Saturday, December 18, 2010

War and Remembrance

If I had a child who wanted to be a teacher,
I would bid him Godspeed as if he were going to war.
For indeed the war against prejudice, greed
and ignorance is eternal
-- James Hilton

The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure
conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness.
They recognized the significance of man's spiritual nature,
of his feelings and of his intellect . . .
They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs,
their thoughts, their emotions, and their sensations.
They conferred as against the government
the right to be left alone -- the most comprehensive of rights
and the right most valued by civilized men
-- Supreme Court Justice Brandeis (Olmstead v. the U.S.)

A nation of warriors and fanatics,
marching forward in perfect unity,
all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans,
perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting -
three hundred million people all with the same face
--1984, George Orwell

The Medals of Honor since 2001 have been about loss and failure, moreso than conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty which they are meant to recognize. Although the medals recognize gallantry, the gallantry is to no end. The reality is the futility and conspicuous waste of young, vibrant American fighting men, to no discernable purpose.

Of all of the Phony War on Terror (
PWOT ©) MOH's, only SFC Paul Smith's is a validation of soldierly skills, leadership, devotion to duty and the subsequent validation of soldierly valor. Of all of the PWOT MOH's to date, only SFC Smith's represented the completion of a mission, albeit at the loss of the soldier's life.

Smith's sacrifice saved a collection point for wounded soldiers, and SFC Smith's loss was for the greater good.
All of the subsequent medals represent the failure of arms. The medals have gone to sacrificial lambs throwing themselves on grenades to save their comrades. This valor ignores the validity of their sacrifice.

The MOH's of the Special Operations Command went to Michael Mansoor, a SEAL that self immolized, and Murphy and Miller, who both symbolized exceptional courage dedicated to the completion of their assigned missions.

However, courage has become institutionalized as a symbol of defeat and frustration within a military that has become devoid of success.
Our losses have become our victories; our medals symbolize a devotion to combat that has no end point and no military significance.

Historically, the MOH was a representation of hope and duty that led to victory; it has now come to signify self-immolation and meaningless death. It is not that heroic actions are not occurring -- certainly Pararescue Technical Sergeant
John Chapman on Roberts Ridge (Operation Anaconda) should have received the MOH, without question. Yet despite these episodes of unmistakable heroism, fully recognized or not, the nagging question remains.

Our medals have become our Cassandras.


  1. jim,

    I think you can amend your first statement to read "since 1972." The MOH's in Somalia fall under the definition of "loss or failure."

    Of course, with your definition "The reality is the futility and conspicuous waste of young, vibrant American fighting men, to no discernable purpose,", maybe you should discount Vietnam MOH's as well seeing how that war was a bit of a waste as well. Am I misunderstanding your point?


  2. bg,
    As always , it's nice to hear from you, even if you are pushing me into a beaten zone.
    The Mog moh's are exactly like the pwot medals.
    If the opn in mog had proper assets , and utilised worst case planning, then a sacrificial effort would not have been reqd. This does not dengrate the heroism, it's a simple observation.
    I'm at a point in my evolution that i see all awards as a waste, and the valor that they reflect.
    Did we need to fight the Civil War?
    Span Am, WW1/WW2/Korea/RVN and all the wars after the world turned camoflauge?
    My point is especially salient in the pwot , and mog as you point out.
    Nobody but a meth smoking fool believes that anything good will come out of these phony, bullshit feel good wastes of good people on both sides of the equation.
    As for the RVN medals- my underwear were made in RVN, so i reckon the sacrifice did benefit someone- even if it was a communist sweat shop worker.
    If the US ever put as much emphasis on life as we do on death, then we wouldn't need to even discuss this stuff.
    OK, i'm in the kill zone.

  3. bg,
    Now here's my soldier response-all valor used to be rewarded with medals. My previous reply was as a weak knee old man bordering on senility.
    Historically men have sacrificed their lives by various means, to include jumping on grenades. This usually led to a bigger picture , and the sacrifice led somewhere. Anywhere is better than nowhere, but at least something of value endured.
    In my world view i cannot possibly believe this to be true in the pwot.
    To answer the rvn moh question-most of the medals made military sense at some level.
    Remember that some folks believed that we were fighting world communism, so the military sacrifices were justifiable and deemed legitimate. Also remember ,as shaky as it was we were invited to enter their fray.At least that was the cover story.
    Back to the original essay- i find it hard to even call SFC Smith's MOH is /was on the plus side of the journal, but i stretch the point.
    I also know that being an AD soldier you cannot agree with my viewpoint. I understand what your reply will be before you compose your reply.

