Questions and More Questions

The Grinning Deathhead has a question:

How can you say with a straight face that you support the troops while advancing legislation that would undercut their mission and strengthen their enemies?

The Middle-Aged Lady in New Jersey sometimes likes to answer questions with questions: How can you say with a straight face that you support the troops when you contemptuously dismiss the real, actual experiences of real, flesh-and-blood American soldiers who are put into situations where they are forced to do terrible things, and pay for it with emotional pain and psychological trauma that will never be more to you than just words in a dictionary?

Here is an atrocity committed by a U.S. serviceman against an Iraqi family, which was witnessed by another serviceman, 23-year-old Philip Chrystal of Reno, Nevada:

“So we get started on this day, this one in particular,” recalled Spc. Philip Chrystal, 23, of Reno, who said he raided between twenty and thirty Iraqi homes during an eleven-month tour in Kirkuk and Hawija that ended in October 2005, serving with the Third Battalion, 116th Cavalry Brigade. “It starts with the psy-ops vehicles out there, you know, with the big speakers playing a message in Arabic or Farsi or Kurdish or whatever they happen to be, saying, basically, saying, Put your weapons, if you have them, next to the front door in your house. Please come outside, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we had Apaches flying over for security, if they’re needed, and it’s also a good show of force. And we’re running around, and they–we’d done a few houses by this point, and I was with my platoon leader, my squad leader and maybe a couple other people.

“And we were approaching this one house,” he said. “In this farming area, they’re, like, built up into little courtyards. So they have, like, the main house, common area. They have, like, a kitchen and then they have a storage shed-type deal. And we’re approaching, and they had a family dog. And it was barking ferociously, ’cause it’s doing its job. And my squad leader, just out of nowhere, just shoots it. And he didn’t–motherfucker–he shot it and it went in the jaw and exited out. So I see this dog–I’m a huge animal lover; I love animals–and this dog has, like, these eyes on it and he’s running around spraying blood all over the place. And like, you know, What the hell is going on? The family is sitting right there, with three little children and a mom and a dad, horrified. And I’m at a loss for words. And so, I yell at him. I’m, like, What the fuck are you doing? And so the dog’s yelping. It’s crying out without a jaw. And I’m looking at the family, and they’re just, you know, dead scared. And so I told them, I was like, Fucking shoot it, you know? At least kill it, because that can’t be fixed….

“And–I actually get tears from just saying this right now, but–and I had tears then, too–and I’m looking at the kids and they are so scared. So I got the interpreter over with me and, you know, I get my wallet out and I gave them twenty bucks, because that’s what I had. And, you know, I had him give it to them and told them that I’m so sorry that asshole did that.

“Was a report ever filed about it?” he asked. “Was anything ever done? Any punishment ever dished out? No, absolutely not.”

Specialist Chrystal said such incidents were “very common.”

Here is what happens when U.S. troops conduct house-to-house raids:

Sgt. Dustin Flatt, 33, of Denver, estimates he raided “thousands” of homes in Tikrit, Samarra and Mosul. He served with the Eighteenth Infantry Brigade, First Infantry Division, for one year beginning in February 2004. “We scared the living Jesus out of them every time we went through every house,” he said.

Spc. Ali Aoun, 23, a National Guardsman from New York City, said he conducted perimeter security in nearly 100 raids while serving in Sadr City with the Eighty-Ninth Military Police Brigade for eleven months starting in April 2004. When soldiers raided a home, he said, they first cordoned it off with Humvees. Soldiers guarded the entrance to make sure no one escaped. If an entire town was being raided, in large-scale operations, it too was cordoned off, said Spc. Garett Reppenhagen, 32, of Manitou Springs, Colorado, a cavalry scout and sniper with the 263rd Armor Battalion, First Infantry Division, who was deployed to Baquba for a year in February 2004.

Staff Sgt. Timothy John Westphal, 31, of Denver, recalled one summer night in 2004, the temperature an oppressive 110 degrees, when he and forty-four other US soldiers raided a sprawling farm on the outskirts of Tikrit. Sergeant Westphal, who served there for a yearlong tour with the Eighteenth Infantry Brigade, First Infantry Division, beginning in February 2004, said he was told some men on the farm were insurgents. As a mechanized infantry squad leader, Sergeant Westphal led the mission to secure the main house, while fifteen men swept the property. Sergeant Westphal and his men hopped the wall surrounding the house, fully expecting to come face to face with armed insurgents.

“We had our flashlights and…I told my guys, ‘On the count of three, just hit them with your lights and let’s see what we’ve got here. Wake ’em up!'”

