The Iraq War: 10 Lessons Learned During My Brother’s Deployment

1: I can hold my breath for six months. It’s not that hard, really. I just inhaled when my brother shipped out and exhaled again when he returned for R&R. I did it again when he went back until he returned from his tour. This is a convenient literary description of what it felt like – but in my memory it is the literal truth. I know people who’ve done it for 15 months, several times.

2: How to listen to the news. A mental flow chart I followed whenever I encountered any reports about Iraq. An answer of “that’s not my brother” at any step allowed me to return to my daily life.

  • Has somebody died?
  • Iraqi or American?
  • Civilian or military?
  • Was it someone in the Army?
  • What part of the country?
  • Is this near Fallujah?
  • Is it my brother?

When I reached that final question, I felt relieved and then horrible. I knew my reprieve was someone else’s loss.

3: What to send. Batteries. Hot sauce – MRE’s are bland. Hard candy. Chewing tobacco – it’s a form of currency. DVDs. Baby wipes – help people clean off when they’re in the field. My son sent some of his toys and stuffed animals to give to Iraqi kids.

4: What not to send. Don’t send chocolate. It will likely melt during shipping because of the temperatures in Iraq. There have been many reports that the military is trying to develop a chocolate with a higher melting point. Officially you’re not supposed to ship porn, alcohol, and/or anything with pork in it. While there are serious doubts as to whether or not anyone actually checks for these things, people at home disguise them anyway. A friend of my brother’s got some mouthwash in a box from home, screwed the top off and took a swig out of it. He spit it out and said in total surprise, “It’s mouthwash!”

5: Nothing bigger than a shoe box. That’s the optimum size for shipping. Anything bigger than that will take forever to get there. For some reason speed of delivery mattered even when he was going to be there for a year.*

6: The USPS is very helpful. When shipping overseas you have to fill out one of two different customs forms depending on the weight of the package. I was always filling out the wrong one. No matter how long the line behind me, when the clerk saw the address on the package he or she invariably said something kind and didn’t mind waiting while I filled out the right one.

7: People are very kind. You send things because there’s nothing else you can do. I asked other people to send things, too. And they did. Lots of things: packages and dozens of birthday and Christmas cards and prayers. Always prayers. You send those, too, because there’s nothing else you can do.

8: I don’t care what you think about the war. Before you tell me that, tell me if you’ve had someone over there. If you know what that constant dread is like or what it’s like to be terrified when the phone rings late at night, then I’ll listen to what you have to say. I’ve disagreed with people who’ve been through this, but I’ve never argued. We have too much in common. It’s irrational, but I think we are the only people who should get to discuss the topic. Anyone else – even the ones who agree with me – I tend to view as a clueless fool.

9: Many people have it worse. And it’s not just the families that have had someone killed or injured. He is my brother but he is Stacy’s husband and my parent’s child. The times they were awake at 3 AM were much darker than the times I was.

10: I am a hypocrite. If truth is the first casualty of war, then the first truth to die is the fact that your opponent is human, too. I passionately believe that all human lives are equal. For the entire year my brother was over there I didn’t care how many Iraqis died or what else happened to them. Now that he is back, I am compassionate again.

 

*This was written in 2005. This size restriction is no longer accurate.

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Robert McNamara: An appreciation … of sorts

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones

McNamara, dead today at 93, embodied The American Century.

Born two years after the start of World War I, he got his MBA from Harvard in 1937, in World War II he served in the Air Force in the Pacific Campaign, became president of Ford in 1960 – when that was still something to aspire to – then secretary of defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson during both the Cuba Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War, finally president of the World Bank. He was neither Zelig nor Forrest Gump – he was in the foreground of the pictures Gump and Zelig snuck into.