  4. jim,

    Thanks for the reply, I always appreciate the perspective and the chance to argue mine. Let's see if I fulfill your prophecy about my reply. But first I will say, I do agree with you, I don't consider any deaths resulting from this war (Iraq, later Afg) as being on the plus side of the journal. IMO, 90% of what we are spending in blood and treasure isn't aimed at the true threat and is therefore being wasted.

    1. I find it interesting that you consider the war in RVN to be much different than the PWOT. I think you can find some decent comparisons between the war on terror and the war on communism. I probably won't be wearing underwear made in Iraq or Afg anytime soon, but you can bet your ass I will be using some of the oil, or the lithium.

    2. When you say, "Remember that some folks believed that we were fighting world communism, so the military sacrifices were justifiable and deemed legitimate," surely you recognize that many people believe the same thing about the PWOT. It is all relative.

    3. While, from an economist perspective, I feel we are spending more resources than we would risk losing if we did nothing at all, I still feel that today's perceived threat is much more real than the perceived threat of communism in the 60's and 70's. I don't think that Russians wanted to blow up the world, or seek world domination any more than the US did. While I truly believe that there are some (albeit very few) who wish the greatest harm against our nation and our interests, and if given the means, would execute that harm.

    4. We can argue those who wish to do us harm don't really have the capability to do so. Fair enough. But it is hard to say with any certainty that this lack of effective capability isn't a result of our "pressure on the network."

    5. From my perspective, I think it is important to separate the "War on Terror" and the Invasion of Iraq and continued occupation of Afg. Two different lines of operations (although absolutely intertwined and counterproductive). One war you see, one war you don't. One war has been, IMO, a blundering waste, and the other, IMO, has so far been a success at a very low relative cost. (note, all of the MOH's have come from the prior)

    I know my logic stream has gone way off course, but to bring things back to the original topic, I don't see actions deserving MOH over the past decade any less than those in RVN. In both cases, those who sent the troops overseas, and many of the troops themselves, believed in the cause, and died or sacrificed for it. A guy who jumped on a grenade in RVN is just as much as a loss as a guy who jumped on a grenade in Fallujah. Both saved comrades. Both succeeded in their individual mission, despite the fact that the overall mission of both may be judged by history to be a waste of resources.

  5. bg,
    I largely agree with your points.
    Our differences are semantic and of a slight degree of difference. We do differ on item 5, but words won't bring us to agreement.
    My prediction of what you would say was off. I stand corrected.
    I didn't know that there is lithium in underwear.

  6. I think that as a matter of policy (how about that, policy), we military guys in particular should endeavor to keep the politics out of the medals arena. The way I see it is it, "hey, Snuffy was a soldier in a war that he may not have especially agreed with. So what. If he did something in that war that stands out as a particular valorous act, then I say he deserves recognition, "good" war or not." So, Ranger, I'm going to suggest that you leave the politics out of it. We are soldiers and we do what we do for any number of reasons; if the exigencies of the situation seem to demand that old "over and above the call of duty," then I say, the guy who rises to the moment deserves recognition.

    I've always had issues with the MOH, even more in these latest PWOT expeditions. It's interesting that the MOH in recent years seems to be reserved only for dead guys. I've gotta think that some guys who survived a particular action might have deserved an MOH. I've also noted a paucity of DSC awards. And I'm thinking it may be due to the kind of "wars" in which we're now engaged. From my outsider perch, it seems that relatively few engagements offer an opportunity for an Audie Murphy moment. We had lots of such moments in Vietnam because we engaged in numerous fixed engagements with serious numbers of combatants on each side. Iraq and Afghanistan? Not very much of that, it seems. And the KIA totals bear me out: what, 6K in nine years in the PWOT? Check Vietnam, Korea or WW2.

