.

We are like Utah's Kaelin Clay, dropping the ball one yard short of the field goal and calling it a win. The celebration and elation does not make it so.

Kyle apparently took glee in finding his life's profession, having failed at some early life projects. The origin of braggadocio can often be found in failure. The author presents a pure Horatio Alger story, but being a sniper is neither glorious nor especially patriotic, though that seems to be the emotion elicited in the average viewer of the film.

A sniper is a member of a military unit who executes a job, but does not single-handedly win a battle. The military does not bestow medals prodigiously to snipers.

Ranger has known several Army snipers of repute, and they all demonstrate humanity and humility. They do not brag, nor do they express a diminution, disdain or hatred of the enemy (unlike Mr. Kyle.) The qualification for the job is to be calm, steady and reliable. 

Perhaps the reason a film like American Sniper does so well is that tries to compensate for decades of lost American wars. Since World War II, America has not enjoyed a win. So we take the small story and pump it up, telling ourselves that at least we have heart. But in his book, Mr. Kyle reports that he would have liked to have killed everyone he saw carrying a Koran (though he did not), and, “I only wish I had killed more,” of which neither statement demonstrates heart.

Among Ranger's sniper associates, after their lethal engagements they spoke with respect for their former enemies. They do not brag nor do they express hatred for the enemies with whom they were formerly lethally-engaged, in fact, they speak with respect for them. Many have formed personal reconciliations with them. 

Killing was a job to do, and it was neither fun nor enjoyable. Mr. Kyle's stated enjoyment of killing belies the truth behind winning hearts and minds with a military. His attitude is neither fully human, nor is it necessary for the execution of his job. 

Watching the film gives the viewers a false sense of participation in a war we largely ignore. The true believers come as they do to Lourdes, deifying their savior (for few bucks and a couple hours.)

For the faux patriots, "Kyle, save us!" may be 2015's version of  "E.T., come home!" And just as unlikely. 

--by Jim and Lisa

Labels: , , , , , ,

Monday, January 19, 2015

Blood Simple

 Now Jesus don't like killin'
No matter what the reason's for,
And your flag decal won't get you
Into heaven any more
--John Prine 

But what I know about is Texas,
an' down here... you're on your own 
--Blood Simple (1983) 

There are few things more fundamentally
encouraging and stimulating
than seeing someone else die 
--Paths of Glory (1957)

Why our current fascination with snipers? 2013 brought us Marcus Luttrell's "Lone Survivor" (which grossed three times its budget), and 2015 brings Clint Eastwood's film based on Chris Kyle's "American Sniper" released earlier this month (which has already outearned "Lone Survivor" in its first month of release.)

Since the inception of the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) the SEALs have undertaken a tremendous public relations campaign aimed at propagandizing the U.S. taxpayer into thinking their dollars have been well-spent. For sure, one group of capitalists did benefit handsomely from the propaganda spawned by Luttrell's Lone Survivor, Matt Bissonnette's No Easy Day and Kyle's American Sniper: the video gaming industry. It is unlikely these men considered if or how their missions were relevant to the concept of fighting terror, but their stories are being bled for all they are worth.

Does the impulse to view such films arise from our need to make meaning, or the need to not admit that men's lives are spent often too cavalierly, in the service of projects which reap little if any benefit? Is it an offshoot of the father archetype and the sniper is the Big Daddy who will protect you and keep you safe? Is a tit-for-tat on life's treadmill, an urge to escape the claustrophobic feeling that if they have you in their cross-hairs, at least you have someone on your side whose weapon is trained on them, too? A cosmic Mobius strip of death.

But the recent apotheosis of the sniper belies the fact that no soldier is irreplaceable, nor does any battlefield outcome rest on the scoped rifle of any one participant. Sniping is as old as the U.S. Army. One could even say characters like Robin Hood were snipers, as they were selective marksman. The current sniper movie genre probably began with the 1980's Tom Barringer films featuring modern-day Natty Bumpos -- James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales adopted for Hollywood.