He received – justly – a lot of blame for Vietnam. This is the man who, on his first visit to South Vietnam in 1962 said “every quantitative measurement we have shows we’re winning this war.” While McNamara had clear doubts about the war he lacked the courage of his convictions. He was unable to convince President Johnson – who also knew the war was unwinnable – to change his policies. He was unwilling to commit apostasy and tell the US public what he knew to be true.

Without setting any of that aside, let us acknowledge one thing: the war could have been a lot worse without McNamara.

Vietnam was a fiasco in large part because it was unwinnable. The US sent troops to try to preserve a fiction: the “Republic” of South Vietnam. It sent soldiers to fight over something that was of no importance to the nation whatsoever. The fall of South Vietnam to the Communists – who were certainly despotic and brutal – meant nothing to the US. At least the French had been fighting for a revenue-producing colony. As Yeats put it in An Irish Airman Foresees His Death:

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.

While Vietnam was a fiasco, at least – and I say this without irony or sarcasm – it was a well-run fiasco. McNamara, a brilliant logistician and administrator, saw to it that the troops were fed , armed, deployed, medically cared for and treated in as professional a manner as was possible. The mail was delivered on time to the soldiers, sailors and airmen. Let no one underestimate how important that is. If you think this is not a major accomplishment then look at our two current wars. Because Iraq was run from the White House by people with no idea of what was needed to run a war:

  • The wrong troops were sent to do the wrong jobs, thus the tragedy of Abu-Gharaib – a prisoner of war camp run by military police with no training or experience in running a prison.
  • Troops were sent into combat with inadequate supplies of water, body armor, ammunition and God know what else.
  • Soldiers were forced to weld metal plates onto vehicles in an attempt to give them the armor needed.
  • Because of a political decision overruling the military’s recommended troop requirements, the same units were and are repeatedly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan – whether or not they are combat ready and, at the same time, further degrading the combat readiness they already had.

Vietnam, by comparison, was renowned (and sometimes reviled) as one of the most over-supplied conflicts in history. In addition to those basic things like ammo and water, units in the field were even provided with everything from beer to ice cream. (As ice cream creates thirst rather than sakes it, this was a very dubious benefit.) McNamara stepped down as secretary of defense in 1968 and within four years the US Armed Forces were falling apart in Vietnam.

Also to McNamara’s credit – he took responsibility for his actions and mistakes. In his 1995 memoir, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam:

McNamara said he and his senior colleagues were “wrong, terribly wrong” to pursue the war as they did. He acknowledged that he failed to force the military to produce a rigorous justification for its strategy and tactics, misunderstood Asia in general and Vietnam in particular, and kept the war going long after he realized it was futile because he lacked the courage or the ability to turn President Johnson around.

He never said history would vindicate him or that he was just following orders.

In Errol Morris’ brilliant documentary Fog of War, McNamara became human for the first time for many people. During it he discusses Vietnam and the formative World War II incidents that shaped him. McNamara served under Gen. Curtis LeMay, who lead the bombing campaign against Japan. He quotes LeMay as saying  that had the U.S. lost the war, he fully expected to be tried for war crimes. Despite all that happened in Vietnam, I suspect that type of action was what McNamara was trying to avoid.

In one well-publicized incident, [McNamara] rejected a list of bombing targets that the military officers wanted to hit, including targets near Hanoi and other civilian population centers. The joint chiefs off staff went over his head to Johnson, and the president authorized the strikes.

It is easy to say the road to hell is paved with good intentions and that certainly was the case here. However it is important to remember and learn from those intentions. The failure to live up to them had terrible costs for the US, Vietnam and Robert McNamara.

Can you help a couple of friends of mine?

When Big Brother Sergeant First Class CollateralDamage was in the sandbox many friends sent him stuff. On his birthday or Christmas or something he got so many cards that he actually cried. (He does it once a century whether he needs to or not.) I have two buddies currently serving in the George Bush Desert Classic. One is in playing on the course in the mid-east, the other is on the course in the far east. (Full disclosure — one is a buddy of SFC CollateralDamage whom I’ve never met but who he says is really neat despite being a lieutenant.) Both could use some care packages. If you have a moment and would like to help make a soldier cry for a good reason then please post a comment below or drop me an email.

