Thursday, May 13, 2010

Even Zombies Get the Blues

--A Good Taleban, Peray (Thailand)

Well, you know I need a steam shovel

mama to keep away the dead

I need a dump truck

mama to unload my head

--From A Buick 6
, Bob Dylan

This is about key terrain, Counterinsurgency, hearts & minds and all the dithering which we call asymmetrical warfare. Call it an exercise in
everything old is new again.

One day in Vietnam, Camp Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Howard Glock (he of unremitting chart-love infamy), instructed me to periodically sweep our garbage dump, which was outside our perimeter. Our camp had a dedicated dump into which we threw our old batteries, discarded oil, contaminated oil and other sundries.

The locals habitues gleaned goodies from the trash, and this LTC Glock could not countenance.

Keep in mind before we proceed that we were a Special Forces camp with Special Operations Forces -- supposedly the go-to guys for Hearts & Minds. Keep also in mind that neither the U.S. Camp Commander or XO had the Special Forces flash (the equivalent of today's tab.) Both LTC Glock and Major Passalaigue were awarded "paper flashes" by virtue of being assigned to the unit, fairly standard for the period as SF was hard-put for warm bodies.

In a spirit of charity, it is possible that real "flashed" Commanders at other camps shared LTC Glock's and Maj. Passalaigue's Scrooge-like mentality. But as a young man who bought into the H & M creed, Ranger felt he was witnessing an aberration.

For the LTC and Major had no interest in life outside of the camp. They never visited the villages or saw how the people lived. Our efforts in SOG (Studies and Observations Group) covered the U.S. war effort. They had no positive benefits for the citizens of the supposed Republic of Vietnam.

Both Glock and Passalaigue loved their charts, briefings, clean clothes, warm food and water, and surely these two always made meal call when possible. Certainly neither spent a discernible iota of energy pondering the reality of the impoverished denizens plundering our garbage. Their only thought was to stop it, thereby denying the Vietcong access to our valuable toss offs.

Whether the VC
used our garbage is debatable, but it seems incontrovertible that the people desperately needed the scraps mined from the castoffs of our bevy. This affluence was wondrous, especially considering we were a unit at war; our lives were fat city, indeed, and the surrounding Vietnamese saw this without too much effort.

But for Ranger, it seemed that here we were fighting Communism and pretending to care about the people of the Republic of Vietnam, yet we wouldn't let them root about in our garbage for salvage. It seemed a mission disconnect, then and now.

This dump was key terrain for their lives in an inexplicable war, and my leaders who were supposed to be the best in the Army failed to grasp or even acknowledge the point. As a young officer there was no way to get my point across.

Related to the dump issue was the PIR issue. We received a large shipment of compromised PIR's (Provisional Indigenous Rations) -- precursors to the LRRP rations used by U.S. troops. These PIR's had been chewed through by rats, which had left droppings in the food. A problem, but a soluble one.

Unfortunately, the LTC discovered that the camp had a 2 1/2 ton truck filled with rat-shit infested food before Ranger could handle the problem. His predictable solution was to destroy the food so the indigenous could not retrieve any of it from the dump. Ranger confesses that in direct opposition to instructions, these rations ended up in the 'ville; we traded upholstery work for our Jeeps in return.

The point is, people living in mud-floor huts were happy to eat this food, and this thought often crosses my fat and dumb-ass mind. This is the point we do not get when we disingenuously claim that H & M are our objective.

To keep the people from these rations I would have had to have thrown a Willy Pete grenade on them to incinerate the mess, and to what end? A waste of provisions and materiel.

By the end of my tour, I disliked or hated Glock and Passalaigue as much as they hated me. the only difference was, they wrote my OERs. To this day Ranger still has the taste of rat shit amongst his overflowing memories of chicken-shit duties.

Hearts and minds are never won by rifles hanging at your side. It is more closely related to three hots and a cot.

Since we
were fighting Communism the thought often crossed my mind regarding what
they would have done had the tables been turned. But even that thought is irrelevant since the point is it is what we do as American soldiers that is relevant.

We did not get it in RVN, and we do not get it in Iraq or AFPAK.

An old retired Infantry NCO recently asked me why I hated the Army so bad. I didn't answer him, but this story gives a hint.


  1. jim,

    thanks for the post, it has all the beginnings of a Vietnam version of Catch 22. That would be a story I want to read. I will have to relate some of my Catch 22 experiences from Iraq some time. I would have to start at the beginning, where we laughed and cheered the Iraqis and they tore their city apart looting it to the bone. We called it, "re-distrobution of wealth", however, we didn't have to foresight to call it "future CMO projects" (CMO = civil military operations)

  2. Speaking of hearts and minds...

    10 years ago, the UK and the USA were developing a poppy fungus.

    Now, there is a poppy fungus outbreak in Helmand and Kandahar.


