Friday, October 9, 2015

Sign of the Times

It's been a pretty shitty weak to have served in Afghanistan, both from the perspective of seeing something crumble that you put effort into building and from the perspective of seeing your countrymen babble about something that are almost inherently clueless about, and lastly, from the perspective of seeing your government and institutions flail about wildly without consequence.

Still, I don't think what I've written above will be surprising to anyone who reads this and is pretty par for the course around here, so I figured I'd pose an alternative "sign of the times" and catch some opinions on the matter.

I recently read this article.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter will personally hang the Purple Heart around the neck of Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, the Carmichael, Calif., native hailed as a hero for having helped thwart a gunman’s rampage on a French train last month.
 This is interesting, I thought, why would this person be getting a Purple Heart?  Sure he's in the military, and yes he stopped a gunman and was injured, but I don't think that France is a warzone?
The 2015 Defense Authorization Act expanded Purple Heart eligibility to include service members killed or wounded in attacks by foreign terrorist organizations.
 Ah... so now being injured in an attack by foreign terrorists is grounds for Purple Hearts.  Traumatic Brain Injury is still a murky area but at least we can get this airman free license plates for his life.

Also from the article is this:
 Hasan’s August 2013 court martial, which sentences him to death, revealed his jihadist ties. The Pentagon initially classified his crime as an act of workplace violence, but under pressure from members of Congress and families of the victims, the military members who were wounded or killed by Hasan later received Purple Hearts.
So not actually foreign terrorists but foreign terrorist inspired or something.
Honestly, I don't know how I should feel about this.  All awards are political and I can imagine that getting a Purple Heart is a great way for our nation to show gratitude for sacrifice and for a politician to show he cares about those who serve.  I know mom was happy about this.  I'm sure everyone involved felt pretty good about getting this airman a medal in addition to whatever France gave him.

So I think I understand the positive.  I think the downside to giving out the first purple heart earned in France since the Nazis were around is that we're now transporting the war zone closer and closer to home for sentimental feel-good reasons.  But when is transporting a war zone closer to home ever a good idea?

Thoughts?  Am I just raining on this guys parade or am I justified in being creeped out by these political decisions?  Or both?

PF Khans


  1. Well, the war zone is already here. A drone pilot in Langley is clearly an active combatant and as such is a legitimate war target. Given the legal precedent established by bombing weddings and first responders after a bombing, etc, he remains a war target even after he leaves work to go pick up his young daughter at the local day care. All that is lacking, is an effective means of delivery.

    Still, the politics of responding to international terrorism is quite overwrought. The risk of dying by your staircase or bathtub is much higher than the risk of dying to Al Qaeda. I suppose that it is human nature to over-react to flashy but unlikely dangers compared to the serious but mundane ones. Too bad our political leaders can not respond rationally to the actual danger.

    The guaranteed knee-jerk response gives much power to terrorist organizations who can make us dance to their tune. This offends me.

    1. Ael,

      " A drone pilot in Langley is clearly an active combatant and as such is a legitimate war target. "
      While I agree that a drone pilot represents a legitimate target during war time, it doesn't make Las Vegas a "war zone," and I don't know that we want to muddy that distinction.
      Would a DIA counter-intel officer who gets injured in the States expect to get a purple heart? Getting injured on the job sucks, but we do label places war zones because that distinction is supposed to matter and make things different.
      Should this airman get "combat pay"? Why not?

      PF Khans

    2. Well, if Las Vegas has an airfield from which bombers take off and bomb someone then that makes Vegas a war zone. Modern technology has already made the distinction muddy. The US government lawyers, in their zeal to rubber stamp what used to be called assassination, has erased it. Sauce, goose, gander.

      Personally, I would not give him a Purple Heart.
      "War on terror" is an unhelpful concept.
      The FBI is the proper government agency to be dealing with "terror", not the Department of Defense.

      So, no, the airman should not get a Purple Heart and he should not get combat pay.
      He does, however, deserve recognition. Running towards the sound of gunfire was genuinely heroic.