Whether it is Enemy at the Gates or Saving Private Ryan in a theatre Army scenario, or Luttrells' Lone Survivor in a godforsaken valley somewhere in Afghanistan, Hollywood creates the aura that the sniper creates fear and terror in the enemy, but this is not military thinking.

The most common misconception is that a sniper can, by killing the leaders of an enemy unit, destroy the unit's will to resist. But if this were so, why not call in artillery and fire a "battery five" killing them all?

In fact, the Infantry's mission is clear and simple: to close with and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver. Nowhere does our mission entail fear or terror. We either shoot, move or communicate, or we don't. The idea of the mission being to create fear or terror is a myth.

American Sniper's director Clint Eastwood is that rare conservative Hollywood bird whose head space and timing seem to be a few degrees off judging by his surreal performance at the 2012 Republican convention. But that does not keep a patriot in his dotage from turning out a good cowboy film, even if it is in the Arabian desert and the punks are hajjis.

Eastwood cut his teeth on "The Outlaw Josey Wales," "Heartbreak Ridge" and "Dirty Harry", finding his groove in romanticizing the unglamorous life of the executioner. Chris Kyle's book does not deviate from this hoo-ah approach. For him, his targets were "savages" and "terrorists" (stating in his book that he would like to kill everyone toting a Koran, a sentiment which Eastwood cannily decided to omit from his film.) Surely Kyle saw himself as an instrument of God's hand, every bit as much as those he shot saw him.

However, as Ranger has discussed before, terrorists do not attack hard targets, an example of which would be the U.S. military. The men Kyle was killing were insurgents, soldiers, militants or guerrillas -- take your pick -- but not terrorists. Of course, since the terrorist menace was the casus belli for the PWOT, the longest U.S. war, it pays to play the term for all it's worth.

Unfortunately, when your film's subject has matters so terribly confused, it is hard to make of him a hero archetype. In Chris Kyle's and Clint Eastwood's world, things are black and white, and do not admit of nuance, and it is he who has the fistful of dollars who calls the tune.

The American Sniper's claim to fame is his 165 confirmed (and possible 225) kills, but how did kills become a metric for achievement? The Vietnam War, despite its hopeful and often inflated body counts, showed that "body count" was a meaningless concept when Saigon fell.

Even had Kyle killed 250 insurgents -- did we win the war? The U.S. is no safer because of the violence men like Kyle visited upon the Iraqi nation, and possibly less so. It could be argued that Islamist State (ISIS/ISIL) is the godchild of the relentless violence wrought by the U.S. military.

Killing without a meaningful military objective is simple murder, whether issuing from Kyle's muzzle of an ISIS executioner's knife. Mr. Eastwood can wrap his movie in a flag and overlay bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace", but the map ain't the territory. 

When Kyle and his actions are apotheosized, it is akin to raising the entire PWOT © to some noble, nation-saving enterprise. Unfortunately, like most of the U.S.'s Counterinsurgency efforts, it was naught more than a bloody game of whack-a-mole. You can put lipstick on a pig ...

Is a film like American Sniper a mass catharsis for the viewing audience eating popcorn and drinking soda? Does it whip up the patriotic fervor that enables a nation to stay in the warfighting game for the long haul? Or is it just another way to shoot two hours of a life being wafted away on the fantasy of some good, clean red-white-and-blue fun?

Hollywood likes to call these fictions "biopics", which is like saying John Tesh's "infotainment" was the news. Viewers leave the theater feeling perhaps proud after the gorefest done in the name of guns, football, hunting, Bibles, beer and cowboys. Eastwood offers up this "heartland bingo", and hopes the cards he has thrown down will constitute a winning hand.

And in the parlance of the Awards that matter, it probably does. But really, it is just another bad movie based upon a juvenile view of life. The director would have done better to have stopped after his film The Unforgiven, for that title explains the plight of the gunfighter best.

America is not about killing people. If it is, then we have morphed into a tawdry version of the Marvel superheroes The Avengers.

--Jim and Lisa

(In an interesting aside, American Sniper is poised to out-earn the previous highest-grossing U.S. release, 2012's The Avengers. The Avengers are a Marvel comic Superhero creation with whom Chris Kyle symbolically associated himself.)

