Daily Archives: May 5, 2011
One of the most enduring themes of the Viet Nam era was that of the badly damaged Vietnam vet who came home and created mayhem – all because of his experiences and training. It was a myth that died hard only because the war was so unpopular and so many people wanted to believe it.
BG Burkett in his book Stolen Valor, completely takes all the underlying premises that supported that myth apart with facts and statistics. I don’t have time to relate them all but I cannot recommend that book highly enough.
The case against American soldiers accused of murdering Afghan civilians turns on the idea of a rogue unit. But what if the killings are a symptom of a deeper problem?
Instead of telling the story of the now infamous “kill squad” from the 5th Stryker Brigade out of Ft. Lewis WA, and the reasons for their actions and activities, Mogelson does what many hacks do and tries to conflate what happened in a single platoon out in the middle of nowhere in Afghanistan with a problem that infects the entire military.
Granted – no, stipulated – war is hell, it changes people, it is something which anyone who has ever experienced it up close and personal would never wish on another person. And yes, there are stresses that come from multiple deployments, leaving your family behind and watching men you think more of than anyone in the world die in action. But those stresses aren’t unique to these wars. Yes, multiple deployments are fairly unique. But then the alternative is the duration – which my parents did in WWII – 4 years of war, from beginning to end.
But that’s not the point of the article. Mogelson does a credible job of telling the “kill squad” story. It’s a horrible story in which a deviant but charismatic junior leader, in an isolated outpost, talks some impressionable squad members into doing the unthinkable all while the weak leadership in charge of the platoon failed in their roles.
Had he left it here, I could actually find myself saying nice things about it. It is a story that must be told.
But he didn’t leave it there. He started to veer in that old and predictable lane in which the military is indicted for making robot killers out of their charges and becoming so good at it that things like this happen.
In fact, just the treatment of the title outlines his attempt. And interestingly, later on in the article, he uses the full quote from Gen. George C Marshall from which the line comes:
“Once an army is involved in war, there is a beast in every fighting man which begins tugging at its chains. And a good officer must learn early on how to keep the beast under control, both in his men and himself.”
Mogelson deals with the first part, but he makes absolutely no effort at all to understand the second part and how critical it is to the institution he attacks. That is, “good officer[s]” and NCOs do keep control of it and they comprise the vast majority of the leadership in our military. That’s why the military spends so much time and effort training them to do so.
Mogelson is reduced to using the Philippine insurrection and My Lai, two isolated examples decades apart as some sort of proof of his premise. They are, instead, outliers. As was Abu Ghraib. There are always going to be bad people found in good institutions. We see bad cops – but we don’t think all policemen are bad nor do we pretend that law enforcement as a whole deserves blanket condemnation. We realize that with any organization of size which deals in a deadly business that there may be some bad people who we will have to weed out at some point or another.
However, Mogelson, via sociologist Stjepan Mestrovic, rejects that premise:
If we lack a sense of collective responsibility for these more recent war crimes, Mestrovic blames this on our readiness to believe that such occasional iniquities are aberrations perpetrated by a derelict few, rather than the inevitable result of institutional failures and, more generally, the nature of the conflicts in which we are engaged.
Institutional failures? A military that fights the cleanest wars imaginable, does everything in its power to avoid collateral damage, demands that its leadership monitor and control that so-called “beast” by being totally involved and leading from the front. A military that has fought like no other military has ever fought in history is an institutional failure?
Yeah, it was 40 years ago too according to these experts. Except it wasn’t.
Welcome to my world of those long gone days of the Viet Nam era when exactly this sort of nonsense was written about Viet Nam and it’s vets. And, if you read the comments to this story, you’ll find “mission accomplished” is appropriate:
These men and women return to abuse and often kill innocent people stateside. Their minds are permanently mangled.
The United States military is not protecting us but putting every US citizen in grave danger from the killing robots they have created..
END the military. We will all be safer.
In sum, the military’s purpose in training young men and women is to twist, destroy, and pervert basic human decency, empathy and consideration of other human beings– everything that most likely his or her family has also strived to cultivate in him or her– in order to serve the aims of empire.
Thus, the military is essentially an evil institution.
The old meme is resurfacing and gaining some traction. As I said way back then, “never again”.
The military is both an honorable profession and a extraordinarily necessary one. Its members are not “victims” of some evil institution. They’re not robots. They’re not “killing machines” who come home to “abuse and often kill innocent people stateside”. The purpose of our military isn’t now nor has it ever been to “pervert basic human decency”. It’s to do a necessary and often distasteful and dangerous job for the BENEFIT of those back home – for their safety and freedom.