  2. Isn't this type of bravery what an Airman's Medal is for?

    Plus according to the article, who would "hang" a Purple Heart around anyone's neck? Isn't that a CMH? Given that Carter's a Cheneyite, wouldn't giving a PH for action on a train while on leave in Europe send the message (I guess) that the Cheneyite War on Terror, Endless War, War Against Evil, Long War, Endless Scam for WarProfits, Endless Scam for Cheneyite Hegemony, or whatever the approved (un)official designation is at this point, is somehow legit. Not that the Europeans are paying attention. That train has left the station. The Russians have the ball now . . .

  3. Dunno what the current generation of GIs think of it, but in the cynical Army of the late Seventies and early Eighties the PH was often referred to as "Charlie's/Ivan's bolo badge" and considered something of a booby prize. I do agree that extending the area of eligibility to France seems like an explicitly political attempt to convince the public of the ubiquity of the Dusky Foe.

  4. And - much as I understand your feelings OF - your job, and the part of your life, that was spent in Afghanistan weren't really related to what the fate of that troubled land is or will be. Your work was to carry out your missions as ordered. If you did that, you succeded. It was your political masters that failed, in ordering you to make bricks without straw, and you can blame them for that, but not yourself for not doing what no foreign occupier has ever successfully done.

  5. PFK,
    1st-a PH does not get you a free license plate in FL. It's considered a vanity plate.
    2nd-your discussion centers on my constant theme that T is a criminal act wherever it occurs.
    Take the gunman in this scenario,is he a GC/POW ? No he's a criminal charged with serious offenses.
    So if our brave (no sarcasm)service men get a military award for capturing him, then shouldn't this also imply, or certify that he's a legal GC combatant also.
    ISTM that we always want it both ways and in our favor.
    So here's another question-why didn't these US types get an award with a "V" device. What about a SOLDIERS Medal for the Army guy?
    Do they get a campaign ribbon?
    Can they now join the VFW? Or are they just AMLEG /AMVET hopefuls?

    Here's my disconnect with the entire scenario.
    Here we have some Americans acting bravely, and FRANCE acts quickly and gives them an appreciative award, and the US embassy couldn't even pony up to buy them appropriate clothing for such a ceremony. This strikes me as really CS.
    FWIW i thought about writing about this ,b ut i'm tired of pissing up a rope.
    jim hruska

    1. Jim,

      Wow, is Florida the only state that does that?
      Sorry, your questions are all very appropriate, but I'm a little bent out of shape over this, seems like $20 a year in license plates is a pretty small price to pay.

  6. These are very provocative questions you pose. Jim & I were just discussing this the day you posted: "Do we have laws in place to define such actions as occurred on that train?" and if a U.S. soldier is involved in subduing the subject, how should he be properly recognized?

    We go back to the beginning: "What is a "terrorist"? "Why isn't he simply a criminal and subject to all applicable universal legal code?" "What makes for a soldier?"

    Moreover, "'What is a 'war zone'?" Is the entire earth a battle zone of all against all, in some fearful Hobbesian sense? We must be very precise about these terms, for society may only perdure at the rigor of laws which rely on precise and universal definitions.

    Is, "A terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist?"

    Further, what does "going back to the beginning mean?" Is that 9-11-01? Is it the USS Cole action? Is it the Iranian Hostage "crisis" (which was really an act of war, 'cept no one said it)?

    I do not see the answers in the press.

  7. Soldier's Medal. It's all there in the regs n' everything. I thought of that when I first saw this story. The popular press wouldn't know better, having both bought into this as part of the "war on terror" idiocy that furthers the business of the usual suspects and knowing the rules of awards and decorations (and the reality as opposed to the PR fantasies of military service), can't be expected to know the deal. But the services DO know better, which makes this just another depressing example of the complete immersion of the armed services in this weapons-grade stupidity.

    I mean, we know this from a gajillion other tells, like appearing on Capitol Hill in fatigues ('cause Freedonia's Going to Woah!, amirite?), but it always depresses me to be reminded that my Army still often lacks adult leadership

  8. Correction - "NOT knowing the rules..."; the popular press knows about military A&D what a cow knows about the Council of Trent.