Sergeant Westphal’s flashlight was mounted on his M-4 carbine rifle, a smaller version of the M-16, so in pointing his light at the clump of sleepers on the floor he was also pointing his weapon at them. Sergeant Westphal first turned his light on a man who appeared to be in his mid-60s.

“The man screamed this gut-wrenching, blood-curdling, just horrified scream,” Sergeant Westphal recalled. “I’ve never heard anything like that. I mean, the guy was absolutely terrified. I can imagine what he was thinking, having lived under Saddam.”

The farm’s inhabitants were not insurgents but a family sleeping outside for relief from the stifling heat, and the man Sergeant Westphal had frightened awake was the patriarch.

“Sure enough, as we started to peel back the layers of all these people sleeping, I mean, it was him, maybe two guys…either his sons or nephews or whatever, and the rest were all women and children,” Sergeant Westphal said. “We didn’t find anything.

“I can tell you hundreds of stories about things like that and they would all pretty much be like the one I just told you. Just a different family, a different time, a different circumstance.”

For Sergeant Westphal, that night was a turning point. “I just remember thinking to myself, I just brought terror to someone else under the American flag, and that’s just not what I joined the Army to do,” he said.

Does the Grinning Deathhead have any kind of coherent response to Sgt. Westphal’s concerns, or would he prefer to tell him that what he saw and heard and did were just isolated instances, not representative or typical? Maybe GD can reassure Sgt. Westphal by agreeing that it is unfortunate Sgt. Westphal had to scare that poor Iraqi man, but most U.S. troops still agree that the war is both necessary and noble?

Well, let’s see:

With the ongoing progress of the surge, and the obvious fact that the vast majority of the troops want to fight and win the war, the “support-the-troops-but-oppose-what-they’re-doing” position has become increasingly untenable. How can you say with a straight face that you support the troops while advancing legislation that would undercut their mission and strengthen their enemies?

You can’t. So those on the cutting edge of progressive opinion are beginning to give up on even pretending to support the troops. Instead, they now slander the troops.

Two progressive magazines have taken complementary approaches in this effort. In its July 30 issue, the Nation has a 24-page article based on interviews with 50 Iraq veterans. The piece allegedly reveals “disturbing patterns of behavior by American troops in Iraq”–indeed, it claims that the war has “led many troops to declare an open war on all Iraqis.” Needless to say, the anecdotal evidence in the article comes nowhere close to supporting this claim. There are a few instances of out-of-control behavior, some routine fog-of-war and brutality-of-war incidents, and much that is simply trivial. The picture is unpleasant, as one would expect–but it comes nowhere close to living up to the authors’ billing: “The war the vets described is a dark and even depraved enterprise.”

Since the Nation has held this view of every American war (except when we were fighting side-by-side with Stalin’s Soviet Union), and loves nothing more than accounts of American war crimes, its story is no surprise. At least they interviewed real soldiers on the record. The New Republic, in its July 23 issue, takes a different tack. Its slander of American soldiers appears to be fiction presented as fact, behind a convenient screen of anonymity.

Ooops. Oh, well. Let’s ask GD another question. I know that, supporting our troops as he does, GD is aware of how important it is for veterans to get medical care that treats the emotional and psychological wounds they have sustained, in addition to any physical injuries they may have. I know that GD knows that those less visible wounds that fester in soldiers’ minds and hearts take much longer to heal than the physical wounds, in many cases — and that often they never heal.

So, with that in mind, here is Spc. Jeff Englehart, 26, of Grand Junction, Colorado:

Veterans said the culture of this counterinsurgency war, in which most Iraqi civilians were assumed to be hostile, made it difficult for soldiers to sympathize with their victims–at least until they returned home and had a chance to reflect.

“I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi,” said Spc. Jeff Englehart, 26, of Grand Junction, Colorado. Specialist Englehart served with the Third Brigade, First Infantry Division, in Baquba, about thirty-five miles northeast of Baghdad, for a year beginning in February 2004. “You know, so what?… The soldiers honestly thought we were trying to help the people and they were mad because it was almost like a betrayal. Like here we are trying to help you, here I am, you know, thousands of miles away from home and my family, and I have to be here for a year and work every day on these missions. Well, we’re trying to help you and you just turn around and try to kill us.”

He said it was only “when they get home, in dealing with veteran issues and meeting other veterans, it seems like the guilt really takes place, takes root, then.”