  3. BG,
    I hope we can have a beer someday and tell our tales.It'd actually be a hoot to record it and use it as a short story.Then and now.generation apart.
    I would like to write about RVN, but if you notice i seldom do so. I have a blockage in that grid square.
    This memory slapped me when i was watching an old music video.
    My point is that we fought for Khe San , 881,and all the other useless hilltops and the war was lost in a trash pile. Literally and figuratively.

  4. BG,
    Every time i fired a mortar round or expended a belt of linked i was redistributing the wealth.

  5. Ranger, one thing I like about your posts is that you evoke the real nitty-gritty of life in the Suck. When I read you, I can almost smell Vietnam. Ugh. Rice paddies, shit burning, humidity so thick you can literally see and taste it, rotten shit in the jungle, fetid smells from rotting animal carcasses, the miasma of death hanging over everything. Just like South Carolina.

    And then there are your two friends here. Everybody knows these guys. Only the branches, units and era change. They're what we call "Regular Army Assholes." They're found everywhere, these petty, vindictive little men who for some reason always seem to enjoy the favor of the brass. Shortly before I retired, I was BSing with an old friend who'd somehow gotten some stars. Asked him why he put up with (named asshole). Response: "Somebody's got to be an asshole. The system runs on assholes." Truer words were never spoken.

    And, no, we will never get it. The military in particular is a young person's game and it kind of seems like you never really GET IT until you're too old to be on active duty. That's probably good: imagine if everybody on active duty woke up one fine morning and GOT IT. Then imagine if they gave a war and nobody came.

  6. jim-

    Nice post. After reading your and Publius's comments I couldn't help but think that we seem to be better at "cold wars" than we are at "hot" ones . . .

  7. Publius said:
    "....the real nitty-gritty of life in the Suck."

    Ehrrr...., I'm not sure but I believe "The Suck" was first coined as a Marine Corps expression (signifying, of course, ITSELF.

    Perhaps we need "mike," (small m), to comment on same (Since as a former Enlisted/Officer, he doth carry more weight in Opinion/Truth than your 'Umble narrator). However, there is no hatred comparable to that of the grunts of I Corps in VN to any other entities (Stake Holders....for you corporate pigs), to the Institutional leadership of campaigns therein. If you wish me to prove it by a barrage of facts, so be it, just say the fucking word, then prepare to cry "Uncle."

    Otherwise, I agree with the closing statements.

  8. Publius,
    I jacked off so often in the shit house that i now get a hard on when i smell a fart.
    I wish you hadn't mentioned shit.
    I have no impulse control lately.
    I often said that dealing with Maj P was like having a wet dream- you felt sticky and very unsatisfied or empty afterwards. Plus your underwear stuck to your four skin.
    Unlike the clap , a dose of penicillin wouldn't make Maj P disappear.Of the two i preferred a dose of the black clap.

  9. Fasteddiez,
    I would believe that the SUCK is a USMC derivative.
    The prime clue is that it's one syllable.

  10. Seydlitz,
    As a strategic thinking lover that i know you to be, i must say that i believe that the cold and hot wars of America are devoid of reason or logic and thrive on ignorant leadership.IMHO.
    Same for ALL wars. This i'm believing more every day as we march to the drum beat of a Nobel peace monger.
    I could rationalize that Bush was just brain dead, but what excuse does O have?

  11. Publius,
    I believe that the only reason that guys like the Maj. didn't get back shot was that the worst thing that you could do to him was to let him live.

  12. Jim:

    Why complicate things with multiple syllabic Bull-Shite????

    An original, yet irreverent, description of the 60's era " This Action Army wants to join you," confab, would be appreciated, regardless of the syllabic barrage. This is only submitted as a reference to originality, (on bended knee, of course).

  13. Actually, Seydlitz, we're real good at hot wars. We can kill us a bunch of IPs like you can't believe. Why not? We've got more experience than the rest of the world combined. We be some death-dealing MoFos. Remember the guy in 6th grade who was already six-foot tall and weighed 200. The bully? The guy who was still reading at an 6th grade level in 12th grade? The guy you saw ten years later working at McDonald's? That's us: "We've only had nine years in Afghanistan. Just give us a few more years and another trillion dollars and we'll figure this shit out."

    My friend Fast Eddie is correct about how "The Suck" is indeed a popular term amongst Uncle Sam's Misbegotten Children. But I don't recall where the Marines took out a patent or anything. We used it, too. Maybe we stole it. But maybe it was the Marines who stole it. You know you can't ever trust a Marine.

    And I will call your hatred of higher and raise you.

    Ranger, you're giving me waaaay too much information. Just remember, what happens in the Nam stays in the Nam.

  14. Sorry, but I don't see where we are good at "war", whereas you could argue that we are experts at "warfare". The grammar of warfare changes whereas the nature of war remains the same. Still warfare remains essentially organized "fighting" and that remains the same as well.