    And there's no "discussion" of this in said press, Lisa, for the same reason that there's no discussion of most U.S. news stories; because the real issues are complex and difficult and complex and difficult doesn't work well on the electronic media. Simple does, so the easy and popular choice is to play this as a simple story of heroism.

    And it IS, at least enough to make the coverage not a lie...

  9. And I hesitate to bandy allegations of maturity at a lady whose years lay as lightly upon her as do yours, Lisa, so I'll phrase it this way; I was in the service back in the embassy hostage years and I recall very well that numerous public and private sources were blunt about the invasion of the Tehran Embassy and imprisonment of US citizens - diplomats protected by international law! - was an act of war.

    But...since even Republicans were still sorta sane back in the late Seventies...those same mouthpieces acknowledged that war wouldn't have "helped" short of going full WW2, invading and occupying Iran. And we'd already had a bellyfull of trying to tame a bunch of fractious Asians and knew better. So we swallowed our pride and worked things out the unsatisfying diplomatic way.

    Of course now we've gotten over that.

  10. Chief,
    Even a Soldiers Medal would be stretching the point.
    As i understand the SM it's for non-combat bravery which would equal the bravery req'd to get a DSC in a combat situation.
    I don't see this as a combat situation, nor do i believe the bravery bar was met, but my point is that there is an appropriate award somewhere in the regs.
    As a former medic let me ask-who filled out the casualty report on this PH? Also i'd like to know what the criminal charges are gonna be when this is adjudicated.Knowing the French i'd guess that this dude will be traded in a prisoner swap somewhere down the line.
    I hate to be picky and chicken shit, BUT contrary to your comment, i seriously doubt that this is any longer OUR ARMY.

    A PH license plate costs 50$ plus on average..
    100% SC vet gets ONE fee exempt plate, which is rather cheap stuff since most 100%ers have wives and kids and more than 1 car.
    .Pls notice that i say FEE EXEMPT because it's not a free plate.
    Whats disturbing about the !00% tag is that it's great in FL b/c the licensee can park in any muni/govt owned space free of charge as long as they are legally parked. This means that P@T vets with plates can park in handicapped spaces without a hanging tag. Most folks are unaware of this as are many cops, so this leads to hassles. Especially when traveling in other states.

    Hunting and fishing licenses are not fee exempt EXCEPT for 100% SC vets. Now thats bs because how many 100%ers hunt or fish?Why not lower the bar?
    You get the point , i hope.
    In my travels we pass thru a lot of cities designate as A PH CITY, and i always ask for a PH discount in these locales, AND I NEVER GET A DISCOUNT, but they all thank me for my service.
    SO WHAT THE HECK IS A PH CITY? In fact what is a thanks for ur service worth these days?
    I also have asked at least 50 men wearing Wounded Warrior T shirts when and where they were wounded, and every one of them has replied-oh i wasn't wounded, and was never in the service ,BUT WE SUPPORT THE WW project.
    Well just dip my sorry ass in mule snot.

    Best to all of you.
    jim hruska

  11. DSC? Wow...that's a pretty high bar. I always thought of the Soldier's Medal as less demanding than that - I seem to recall some awards for the sort of "pulling Jody out of a burning car" kind of heroism. I'll have to go back and read the regs...

    My reading of various first-person memoirs of various wartimes gives me the sense that the standard for award of the PH has varied quite a bit from war to war and from place to place to place and time to time within wars, Jim. For example, Bill Mauldin jokes in both his autobio and his cartoons about handing them out like aspirin in the ETO...but I've never read anything remotely similar from Korea and Vietnam even tho by Vietnam the idea of a "thanks-for-coming" packet of DEROS decorations is supposed to have become common in a lot of didn't just get one for any ol' thing...

    This doesn't meet any sort of standards but then, we knew that. This is about impressing the rubes, not fighting wars...

  12. Ah, Chief, you have not lost your chilvalric ways :)

    Of course you're right about those who correctly perceived the Iranian Embassy takeover as an act of war then. Now some 35 years on, it is also easy to see that the failure of the U.S. to show (rightful) force at that time demonstrated (wrongly) the weakness of the U.S. to the more nefarious agents in the M.E.