Here is Spc. Michael Harmon, 24, from Brooklyn, NY:

“I’ll tell you the point where I really turned,” said Spc. Michael Harmon, 24, a medic from Brooklyn. He served a thirteen-month tour beginning in April 2003 with the 167th Armor Regiment, Fourth Infantry Division, in Al-Rashidiya, a small town near Baghdad. “I go out to the scene and [there was] this little, you know, pudgy little 2-year-old child with the cute little pudgy legs, and I look and she has a bullet through her leg…. An IED [improvised explosive device] went off, the gun-happy soldiers just started shooting anywhere and the baby got hit. And this baby looked at me, wasn’t crying, wasn’t anything, it just looked at me like–I know she couldn’t speak. It might sound crazy, but she was like asking me why. You know, Why do I have a bullet in my leg?… I was just like, This is–this is it. This is ridiculous.”

So, GD: Do you support the right of U.S. troops to talk openly about this type of occurrence and how it affects or changes their view of the war? I already know you believe our troops should not be questioned, criticized, or held responsible for what they do. And I can agree that we need to listen without judging or condemning. But are you also willing to listen to Spc. Michael Harmon tell about how he can’t view the war as a noble enterprise anymore because of hundreds of incidents like the two-year-old Iraqi toddler with a bullet in her leg as the result of a trigger-happy American soldier? Are you willing to listen without denying, minimizing, trivializing, or dismissing the truth and validity of his experience, or is it only the scenes of U.S. troops handing out candy to Iraqi kids that are real and important to you?

Think carefully before you answer, GD. Because if it’s only the candy and not the bullet in the leg of a toddler; or the yelping, wounded dog shot in front of its owners; or the thousands of Iraqi families terrorized in the middle of the night by screaming, gun-wielding, door-kicking U.S. troops, then don’t tell us that you support our troops. Because you don’t. Perhaps you support some fantasy in your head of heroic, noble American soldiers killing the bad guys and protecting the weak and innocent, but you do not support the actual American men and women trying to carry out an impossible mission in a foreign country, among people who hate and resent them, and being traumatized by the horrors they are forced to see and participate in.

Cross-posted at Liberty Street.

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21 Comments

Filed under 05_kathy

21 responses to “Questions and More Questions

  1. I wonder if Mr. Kristol asked the same question about our missions in Kosovo and Bosnia.

  2. Brynn

    Jeeze, there is nothing to say to that post but “Amen.”

  3. That’s actually my big question.

    How many of you have ever bought something you’ve never used?

    Yes, the bass clarinet is well glorified here.

  4. I’m using the bass clarinet to accentuate the problem.

    I just caught absolute HELL from txrad. I should always strive to be more clear.

  5. This reminds me of a story about an Argentinian officer who worked for the dictators they had (whatever the name was, I don’t remember). One of their “interrogation” techniques was to take bound and blindfolded prisoners up in helicopters over the ocean and threaten to push them out. Sometimes they did. Sometimes they didn’t. One of the survivors somehow tracked down one of the officers. The officer had since been divorced, lived on tranquilizers, and killed himself a few months later.

    It’s *doing* evil that sends you to hell.

    I don’t know where the rest of us go, the ones who ordered the poor sods to do what they have done.

  6. Step right up.

    Spread that bag.

    Nice ass.

  7. Jeeze, there is nothing to say to that post but “Amen.”

    And that is a very lovely compliment to me, so thank you. 🙂

    And to Konagod:

    Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I love you. 🙂

  8. The pathetic collection of leftardo human experimenters whom Astrologers call those cursed with having the awful birthmark of “Neptune in Libra.” meaning those susceptible to every sort of light-headed whimsical vagary of mood and temperament taken seriously, were also cursed with being hailed as the vanguard of the Age of Aquarius. Seems these vacant degenerates actually believed their press and acted out a hilarious GENERATIONAL DEGENERATION because they were predisposed, if you believe their astrological Neptunian karma, to believe the shallow, spurious, specious silly folderol that passed as their specific destiny. Some resisted, most did not, leaving us with poop, I mean pop, heroes like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Boob Dylan, and a whole panoply of early demisers worthy of being the yang to their parents’ yin, or vice versa. Janis, and dozens of other early bloomers faded before noon of their life trajectories.

    The Weekly Standard has a good run-down on just how good these young Gen-X and Gen Y are compared to their slacker drugged-out squalid forebears. The lotus rises from the fecal material is the Oriental way of comprehending how the new generation of winners has been spawned by a human-garbage sleaze-dump mound of self-serving narcissistic bio-mass which has given itself over to the most ridiculous autistic solipsistic self-referential solecisms since the age of Incroyable et Merveilleuse, back in the 1790s. Please google for the reference.