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Rise and Shine

Never, never, never, never give up
--Winston Churchill 

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light
--Dylan Thomas

 Then I pray
Don't take me soon
'Cause I am here for a reason 
--One Day, Matisyahu

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the signature wound of the recent wars, and there is no quick fix. It is a devastating play-as-you go scenario past the initial triage, the path back to normalcy a no man's land fraught with unseen mines. It is estimated that 400,000 U.S. soldiers currently suffer TBI.

I was impressed recently with Simon Lewis's talk at the first INK conference which was published online in association with the TED conference on his medical journey after suffering TBI and the multiple, often unguessed, internal injuries pursuant to the initial concussive event. While Mr. Lewis, an attorney and Hollywood film producer, suffered his TBI in the civilian world, his experience is readily translatable to that suffered by some of our military readers. Since viewing his talk I have had the pleasure of making his acquaintance, and I believe his message and crusade to protect, restore and improve human consciousness is a vital one.

His injuries were so massive that he was presumed dead at the scene of his auto accident. Mr. Lewis then spent one month in "Glasgow Level Three", the lowest state of coma existence on the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) and one from which few emerge. When he did, recovery was a grueling process which took him from trying to comprehend children's animations back today to his pre-accident 150 I.Q. Equally as torturous was the fact that there was no clearly enumerated path back, just a continuous hit-and-miss process of brute force effort and will combined with the occasional welcome serendipity.

Reading his book, Rise and Shine, is an antidote to demoralization and will encourage and enlighten anyone on his hidden path to recovery. Being English, Mr. Lewis employs his gallows humor to good effect. He hits the right tone, and his story is engaging throughout.

A recurrent theme is the dismal reality that he must fight for medical coverage time and again before he can even begin the fight on the bodily level for his recovery. Anyone who has been in his position will understand the daunting challenges which face the patient on every front.

Of special interest to those who have or will undergo cranial reconstruction will be the unforeseen complications surrounding the prosthetic inserts.
In addition, the ongoing trauma set up throughout the body following massive concussive damage is often unexpected and not well understood. 

One of his mantras is, "no one will tell you everything"; in fact, the things we are told are often contradictory and potentially damaging. Surviving and thriving seems to hang on a wing and a prayer, many times.

Lewis has made it his mission to raise awareness of the necessity for the medical world to widen their approach to TBI survivors and employ every available modality in order to not lose our most precious asset, consciousness. If you or anyone you know has suffered TBI and is looking for a way, I recommend Mr. Lewis's book. While not a manual for navigating the medical system, it provides one man's clear and stoic efforts to regain the maximal wellness possible for him.

20 years on his recovery continues, and it is his mission to bring the message that there are many unused modalities of treatment -- many which he presents -- and that we should not be satisfied with the often low expectations attached to such diagnoses. 

As he told one interviewer, it seems in America we are satisfied with discharging accident victims after they have achieved a very minimal baseline of function and call that a recovery, with no direction for their future. (Mr. Lewis was discharged once he achieved an I.Q. of 89.)

This is not good enough.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Hostage Rescue Situations, II: Civilian

 Whether we like it or not,
the one justification for the existence of all religions is death,
they need death as much as we need bread to eat 
--Death with Interruptions,
Jose Saramago,

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be;
and that which is done is that which shall be done:
and there is no new thing under the sun 
--Ecclesiastes 1:9 

When people show you who they are,
believe them the first time 
--Maya Angelou

SubtitleChicken Little, or, The Lone Wolf

Scenario: Sydney (AUS) hostage crisis, 15-16 December 2014.

The media reported yet another Lone Wolf Islamic gunman took hostages at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney;  two hostages and the hostage taker were later killed. But how -- or does -- this situation differ from hostage situations that preceded it?

Instant analysis provided by hasty experts lead to the speedy disappearance of any discrete event from the headlines in favor of the next shock and awe event, and any lessons to be found in commonalities are lost in the relentless quest for the new. So what's new and what's not? 