    One can see the procession in boldness which has emanated from the region and its affiliates since that moment.

  13. Love you dearly as I do, Lisa I couldn't disagree with you more. Unlike the Bush Axis of Morons we saw at the time that the chances of successful direct action were slight and the potential for unpredictable blowback high. Instead we opted for smart and sneaky and bled them through our then-client Iraq, who killed ten thousand of the little boogers for every hostage and crippled thousands more.

    Oh, sure...we shot down an airliner or two...but it was through our proxies we really got our pound of flesh.

    And as for Middle Eastern skulduggery...shall we agree that our own hands are a trifle sooty to be talking smack..? (As the shades of Mossadegh and SAVAK nod gravely in Hell...)

  14. And...when you take a hard look, the historical record doesn't support the assertion that lacking "right force" since the late Seventies has emboldened anti-Western states.

    You had an Arab-Israeli war once a decade from 1948 to 1973. Since then? None, if you ignore the idiotic invasion of Lebanon and its sequels.

    Civil war in Lebanon? Not since the 90s. Gulf Wars Not Started Or Stemming From Stupid US Invasions of Iraq? None since 91.

    Even India and Pakistan have reduced their bloody spats to nuisance level.

    So..I'd say the evidence points to US military action as more likely to CAUSE Middle Eastern problems than to deter the Muslim states from getting ballsy - probably due to the way we wreck these places, not very stable to begin with, and release all the toxins baked in.

  15. For sure, the world is reaping the wind of these terrible misadventures which deposed Saddam H., Muammar Q., and indirectly Morsi and possibly Assad, "releasing the toxins", as you put it.

    Per this, "it was through our proxies we really got our pound of flesh" -- yes, and I wonder why the U.S. policy has decided to shuttle realpolitik in the region. ISTM that is what the Executive and State always did -- maintain an uneasy truce or detente among the players, pitting one vs. the other.

    When did it happen that we got the fool idea that if we knocked down one "bad man", a "good man" would take his place? Especially in the ME?!? And it makes me wonder, if not a subtle emboldening following the Embassy takeover, then what was (was there?) a watershed event that made each following act of Islamic aggression possible, like the '83 Beirut barracks bombing?

  16. I'm not sure that this was as simple as adopting a grade school "bad man bad, good man good" outlook on the ME. I think we can definitely rule out the Beirut bombing; as large as that loomed in this country there it was just one more day in a long civil war, and not a particularly important one. If I had to point to a crucial event in the whole war that affected US foreign policy it would be the collapse of the Lebanese Army in February 1984; just as in Iraq last year the whole idea had been to build a national army to stabilize the joint without US troops. It failed, the LA fell apart into sectarian units that marked the end of the US's attempt to retain a nonsectarian Lebanese polity...

    Anyway. Here's my theory and it's important to note that it's JUST mine and just a theory.

    I think US foreign policy and concurrently the attitude of the US public changed towards the Middle East between the early Sixties and the mid Eighties. I think this was driven by a number of factors:

    1. The defenestration of the older Middle East hands at State (who, I get the sense, were often "Arabist" in their outlook...) as a combination of retirement as well as the Fifties "Who Lost China"/Red Scare furor largely from the Taft-Republican Right...and
    2. The increasing adoption of Israel, not as geopolitical object but as sentimental attachment, particularly amongst the Democratic Party Left, and
    3. The popular success of Israel as portraying itself not as a small theologically-self-determined Middle Eastern polity (at a time, you'll note, when the huge enthusiasm in the now-Muslim states was for secularism; that was the era of Nasserism and the Baath parties...) but as "plucky little Israel", a sort of Westchester County only with more desert and Super Shermans. And
    4. The Cold War, as the USSR sided with the Arab countries and the US with Israel and whatever ME allies (like the Sauds) it could pick up.

    This tended to skew US foreign policy - in that whatever it did it had to be careful not to upset the Cold War applecart - but also meant that the Cold War balance of power was paramount. So, prior to the Sixties, so as not to drive the Arab countries further into Soviet arms the US could still come down hard on Israel as it did during Suez. I think there was still hope in the late Forties and Fifties that the US could still play realpolitik in the ME.