My further thoughts on the topic, below:

IRAQ: My 10 Lessons Learned

1: I can hold my breath for six months. It’s not that hard, really. I just inhaled when my brother shipped out and exhaled again when he returned for R&R. I did it again when he went back until he returned from his tour. This is a convenient literary description of what it felt like – but in my memory it is the literal truth. I know people who’ve done it for 15 months, several times.

2: How to listen to the news. A mental flow chart I followed whenever I encountered any reports about Iraq. An answer of “that’s not my brother” at any step allowed me to return to my daily life.

  • Has somebody died?
  • Iraqi or American?
  • Civilian or military?
  • Was it someone in the Army?
  • What part of the country?
  • Is this near Fallujah?
  • Is it my brother?

When I reached that final question, I felt relieved and then horrible. I knew my reprieve was someone else’s loss.

3: What to send. Batteries. Hot sauce – MRE’s are bland. Hard candy. Chewing tobacco – it’s a form of currency. DVDs. Baby wipes – help people clean off when they’re in the field. My son sent some of his toys and stuffed animals to give to Iraqi kids.

4: What not to send. Don’t send chocolate. It will likely melt during shipping because of the temperatures in Iraq. There have been many reports that the military is trying to develop a chocolate with a higher melting point. Officially you’re not supposed to ship porn, alcohol, and/or anything with pork in it. While there are serious doubts as to whether or not anyone actually checks for these things, people at home disguise them anyway. A friend of my brother’s got some mouthwash in a box from home, screwed the top off and took a swig out of it. He spit it out and said in total surprise, “It’s mouthwash!”

5: Nothing bigger than a shoe box. That’s the optimum size for shipping. Anything bigger than that will take forever to get there. For some reason speed of delivery mattered even when he was going to be there for a year.

6: The USPS is very helpful. When shipping overseas you have to fill out one of two different customs forms depending on the weight of the package. I was always filling out the wrong one. No matter how long the line behind me, when the clerk saw the address on the package he or she invariably said something kind and didn’t mind waiting while I filled out the right one.

7: People are very kind. You send things because there’s nothing else you can do. I asked other people to send things, too. And they did. Lots of things: packages and dozens of birthday and Christmas cards and prayers. Always prayers. You send those, too, because there’s nothing else you can do.

8: I don’t care what you think about the war. Before you tell me that, tell me if you’ve had someone over there. If you know what that constant dread is like or what it’s like to be terrified when the phone rings late at night, then I’ll listen to what you have to say. I’ve disagreed with people who’ve been through this, but I’ve never argued. We have too much in common. It’s irrational, but I think we are the only people who should get to discuss the topic. Anyone else – even the ones who agree with me – I tend to view as a clueless fool.

9: Many people have it worse. And it’s not just the families that have had someone killed or injured. He is my brother but he is Stacy’s husband and my parent’s child. The times they were awake at 3 AM were much darker than the times I was.

10: I am a hypocrite. If truth is the first casualty of war, then the first truth to die is the fact that your opponent is human, too. I passionately believe that all human lives are equal. For the entire year my brother was over there I didn’t care how many Iraqis died or what else happened to them. Now that he is back, I am compassionate again.

Bush gave up golf for families of Iraq war dead

“I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the Commander-in-Chief playing golf,” Bush said. “I feel I owe it to the families to be as — to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”

My head hurts from this quote.

Dear George, you want to show solidarity with these families? How about you visit each and every one of them. Maybe explain why neither you nor your children have served in this or any other war. How about adequate funding and administration for the Veterans Administration? How about not being an idiot? How about not starting wars on fictitious grounds?

Good Lord.

McCain? Hillary? Obama?

I’ll take any of them over this fool.

