We read of a very "bad" soldier, Lt. Col. Allen B. West of the 4 Infantry Division, who actually roughed up an Iraqi prisoner rather than allow his men to walk into an ambush.
Whatever the outcome, Colonel West may assume that his career is over. His successor will be a lot less inclined to conserve his own soldiers at the risk of his career now that it is obvious what his priorities should be.
My, my, how nasty war can be. Who would have guessed it would get this ugly? Who could know? Well, for starters, anybody that visits LRC on a regular basis. Read my archive and that of the other writers and see how regularly we warned of this. People who feel that war is simply "diplomacy by another means" (see Clauswitz) are quite frankly, insane.
Read this story. Read it and weep. Particularly you folks who supported this war. You folks who applauded when Bush declared victory and started that same old blathering about winning hearts and minds. You know who you are – you are the people who trembled at the thought of Saddam Hussein threatening the United States with various and sundry weapons that we prefer to exist only in our own arsenals.
Now we have real war going on every day and we have allowed a crazed group of neo-conservative warmongers to put our soldiers in an un-winnable situation. History shows us that it is next to impossible for an invading power to defeat a determined insurgency. But who reads history?
Tank heavy military forces are excellent for winning battles. They kill people and break things – ours are very good at it. (How I wish we'd defend our own borders with these troops!) What such men are not good at is containing an insurgency. Everyone in the world is aware of this, except our own leaders.
Now that Mr. Reality has showed up, as he always seems to, we are confronted by the true face of war and still trying to pretend that such things are merely an anomaly. The terminally naïve should look at General Eisenhower's instructions on dealing with German insurgents in World War II. They are remarkably similar to the German's own method of handling "terrorists." Hint – the trick was take hostages and destroy entire villages. You want to fight insurgents? That's one way.
Only the very foolish think wars can be fought with kid gloves, because we are somehow "better" than other countries. When war comes, the devil roars with laughter and the wicked prosper. The good men die or are like in Colonel West's case, put into impossible situations and then scape-goated because they use the only means available to them.
But then I'm not a fool – I know what war is and always expect the worst. As one of the devil's own generals put it, "War is hell."
When armed men confront each other as the tools of other men, far away from the action, the result is remarkably predictable. Except to our own leaders, who obtain their positions because of their "presence," "electability," and their ability to raise funds, as opposed to any particular qualifications for the job or moral character. If you doubt me look at what the left wing of the ruling party is offering as an alternative to the fumbler in chief.
The real question this incident raises for me is the one concerning the hypocrisy of the US government and worse, of the US Military.
Why? Because I say to you today that this soldier did nothing wrong. If there is an ambush waiting down the road and you have a prisoner that can keep your men from getting killed, I tell you that any real soldier would act as Colonel West did. I tell you that I would act as he did. You will not harm my comrades while it is within my power to stop you. That is ultimately, the creed of the soldier.
Did you really think these boys fight for God and country? That they give a s__t about "liberating" Iraq and finding those imaginary "weapons of mass destruction?" Soldiers fight for one reason and one reason only, ever: for the guy standing next to them.
I've studied military history for close to fifty years now and find a huge disparity in the stated motives of the generals, politicians and other big shots in contrast to those of the simple soldier. I noted recently how silly one of our better generals sounded in his memoirs, Jumpin' Jim Gavin in fact, of the legendary 82 Airborne.
Gavin wrote of the assault by two companies of the 504 Parachute Infantry against a German mechanized column in the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge). The Germans shot them to pieces with multiple 2cm AA guns mounted on halftracks. The few survivors broke through to cut down the Germans and capture the halftracks. Gavin wrote how the American paratroopers were triumphantly calling themselves the Armored Parachute Battalion.
Un huh. Try reading Ross Carter's classic "Devils in Baggy Pants" to see how the troopers really felt. There were so few left that any feeling of "triumph" would have to have been expressed in the field hospitals where most were too heavily drugged up to feel much of anything.
What had really happened is that our troops were caught with their pants down by German armor and did what they did because there were no other resources available. We traded lives for time. It happens. It's called war. It is not called "triumph" by anyone who lives through it.
If we look further into the history of our 82 Airborne in World War II we find they suffered well over 100% casualties. Those men are spinning in their graves as they consider the injustice of court martialing this Colonel who did what he did to save the lives of his boys.
In the Rhodesian Army we were once amused by the proliferation of posters exhorting us not to call a thirty thousand dollar air strike when a simple recon would do. Yeah we laughed. Who would call an air strike to take out a single sniper? Me, for one.
If you think that is funny try cowering in a ditch while somebody tries to punch holes in you with a high-powered Russian sniper rifle.
War is the dirtiest, most despicable conduct men have devised. It should never, ever, be considered unless the barbarians are literally at the gates.
To initiate war against another country and then expect the troops to play patty cake with insurgents is plain damn ridiculous. You wanted war – well you got it. Now deal with it and stop whining. This is what war is.
If you haven't guessed by now, I am angered beyond belief by this travesty of justice. So I am suggesting we carry justice to it's logical extreme.
I'm thinking of Country Joe MacDonald's classic "Superbird," which he wrote about our cartoonish president LBJ: "Send him back to Texas make him work on his ranch, yeah yeah!" I seem to recall that President Bush also owns a ranch in Texas…
But first, court martial him. Strip him of his pension. Publicly humiliate him. That is after all, what the Army is about to do to Colonel West, who fired a pistol next to the head of a prisoner to intimidate him into revealing the plans of an ambush in which the Colonel's men would have been decimated.
And what did Bush do? He fired a mighty big pistol at the head of all the Arab countries when he attacked Iraq. Iraq hadn't done anything to us – but it was there. It was vulnerable as well, and had few friends. The operation was of course nothing more than old-fashioned gunboat diplomacy. Thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of Americans died in this "flag raising" operation but the theory was that other lives would be saved by showing the Arabs that crossing the USA would bring down big trouble.
This has not worked. The War on Terrorism we are told, will continue until evil has been eradicated in the world. I can assure you, that only Christ's return will accomplish that laudable goal but President Bush continues to plod along, hoping for the best. For an excellent analysis of what really has happened with this war I refer you to Joseph Sobran's recent piece on LRC.
Anyway you look at it, President Bush used violence and intimidation to save American lives; that is his stated claim. Yet Bush has led us into an ambush, tied up our troops in a fruitless and expensive operation, while failing utterly to defend our own borders.
So let's compare him to Colonel West.
What did Colonel West do? Why he used violence and intimidation to save American lives. I might add that Colonel West didn't kill his victim and he was successful in thwarting the ambush that would have killed his men.
So which one of these two men shall we court martial?
October 31, 2003