Ironically the NYT publishes this garbage just after some hard men heroically risked their lives in a daring raid to kill a mass-murdering terrorist who struck the very city they print this in.
This is the thanks they get.
Short version? Two words: Eric Holder. Or one word if you prefer: circus.
Here’s Sen. Jeff Sessions questioning Holder yesterday trying to get a little clarity on a particular subject, i.e. if there is a presumption that terrorists would be tried in civilian courts:
“My question to you fundamentally is every law enforcement officer involved out there, every military person involved out there needs to know what the policy is,” Sessions said. “So, is the policy that they [captured terrorists] would presumptively be tried in civilian court?”
Holder, citing the president himself, said there is a presumption of that captured terrorists would be tried in civilian courts.
“As I said, the archived speech that the president made was that there is a presumption,” Holder said. “It is not an irrebutable presumption that cases go to the civilian court with regard to the Miranda issue, but I think we have demonstrated hundreds of times, hundreds of times, that we can get actionable intelligence, while at the same time prosecuting people in jail for really extended periods of time.”
Of course Holder leaves himself some wiggle room, but it is clear he holds civilian courts to be superior to military tribunals. That, for some misbegotten reason, he believes justice can be best served in a civilian court regardless of any external concerns. And finally, people who’ve committed an act of war against the United States deserve all the rights reserved for citizens of the United States, even if the act occurred out of the US and they’re not citizens (obviously I withdraw the point if they are US citizens committing acts of terror in the US – the point is our Constitution guarantees their rights – not any rights of foreign nationals committing acts of terror/war).
It makes absolutely no sense to me. It demonstrates a bias that is both arrogant and dangerous. It also has little to do with “justice”. So, given that Holder is our AG and someone I have absolutely no confidence in legally or otherwise, I certainly am glad, frankly, that a couple of rounds found their way into the cranium of OBL. Imagine the three-ring-circus Holder and crew would have tried to put on had we captured him alive.
BTW, anyone know what “irrebutable” means?
If you’re a political junkie, then you’ll be interested in this new voter typology that the Pew Research Center has put together describing how the voting population is now configured:
The description of each of these is as follows:
The most visible shift in the political landscape since Pew Research’s previous political typology in early 2005 is the emergence of a single bloc of across-the-board conservatives. The long-standing divide between economic, pro-business conservatives and social conservatives has blurred. Today, Staunch Conservatives take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues – on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns. Most agree with the Tea Party and even more very strongly disapprove of Barack Obama’s job performance. A second core group of Republicans – Main Street Republicans – also is conservative, but less consistently so.
On the left, Solid Liberals express diametrically opposing views from the Staunch Conservatives on virtually every issue. While Solid Liberals are predominantly white, minorities make up greater shares of New Coalition Democrats – who include nearly equal numbers 0f whites, African Americans and Hispanics – and Hard-Pressed Democrats, who are about a third African American. Unlike Solid Liberals, both of these last two groups are highly religious and socially conservative. New Coalition Democrats are distinguished by their upbeat attitudes in the face of economic struggles.
Independents have played a determinative role in the last three national elections. But the three groups in the center of the political typology have very little in common, aside from their avoidance of partisan labels. Libertarians and Post-Moderns are largely white, well-educated and affluent. They also share a relatively secular outlook on some social issues, including homosexuality and abortion. But Republican-oriented Libertarians are far more critical of government, less supportive of environmental regulations, and more supportive of business than are Post-Moderns, most of whom lean Democratic.
Disaffecteds, the other main group of independents, are financially stressed and cynical about politics. Most lean to the Republican Party, though they differ from the core Republican groups in their support for increased government aid to the poor. Another group in the center, Bystanders, largely consign themselves to the political sidelines and for the most part are not included in this analysis.
On reflection, I think it is a pretty fair description of the electorate as it stands today. Pew’s article contains links to previous typologies it has published, this being their latest. The obvious point, after reviewing this, is that politicians of today must somehow satisfy their core constituencies but be able to reach out to the “independents” in a meaningful way in order to garner their votes. And, if you read the descriptions of each, there are plenty of clues as to how to do that. But there are also some possible show stoppers.
I don’t really have a particular problem with the breakdown of voting groups but – and this is just a sense – I’m not particularly convinced by their numbers. For example, I have difficulty believing that “Solid Liberals” outnumber “Staunch Conservatives”. That’s just not been the trend, and in my opinion, it is even less likely given the condition of our economy and our government’s finances.