    BG: Your thoughts on Vietnam are noted, but it's very clear that your perspective on Vietnam has been formed through the telescope of time. Not your fault, you have the advantage of knowing how the story ended; we lived the story. To even think that Al Qaeda or world wide terrorism can equate to the threats we perceived from the Soviet Union, China and what was viewed as a serious worldwide movement against Western civilization is to have missed history. You might recall that we'd only recently actually fought a war against China and that China and the USSR were actively supporting North Vietnam. Today's soldiers worry about IEDs in roads and being picked off by one-by-one by admittedly pretty good insurgents. I'm sorry, BG, but to equate terrorist cells with the Warsaw Pact, the NVA and the PLA doesn't pass muster with me. You have the advantage of hindsight. We didn't and we fought a real war.

    I think to we need to keep our wars in perspective.

  7. Publius,
    Your comments and recommendations are duly noted.
    I can abandon my political viewpoint and still come out with the same comments from a military standard.
    Tactics and AWARDS must take you forward, and not just be mish mash , feel gooditis. The same is true of art, literature and anything else we hold as good in society.
    As for your analysis of RVN, i concur completely, especially after being in the EUCOM warroom in the 80's.The Warsaw boys had nucs and zsu's forward, and were't looking to buy/steal or improvise. Our SF missions were 450 km fwd of the flot- that's a bitch compARED TO ......
    Can u believe that we actually lived in that MAD world?
    How quickly we forget.
    Thanks, i always appreciate your mentoring.

  8. Publius,

    "I think to we need to keep our wars in perspective."

    Probably not possible, where I am emotionally and physically invested in my war, and you guys are invested in yours. Hard for any of us to keep a truly objective perspective. And as you state, it is easy to judge a war with the hindsight of history, while today's war is hard to judge because all the 2nd and 3rd order effects have yet to completely unfold.

    But fair enough, hindsight does play a significant role in my opinion of the Cold War. Although I was young, some of my earliest memories as a kid did involve playing guns with my friends defending against invading Russians. But that was it, a few movies about nuclear wars, Red Dawn, etc.

    I would agree that the perceived threat of the Cold War, nuclear annihilation, was pretty damn scary. But I also argue that the perceived threat of planes coming down, subway bombings and some asshole getting a hold of a small nuclear device is pretty damn scary too. A threat that still feels real as the memory of 9/11 fades. You can't deny the power of real memories vs. an unrealized threat.

    As I argued with jim, I reject the notion that wars in Iraq and the current actions in Afg are the same war as the war (for lack of a better term) against global extremist networks (98% of which is happening outside of Iraq/Afg).

    One war is fought by conventional forces on a non-conventional battlefield, and the results are less than tangible and most results seems to be counterproductive. I fought that one and I am done with it. Another war is being fought through interagency cooperation, strong law enforcement ties and partnerships with other governments and is being fought in the most unconventional methods possible. This is the war that I am fighting, and, IMO, is actually having positive effects. I recognize that my day to day knowledge of the metrics of these efforts brings a certain bias.

    So I ask you guys to at least consider the idea that we are fighting two different wars right now. Iraq and Afg in one hand, and a law enforcement style, interagency led (where DoD is a small but key player) network disruption in the other. Two different wars. (oh, and there is a third effort going on as well that is completely unrelated, but that is another story all together).

  9. jim and Publius,

    thanks for the dialogue on this topic, by the way. I value this site for these exchanges and the perspective you guys bring. (of course, this statement goes out to all the patrons of the Pub).

    As I stated above, I know there is inherit bias in my day to day job. I greatly appreciate any and all attempts to beat it out of me.

  10. BG,
    I acknowledge and accept your repeated point of 2 diff wars. As you know i do not accept the validity of either war EXCEPT THE interagency law enforcement measures to reduce/eliminate the criminal network.I don't buy any phony war as a substitute for legal response v a criminal organization, and frankly as one SF to another, i find it hard to believe that you actually believe the rhetoric. V AQ. I think it's safe to say that we understand the others view. In addition- we are not arguing, but rather discussing these issues.
    I must amend my previous cmt to you.
    I have not politicized the medals/wars/pwot. That was done by our gov't,and all i do is illuminate the elephant in the room- he's there and all i do is flip the light switch to the ON POSITION. You say i politicize the event , and the govt forces propaganda down our throats, which you did not mention in your reply.
    I have decided NOT TO OWN your idea that i've politicized a political war devoid of military logic or benefit.