    But the various changes in military, political, and social balance, both here and in the ME, changed all that. What didn't help, what ESPECIALLY didn't help, was the capture of a huge portion of the GOP by the theocrats and AIPAC, whose attachment to Israel wasn't because it was in US interests but because it was either a) critical to the Biblical "end times" shit, or b) Israel, respectively.

    Meanwhile the end of the Cold War meant that there was no restraint to US diddling in the ME, no counterweight to the US impulse to try and change things to fit whatever the political leadership thought it wanted.

    Enter the Bushies, with their Perfect Storm of Stupid; real men wanting to go to Tehran, making their own reality, the impossible contradiction of Cheneyesque realpolitik with Dubya's blathering about letting freedom reign.

    Meanwhile the Dems had been beaten down by the bludgeon of 9/11 and were unable - or, in many cases, unwilling - to stand up and question the idiocy of the "war on terror" narrative that helped drive the goddamn bus into that ditch.


  17. (con't from above...)

    So here you had a US foreign policy establishment that had lost its guiding principle - maintaining the encirclement of the USSR - and had not figured out a replacement...but what it DID have was a vacuum to fill in the absence of Soviet opposition.

    Meanwhile, without the guiding hands of Great Power rivalry you had a hellbrew of local rivalries unchained; Saudi Sunnis vs Iranian Shias, Egyptian elites vs Muslim Brotherhood yahoos, Israelis vs Palestinians, God knows what-the-hell in the mess that had been Lebanon, wild cards like Saddam and Gaddafi versus their own people AND their neighbors...yadda yadda yadda.

    Not surprisingly the temptation to diddle with all this stuff was nearly irresistible to the sorts of people - largely Republican neocons but also Democratic "liberal interventionists" of the Albright stripe - who saw the American Century as carte blanche to try and twist things in the Middle East into "what they wanted" rather than what they could get.

    That worked out about as well as you'd think.

    So. I think my point here is that the biggest single thing that has turned the Middle East from a "troubled region" to the flaming Hellmouth it appears now is the removal of the Cold War stasis and the failure of the US to devise any sort of reasoned approach to the region in the absence of the Soviet Union. And...

    1. The release of local antipathies formerly restrained by a combination of Great Power pressure and support for local dictators, and
    2. The rise of political Islam - largely facilitated by the US and Israel either pimp-slapping or pimping out the secular Arab regimes; the obvious corrolary was that if the seculars were either Western/Israeli bitches or whores then perhaps the religious would stand up to the enemies, and
    3. The increased effectiveness of the combination of electronic communication and cheap explosives and automatic weaponry in stymieing Western and Western-style military force.

    I's the thing. It makes no sense to me to talk about how the Islamic entities currently tussling over the ME - from governments like Iran's to nongovernmental forces like IS and Hezbollah - were "emboldened" by some sort of Western/US wimpiness. That dog won't fight because the US tried armed force for a dozen goddamned years in southwest Asia and only succeeded in doing what the 12th Air Force did at Monte Cassino back in 1944; blowing the shit out of the structure and creating a rubble field that was a perfect operating environment for the enemy and a nightmare for the US troops to try and clean out.

    I'm not trying to say that the US should be singing kumbaya here. I AM saying that the problem right now is that the "more rubble less trouble" crew - who, after Iraq and Afghanistan REALLY need a nice hot cup of STFU - still largely drives this narrative, and that's a goddamn disaster.

    The idea that somehow the Islamists were "emboldened" by "US weakness" is directly contrary to what we've seen and needs to be taken gently out behind the barn and shot in the head.

  18. Chief,

    Yes, the removal of the Cold War opened energy and space for new action. The impending failure of any U.S. ME action should have been written on the wall after the USSR left Afghanistan (pre - "tear down that wall" Reagan.)

    But mostly, I wish to apologize to PFKhans for somehow hijacking his most reasonable posting which posed some very serious questions which have not been answered.