Not Huckabee, though. I can’t live through another administration that views facts as malleable.

IRAQ: My 10 Lessons Learned

1: I can hold my breath for six months. It’s not that hard, really. I just inhaled when my brother shipped out and exhaled again when he returned for R&R. I did it again when he went back until he returned from his tour. This is a convenient literary description of what it felt like – but in my memory it is the literal truth. I know people who’ve done it for 15 months, several times.

2: How to listen to the news. A mental flow chart I followed whenever I encountered any reports about Iraq. An answer of “that’s not my brother” at any step allowed me to return to my daily life.

  • Has somebody died?
  • Iraqi or American?
  • Civilian or military?
  • Was it someone in the Army?
  • What part of the country?
  • Is this near Fallujah?
  • Is it my brother?

When I reached that final question, I felt relieved and then horrible. I knew my reprieve was someone else’s loss.

3: What to send. Batteries. Hot sauce – MRE’s are bland. Hard candy. Chewing tobacco – it’s a form of currency. DVDs. Baby wipes – help people clean off when they’re in the field. My son sent some of his toys and stuffed animals to give to Iraqi kids.

4: What not to send. Don’t send chocolate. It will likely melt during shipping because of the temperatures in Iraq. There have been many reports that the military is trying to develop a chocolate with a higher melting point. Officially you’re not supposed to ship porn, alcohol, and/or anything with pork in it. While there are serious doubts as to whether or not anyone actually checks for these things, people at home disguise them anyway. A friend of my brother’s got some mouthwash in a box from home, screwed the top off and took a swig out of it. He spit it out and said in total surprise, “It’s mouthwash!”

5: Nothing bigger than a shoe box. That’s the optimum size for shipping. Anything bigger than that will take forever to get there. For some reason speed of delivery mattered even when he was going to be there for a year.

6: The USPS is very helpful. When shipping overseas you have to fill out one of two different customs forms depending on the weight of the package. I was always filling out the wrong one. No matter how long the line behind me, when the clerk saw the address on the package he or she invariably said something kind and didn’t mind waiting while I filled out the right one.

7: People are very kind. You send things because there’s nothing else you can do. I asked other people to send things, too. And they did. Lots of things: packages and dozens of birthday and Christmas cards and prayers. Always prayers. You send those, too, because there’s nothing else you can do.

8: I don’t care what you think about the war. Before you tell me that, tell me if you’ve had someone over there. If you know what that constant dread is like or what it’s like to be terrified when the phone rings late at night, then I’ll listen to what you have to say. I’ve disagreed with people who’ve been through this, but I’ve never argued. We have too much in common. It’s irrational, but I think we are the only people who should get to discuss the topic. Anyone else – even the ones who agree with me – I tend to view as a clueless fool.

9: Many people have it worse. And it’s not just the families that have had someone killed or injured. He is my brother but he is Stacy’s husband and my parent’s child. The times they were awake at 3 AM were much darker than the times I was.

10: I am a hypocrite. If truth is the first casualty of war, then the first truth to die is the fact that your opponent is human, too. I passionately believe that all human lives are equal. For the entire year my brother was over there I didn’t care how many Iraqis died or what else happened to them. Now that he is back, I am compassionate again.

War On Terror brand suffers major setback as UK ends partnership

File under: Declare victory and go home.

The words “war on terror” will no longer be used by the British government to describe attacks on the public, the country’s chief prosecutor said Dec. 27. Sir Ken Macdonald said terrorist fanatics were not soldiers fighting a war but simply members of an aimless “death cult.” The Director of Public Prosecutions said: ‘We resist the language of warfare, and I think the government has moved on this. It no longer uses this sort of language.” … His remarks signal a change in emphasis across Whitehall, where the “war on terror” language has officially been ditched. Officials were concerned it could act as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, which is determined to manufacture a battle between Islam and the West.

NO WAR ON TERROR? But what brand will you use to scare the electorate with????

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