  11. bg,
    I must add that i think the fears that caused the pwot are rather weak kneed and limp dicked.
    Fear of another 9-11 etc are rather a weak brew, and strike me as weak sister garbage.
    Just my thought before bed.

  12. Ranger, I would expect nothing less from you. Although I think you're kind of missing the point I'm trying to make, that doesn't bother me one bit. In fact, nothing about you bothers me.

    Bg, nice thoughtful response. You've done a good job on this thread. But I think we'll agree to disagree here, though. "Planes coming down, subway bombings or a small nuke?" C'mon man. That's small change. That's what warrants a national security budget (DoD, Homeland Security, Justice and all of the strap hangers) of close to a trillion dollars? The math side of me calculates that at $1,000,000,000,000.

    As Ranger terms it, it is a phony war. Phony to the max. Every dollar spent in Iraq was wasted. The dollars spent in Afghanistan have been and are being wasted. And then you tell us that your endeavor in Afghanistan "is being fought through interagency cooperation, strong law enforcement ties and partnerships with other governments and is being fought in the most unconventional methods?" Excuse me, Bg, but if what you say is true, why is that there are more than $100K CONVENTIONAL troops on the ground in Afghanistan? Plus even more contractors. I'm sorry, my friend, but from the cheap seats, all Afghanistan looks like is the mother of all boondoggles.

    These "wars" are corrupt enterprises.

  13. Publius,
    I always enjoy your efforts to mentor a lost Ranger.No sarcasm intended- a real cmt.
    I know i only have 1 ball left, but i wonder if 2 balls would man me up enuf to understand the rationale for the wars, as expressed in this thread?
    I understand what you are saying, but i fear we always talk past one another.

  14. Publius,

    In this statement, you completely misunderstood me, so forgive me if I was cryptic or unclear:

    "The dollars spent in Afghanistan have been and are being wasted. And then you tell us that your endeavor in Afghanistan "is being fought through interagency cooperation, strong law enforcement ties and partnerships with other governments and is being fought in the most unconventional methods?"

    No, no, no. The other fight I am referring to is NOT Afg or Iraq! I thought I clearly stated those were both counterproductive. To be clear on my position, Iraq and Afg are wastes of resources, a distraction and counterproductive.

    The other fight, the interagency, law enforcement fight, is the stuff going on outside of Iraq and Afg, with no standing armies and NOT under DoD lead. Yemen, Somalia, Homeland, Europe and a few other places. It is all connected. And it has been very successful, whether you see it or not. But I argue that these actions, no matter how successful, will be never ending until we leave Iraq and Afg as theses distractions steal resources, hurt our credibility and increase the threat against our nation at every level.

    "That's what warrants a national security budget (DoD, Homeland Security, Justice and all of the strap hangers) of close to a trillion dollars? The math side of me calculates that at $1,000,000,000,000."

    I 100% agree. My point was about the "perceived" threat, not about the overreaction to it. I argue that politically today, for right or wrong, politicians and many people are just as afraid of terrorist attacks as they were afraid of the Soviet menace. Stop using logic, it is all emotional. Emotionally, the fear of terrorism is no different from the fear of Communism.

    If you are a politician today, and you allow another 9/11, you fail. If you allow a small attack that kills a few people, and costs a couple of thousands of dollars, you fail. People won't say, "well, it doesn't make sense to spend $1 Billion to prevent an attack that costs a few lives and a few thousand in damage, these are ACCEPTABLE LOSSES" (such as a metro bombing). Nope, people will say, "How dare you not do more to protect us!" Political opponents will attack, as will Fox News.

    That is why, IMO, we spend billions and overreact. Politics. Not fear of an attack, but politicians fear of the consequences (on their career) of the attacks.


    don't give up on me, I am catching up with you. I still think we are more in agreement than you think. I know my posts are inconsistent, there are times I take the DA because I have to make the argument that I hear from peers daily.