  19. Well...kinda yes and no on the serious questions.

    And I say that because it'd hard to see them as "questions" in the sense of "don't know the answer". We know that part of the "the world is the battlefield" trope is to convince the rubes - sorry, the public - that this is a global death-struggle between the Enlightenment and an equally powerful cabal of neomedieval Islamist groups.

    It isn't - at least, not in the east-versus-west narrative that the people pushing this narrative want the public to think - but it's an easy way to be mentally lazy and not try an understand the complexity of the.problem in the region.

    So the degree of concern we should feel about the falsehoods of the narrative come down to how stupid a decision or decisions the public will support based on those falsehoods...

  20. And All pointed out in the first comment; this isn't really a shockingly new thing.

    Hell, half the GOP candidates say openly that one of the issues w illegal immigration is IS strike teams sneaking into Vegas from Juarez. If we're worried that slapping a combat decoration on someone for a tussle on a French train is somehow really stretching the bounds of truthiness? I'd say that pony left the barn a looooong time ago.

  21. Chief,

    I'm not trying to diminish anything you said, and accept its relevance. I just didn't want to dismiss PFKhans relevant observations and inquiry.

    His is really a point of exceptional importance, and ISTM is devoid of the Liberal/Conservative, East vs. West divide.

  22. I'm afraid I DID kind of discount - not his disquiet and/or disgust, since the entire business of selling war to people who stand to gain nothing from that war is a disgusting sort of grift - but the notion that there is a point to debating whether or not this IS a grift.

    Of course the point of slapping a combat decoration on a guy for a tussle on a French train is a way to scam the rubes into buying the narrative "la patrie en danger". Of course the point of THAT is to convince the rubes not to question The Committee of Safety as it makes seemingly counter-republican actions "to keep you safe". Of course all that is a fucking bad deal for us rubes - it's practically the definition of why Sun Tzu warned that no people ever profited from a long war.

    We shouldn't feel "creeped out" - creeped out was for no-fly lists and 2008. We SHOULD be furious and demanding any would-be political leader affirm their conviction to dismantle the Eternal War edifice created and maintained by stuff like this since 2001.

    We won't. But we should.

  23. Chief,
    i rather think that being "furious" is a waste of energy.
    It's emotional and leads nowhere.

  24. Washington State has a PH plate that you do not have to pay for like other so-called vanity plates. But you still pay full registration fees year after year. I did not put one on my pickup since my golfing kameraden would have raked me over the coals for advertizing. But I got one for my wife's car as she tends to be a lead foot and I thought it might spare her a speeding ticket. But no such luck.

  25. Mike,
    We have the same arrangement in our house hold.
    Now there are parking places designated as=for ph recipients.
    I parked in 1 just the other day.

  26. My problem, jim, is that we HAVE chosen not to waste our energy getting furious and dragging a couple of the lying, warmongering sonsofbitches to the nearest lamppost and look where that's gotten us...

  27. As to PFK's original question: I have no problem with Airman Stone receiving the PH. My beef is with the Secretary of Defense himself giving him the award. Why wasn't that award hung around his neck by his unit commanding officer in front of a traditional unit formation?

    And why was he promoted two grades? Possibly a promotion was called for, but why a double?? Seems to me the Air Force wanted to sweeten the pot in order to keep him around for a long time.

    What happened to the National Guardsman Skarlatos, did he also get a double promotion to go along with his Soldiers' Medal?

  28. Mike,
    We try damned hard to call terrorism to be warfare, then we give a SM which is for non-combat unarmed heroism.
    I would think that a ARCOM would be more in line with events.
    jim hruska

  29. Hey! As a six-time holder of the coveted Army Commendation Medal I resemble that remark!

    (I also got something like eight Army Acheesement dings, which just goes to show how goddamn overdecorated we are...).

    I dunno, Jim. Like I said...I remember seeing a fair number of "pulling kid from car wreck" sorts of Soldier's Medals. I'd say that this qualifies under that standard.

  30. Chief,
    yes nd no.
    the car wreck thing works better than the French scenario.
    The SM is not for armed combat, which is how the French connection is being played.

  31. Chief,
    yes nd no.
    the car wreck thing works better than the French scenario.
    The SM is not for armed combat, which is how the French connection is being played.