    Luckily for the French, after that they found a leader who had a pair, and could keep their country from being overrun by silly bantamweights like the Islamist froth-mouth hysterics and their in-country fifth column at the NYT, WaPo, and broadcast networks.

    Oh, that we in the USA should be so lucky two centuries later!

  9. amish451

    Noble Cause degenerates to, anyone not us is an enemy …that is quagmire …that is the fear our troops endure, every day …they did not choose the fear, it came with the job…some are not equipped to deal with it now or in their future.

  10. boatboy_srq

    GD there seems prey to a common pattern:

    1) Our troops go to Iraq, where they wind up doing horrible things.
    2) Some of those horrible things make the news.
    3) The public cries out for justice fon those responsible, which generally means justice on those responsible for putting our troops in the place to do such things, for sending them out equipped as poorly as they are, etc.
    4) The investigation finds “a few bad apples” among the footsoldiers and prosecutes them fully, ignoring the higher commanders and the private suppliers who actually created the situation those bad apples were in.
    5) The wingnuts use this progression to bash war opponents for “not supporting the troops.”
    6) Our “leaders” call for more troops for Iraq.
    7) Return to step 1.

    There’s a real difference between “It’s war; terrible things happen in war,” and the situation we find in Iraq. Our troops (ill-educated, unprepared, unable to speak the language, and totally ignorant of the world into which they’re inserted) are placed in a world where nobody outside the chain of command can actually communicate with them, where old hatreds simmer under the surface of a nation under occupation, and where family and tribal loyalty often trump larger associations. They’re asked to navigate this maze, separating the “good” people from the “terrorists,” make sound decisions based on situations that their lack of preparation makes impossible to understand, and they’re essentially left to fend for themselves when their (current) tour has ended. Of course terrible things in a situation like this: Iraq is a recipe for atrocity.

    The problem is not that our troops are doing horrible things, but that our leaders are practically engineering those horrible things. And instead of tracing the fault back to the monsters that put our troops in this impossible situation, our government instead goes after the troops actually subjected to this mind-bending abyss. It’s like an Attorney General who prosecutes the tommy gun in a mob hit instead of the mobster pulling its trigger – or the mob boss who sent him.

    “Support the Troops” has been robbed of its original meaning and twisted into support-the-mission-our-Glorious-Leader-has-sent-the-troops-upon. Newspeak at its finest.

    I have real respect for those who wear the uniform: the rest of us owe them a great debt. But that debt is going unpaid right now. We have sent them into a theatre impossible for them to understand, and we have consistently failed to provide them with the tools necessary to do that job effectively and ethically and to recover from the experience. The results of that failure are tragic – but I would hold those who created this mess responsible rather than the average GI who’s dropped into that mess unprepared, ill-equipped and inadequately supported. I don’t condone situations like Haditha, Fallujah or Abu Ghraib – but I’d like to see the commanders that created those situations, rather than the kids actually on the scene, held to account. I can’t really fault the footsoldier who’s brainwashed into thinking actions like those are part of his/her job. I CAN, however, fault senior command, the [mal]administration and the wingnut pundits who think our troops are only worth “supporting” when they’re in the field (and that with rhetoric and more funding for the war profiteers).

    So let’s support our troops. Let’s get them out of a situation beyond their understanding, back to their homes, and into the care of medical professionals who can help them adjust back to life outside the “war” zone. And let’s hold the Commander-in-Chief to account for putting them there – and keeping them there – and abandoning them when he’s trough with them their tours are over.

  11. Left-Leaning Liberal Looney Lad

    The pathetic collection of leftardo human experimenters whom Astrologers call those cursed with having the awful birthmark of “Neptune in Libra.” meaning those susceptible to every sort of light-headed whimsical vagary of mood temperament cursed hailed as vanguard of Age of Aquarius vacant degenerates actually believed a hilarious GENERATIONAL DEGENERATION predisposed, astrological Neptunian karma, to believe the shallow, spurious, specious silly folderol specific destiny. Poop, I mean pop, heroes like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Boob Dylan.

    The Weekly slacker drugged-out squalid forebears. The lotus human-garbage sleaze-dump mound of self-serving narcissistic bio-mass, most ridiculous autistic solipsistic self-referential solecisms since the age of Incroyable et Merveilleuse, keep their country from being overrun by silly bantamweights like the Islamist froth-mouth hysterics and their in-country fifth column at the NYT, WaPo, and broadcast networks.

    Spiro?! Spiro, is that you? Wow! I thought you were dead, man!