Some key findings of the study:
More than in the recent past, attitudes about government separate Democrats from Republicans, and it is these beliefs that are most correlated with political preferences looking ahead to 2012.
Couple that with:
The GOP still enjoys an intensity advantage, which proved to be a crucial factor in the Republicans’ victories in the 2010 midterm elections.
Obviously that’s a perishable commodity that can be lost at any time.
Now add the independents and their attitudes:
Looking through that list, you can see that the “Libertarian” group has a natural affinity for the right as do most “Disaffected”. Even the “Post Moderns” group up in the majority “Moderate” area and not the liberal area. But look at what one could consider “wedge” issues and how they line up. It is all over the place and many of the answers are diametrically opposed to their supposed natural alliances. Probably the most disturbing to me is the “Business corporations make too much profit.”
Anyway, that’s a pretty heavy mine field politically speaking. But you’re also looking at (if you accept Pew’s numbers) 34% of the voting population – the obvious difference in any election.
By the way, click on over to the study and look at the comparison between the GOP and Democratic groups and how they answer the “Business corporations make too much profit”. What you’ll see on that particular issue are opportunities for the GOP among New Coalition Dems and for the Democrats among “Main St. Republicans”. On the latter, I’m not sure how “main street” of a Republican you are if you think that to be true about business corporations, but there it is.
Finally, some other findings to chew on. They illustrate the complexity of the electorate and the difficulty in attempting to address various issues:
- Majorities in most typology groups say the country will need both to cut spending and raise taxes to reduce the budget deficit. Staunch Conservatives are the exception – 59% say the focus should only be on cutting spending.
- Core GOP groups largely prefer elected officials who stick to their positions rather than those who compromise. Solid Liberals overwhelmingly prefer officials who compromise, but the other two Democratic groups do not.
- For Staunch Conservatives it is still “Drill, Baby, Drill” – 72% say that expanding exploration for and production of oil, coal and natural gas is the more important energy priority. In most other typology groups, majorities say developing alternatives is more important.
- Republican groups say the Supreme Court should base rulings on its interpretation of the Constitution “as originally written.” Democratic groups say the Court should base its rulings on what the Constitution means today.
- Main Street Republicans and GOP-oriented Disaffecteds are far more likely than Staunch Conservatives or Libertarians to favor a significant government role in reducing childhood obesity.
- Solid Liberals are the only typology group in which a majority (54%) views democracy as more important than stability in the Middle East. Other groups say stable governments are more important or are divided on this question.
- New Coalition Democrats are more likely than the other core Democratic groups to say that most people can make it if they are willing to work hard.
- More Staunch Conservatives regularly watch Fox News than regularly watch CNN, MSNBC and the nightly network news broadcasts combined.
- There are few points on which all the typology groups can agree, but cynicism about politicians is one. Majorities across all eight groups, as well as Bystanders, say elected officials lose touch with the people pretty quickly.
- Staunch Conservatives overwhelmingly want to get tougher with China on economic issues. Across other typology groups, there is far more support for building stronger economic relations with China.
- The allied airstrikes in Libya divide Democratic groups. Solid Liberals and New Coalition Democrats favor the airstrikes, but about as many Hard-Pressed Democrats favor as oppose the operation.
- Michelle Obama is popular with Main Street Republicans, as well as most other typology groups. But Staunch Conservatives view the first lady unfavorably – and 43% view her very unfavorably.
With all of that, though, here is the key to the next election:
The new typology finds a deep and continuing divide between the two parties, as well as differences within both partisan coalitions. But the nature of the partisan divide has changed substantially over time.
More than in the recent past, attitudes about government separate Democrats from Republicans, and it is these beliefs that are most correlated with political preferences looking ahead to 2012. [emphasis mine]
Those are the attitudes that the politicos are going to have to develop, sell and exploit in 2012. However wins will have done the best job of either selling big government or smaller government and all that goes with each. Or you’re going to see an attempt to co-opt “small government” by the left by attempting to do things like drastically reducing military spending and raising taxes on the rich and business while hardly touching entitlements and calling the result “small government” as “demanded” by the electorate.
It is going to be a very interesting political season. As interesting as it will be to see who ends up representing GOP hopes in the presidential election, it will be even more interesting – at least to me – to see how Obama plans to run on his record this time. Because he finally has too.
Yup, we’re right in the middle of the old Chinese saying “may you live in interesting times”. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure the saying necessarily meant those interesting times were good times.