    Put another way, "warfare" is the how to of war, whereas "war" is the social interaction between opposed political communities, thus warfare is about destruction and punishment and the threat of such and war is about obtaining a political purpose. Warfare is not an end in itself, but a means.

    So, yes I agree that warfare is without purpose if the war goal is something that cannot be obtained by military means. Still since we are talking about a complex interaction, if the defender resists successfully, the war serves his purpose nonetheless.

    Our problem in Bush's (and now Obama's) wars has been that we are attempting to achieve political goals which are not achieveable by military means, the wars are incoherent from a strategic theory perspective, whereas in terms of warfare they continue on as long as we have the resources to continue to engage at the operational and tactical levels.

    One could argue that the purpose has been transformed due to this incoherance to one where the continuation of the wars themselves becomes the goal, "the continuation of narrow politics and economic interests by other means".

  15. Seydlitz,
    I would add that our political goals can't or won't be achieved by political means , either
    I find it hard to figure out what the political aims of all the belligerents in ww1 happened to be.
    I think that the PWOT and WW1 are linked by this commonality. Both were/are incomprehensible and could haqve been avoided with a little brain power applied.

  16. I don't think that WWI is incomprehensible, nor do I think the GWOT is.

    In regards to WWI, I think the main cause was the Franco-Russian alliance, followed by the weakening status of Austria-Hungary and finally the build up of the German Navy. You could throw in the Marxist view that market rivalry was a main cause of the war as well. Given the complex mix of problems it would have been very difficult to have avoided a disaster. Take away one and you still have the others.

    Germany in the center of Europe is the key player since no war without Germany is possible since she will not allow Austria to go down without a fight. So what to do?

    Britain must be kept neutral, so sign a naval treaty with Britain and provide concessions in Latin America (where Germany had many interests and assets) and focus on the Middle East/Ottoman Empire. Scrap the Schlieffen Plan and adopt a defensive strategy in the West, but an offensive strategy in the East. At the same time do anything to break up the Franco-Russian alliance. Russia is not really an enemy of Germany, at least not in 1914.

  17. Seydlitz,
    You miss my main point b/c i was not concise and clear.
    We are fighting a war or wars to achieve political ends, just as you state, but these ends can't be met politically either.
    In addition we never even tried to address the issue in a political manner.The invasion of AFGH and Irq both defy logic and certainly by passed or ignored any real efforts at diplomacy
    The same could be said for the 1st GW, there was no serious attempt to solve the problem politically.

  18. seydlitz,
    Regarding WW1 i do not accept your interpretation.
    I see it as an inter family squabble that could not, did not produce anything of value.
    There was nothing strategic that any belligerent could realistically achieve.
    All nations involved were designated losers.
    Even the winners were losers.

  19. You rattled my brain on this one Ranger. I remember my first trip to the dump in VN. I was a lowly PFC, lower than dog shit and at the bottom of the totem pole in the company and had to pull a KP shift. We went to the dump with the garbage and leftovers. The first thing I noticed was the swarms of flies. Then an old pappasan kicking the pop and beer cans and when he found one with something still in it he'd tip it up and drink it. Then we dumped the garbage and leftover food off the duce an a half and the cook incharge stood on the tailgate and pissed all over it infront of the vietnamese scrounging in the dump. Never forgot that image nor did I speak up as I was a confused NUG (new guy). The callous attitude towards the locals was not limited to those in command.

  20. jim-

    I don't believe in fate. We make our own "fate" every day and every little action we do changes what comes after. Still we do operate within a historical context and cannot escape that context, but rather have to take it as it is and hopefully shape it as best we can with our limited means.

    In 1914 every major country at war started with an offensive against their main enemy. The Austrians conducted two offensives. Nobody had much of a strategy, but they had plenty of doctrine. There was also the deep-seated fear that modern Europeans were too "soft" to accept the losses that modern warfare required, that the young men of 1914 didn't have the guts to "stick it out". If you don't believe me, research what the military experts from all the major powers where writing post Russo-Japanese war . . .

    There was little reason to worry on that account.

    "All nations involved were designated losers.
    Even the winners were losers." This was the view after the war, starting in the 1920s, but was not the view in 1914 or 1918. You may see it today as simply a "family squabble" or "useless bloodletting" but the participants at the time saw it as decisive for the future course of history. The tensions that were behind the war could not simply go away, but had to rectified.

  21. As to "losers", it's much more complex than that. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, the Baltic states all owe their initial independence to that war, although all were technically "losers" since the states to which they had formally (in part in the case of Yugoslavia) belonged had lost the war. Of course the Yugoslav experiment did not last either, nor is Prague the capital today of a united Czech-Slovak state.

    In many ways the First World War gave birth to the modern world.

  22. Seydlitz,
    WW1 gave birth to a very insecure modern world.
    Look at Balfour.

  23. "In 1914 every major country at war started with an offensive against their main enemy."

    Wrong, I meant to say every major country at war except Britain.

  24. jim-

    "A Peace to End All Peace".