All hostage taking is criminal behavior, and law enforcement exists deal with such events. The laws already exist in the legal codes of all civilized nations. Motives, tactics and response times may differ, but there is always a police response that is appropriate. Sydney is but another in the ignominious history of the hostage taking event. While there is no comprehensive list online, one can begin ticking off the scores of events in recent memory:

Moluccan separatists (Holland, 1977); DFLP Ma'alot massacre (Israel, 1974); numerous aircraft hijackings, beginning in the 1930's; Mumbai hotel (Lashkar-e-Taiba, 2008); Chechen theater takeover (Russia, 2002); Grozny (Caucasus Emirate, 2014); Beslan School Siege (Chechen, 2004); Grand Mosque seizure (Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 1979); Munich Olympic massacre (Palestinian Black September,1972); OPEC ministers (Carlos the Jackal + German and Arab terrorists, 1975); Iran embassy takeover (1979); Iranian Embassy siege (London, 1980); Raid at Entebbe (Uganda, 1976); Norrmalmstorg robbery (Sweden, 1973) -- origin of the "Stockholm Syndrome", etc.

"Lone Wolves" are nothing new. The "shoe" and "underwear" bombers were also lone wolves. Anyone who attempts such an illegal and audacious action is by definition a lone wolf, even if representing a larger group. Most lone wolves are backed by a much larger transnational support system facilitating their operations.

All hostage takers give off intel predictors of their actions, just as all spree killers have. The problem is that we ignore these indicators. The perpetrators of the attacks of 9-11-01 and all subsequent attempts by affiliated groups gave off indicators, but nobody connected the dots. It's not that they are invincible but that we are negligent.

Our negligence allows these people to slip through the cracks and fly under the radar. Since the agencies tasked to ensure our safety are often no more than theater, look for the attacks to continue. The people leading these agencies often lack a police or security background

The police operate on the belief that all life is sacred, including that of the hostage-taker; but if intel indicates the hostage takers will execute hostages, then police must end the situation by assault. The police assault differs from the military one, however.

When the SEALs entered Yemen their assault was a predetermined, essential part of their plan. In contrast, a police assault should be effected only to prevent further loss of hostage lives. As the police assault phase is fluid, hostage lives always hang in the balance. In Sydney, the police had no option as all intel indicated the hostage taker was intent on killing his hostages.

The only critical observation in the Sydney scenario is that the police may have used too much firepower when they employed fully automatic fire. Prudence in the civilian setting may call for less rounds fired in select single fire mode to avoid accidentally killing hostages. A police response should always be measured, but it is always a judgement call for those on-site.

Hostage barricade situations are not going away, but the Western world has levels of security which can address any criminal activity, to include terrorism. The Euroterrorism of the 1960-90 era was effectively neutralized by good police work, intel and counteraction efforts, without governments crossing into authoritarian mode. The same comment will be made 30 years from now about today's "Lone Wolves".

Today's Lone Wolves do not differ much from their predecessors: they want to broadcast a message, and they often seek to gain ransom for further operational funding. Individually, they seem to be nihilists who do not value their own lives. However, their actions continue to support the viability of their group (=the Islamic State), even if they were not directly affiliated with the group to which they claim fealty.

As an aside: What hath the media and its mandatory political correctness wrought by feeding us the line that Islam is a religion of peace? It keeps us in a state of unknowing, children who must act shocked each time we put our hands on the stove and it burns. Certainly there are good Muslims, but the intermittent terrorist act will continue to erupt from that unsettled pool and we must be stoic in our application of established police protocol.

To deny that there is a large swath of "bad" Muslims who rejoice in their 10th century ethos is to be willfully blind to a movement taking over large swathes of the Middle East and Asia. To paraphrase Sam Kinison, it's called The Islamic State, people. "Bad" to us is "good" to them, and never the twain shall meet.

Our fundamental worldviews are different ... it is not simply a matter of the West disbursing a few more palletized bundles of Benjamins, or more education or fruit juice boxes at the Loya Jirgas. We are as puppets on a string when we recoil in horror at the beheading du jour.

What's new is the environment of fear fomented in the press.

[cross-posted @ milpub.]

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,