    Hey, hey Spiro, this’ll really p*ss you off, man. You know the Stones? The Rolling Stones? They gotta new song out, it’s all about doing it. It’s called, get this now, man, Let’s Spend The Night Together. They’re even playing it on the radio! How’s that for sticking it to the man? Take that, Tricky Dick! Right on!

  12. Molly, NYC

    This is a restatement of something you could have heard–in various different phrasings–from every other speaker during this last week’s all-nighter in the Senate; essentially, the Republicans and their toadies (i.e., Lieberman) have been reduced to this argument:

    Going home would demoralize the troops.

  13. If you’re going to blame US troops for what they do, that’s one thing, and not in any way necessarily a wrong thing.

    But, they are just the bayonet on the nation’s rifle. Bush and Cheney may be the wielders of that weapon, but the American people continue to tolerate them in that position.

    So long as that is the case, the American people are ultimately the ones to hold accountable for the continued crimes of their troops.

  14. Paen

    How many dead will it take before Bush and friends are treated like the war criminals that they truly are.

  15. boatboy_srq

    If you’re going to blame US troops for what they do, that’s one thing, and not in any way necessarily a wrong thing.

    I don’t think all that many of us are blaming the troops. Our servicepeople are in an impossible situation (see above) – behaviour otherwise seen as criminal is inevitable. And that is the crime: our so-called leaders are putting our servicepeople by the tens of thousands into a situation where they’re faced with impossible choices every day, without equipping them in any way to deal with that situation: not materially, not educationally, not medically and not socially. And any time one of us points out the results of that appalling policy decision, the rejoinder sounds very much like yours. Noting our troops’ meltdown in Iraq, and blaming them for it, are two very different things.

    And Klasher, if you’re a US citizen, feeling the way you do, you’d best have written your congresspeople and/or signed a petition against this conflict if you’re going to sling around collective blame like that. The American people aren’t particularly capable of removing a sitting President: that is the job of Congress and/or the states, and so far neither body seems particularly inclined to take action just now.

  16. klasher 5 seemed to make a total judgment of me becaue of my support of the troops…my son is in iraq…klasher commented on my blog…assuming i dont care about the iraqi people…i care very deeply about them and i care about the troops.

    fyi…you can do both!

    if you want to read it:

    http://cjkaylor.livejournal.com/

  17. The lotus rises from the fecal material is the Oriental way of comprehending how the new generation of winners has been spawned by a human-garbage sleaze-dump mound of self-serving narcissistic bio-mass. …

    Your area of expertise, no?

  18. daveinboca

    Isn’t it about time you had the bolts in your neck tightened? It should be covered under the warranty.

  19. Kathy Kattenburg

    LOL, Bobby. Yours was better than mine! 🙂

  20. Kathy Kattenburg

    Cindy wrote:

    klasher 5 seemed to make a total judgment of me becaue of my support of the troops…my son is in iraq…klasher commented on my blog…assuming i dont care about the iraqi people…i care very deeply about them and i care about the troops.

    Cindy,

    I hope your son stays safe and comes back to you soon. I can’t even imagine what it would be like if my child were in Iraq.

    I like the way you write. (I mean, on your blog.)

    And btw, if that is you in the photographs, you do not look anywhere near old enough to have a son old enough to be in Iraq.

  21. Chief

    Atrocities.

    Perspective.

    Some would argue that there are not any more atrocities in this conflict than in conflicts past. Just that there is more media covering the conflict so the atrocities get more ‘ink.’ I would say that is disingenuous and simply not true. There are, in my opinion, significantly more acts committed by United States military personnel that normal rational people would consider atrocities.

    And, yeah, like leadership, the conditions that allow atrocities begin at the top. It is easy to blame the junior officer (Captain and below)/senior enlisted (Sergeant First Class and up) but all they are doing is taking care of the troops they are assigned to lead. Not a justification. Just an explanation.

    Take a Captain, assigned as a platoon commander. S/he is responsible for about 100 people, the vast majority of which are junior enlisted. S/he knows these folks, knows their spouses, knows their aspirations, knows their strong and weak points and mostly knows s/he wants to bring all of them home alive.

    The junior officer/senior enlisted are just doing the best they can in the situation in which the generals/President Bush have put them.

    When I watch on CNN or ABC News U.S. troops kicking open a gate or using a battering ram to knock down a door, I know that if some foreign power was doing that in my town or to my house (my home is my castle, yeah, right) that I would be classified as an insurgent.

    Disingenuous. The media are not blaming the right party. Atrocities should be laid at the doorstep of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

    BTW, I read Cindy Kaylor’s blog rant.

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