Thursday, March 15, 2012

To the Mountains of Madness

The Germans used to tell a story about the occupation of Alsace, back in the late Eighteen-hundreds.Now the local Alsatians, part-German though they were, liked having a bunch of foreign soldiers living on top of them about as much as you'd think. And the soldiers probably didn't like it any better, being young, bored, and far from home amid a population that didn't much care for them.

And, unfortunately, some of them might not have behaved as they would have back in those homes. So come the day an Alsatian father, bolder or perhaps just more reckless than the rest, drags his shrinking daughter into the German commandant's office to rage about the goddamn soldier who had raped his sweet, demure, virginal little girl.Now I'll bet that Hauptmann probably looked at the bedraggled little Franconian farm wench and thought "Was im ficknamen haben Wir hier jetzt..?" I'll bet he vaguely remembered her hanging around the garrison, possibly even flirting with the junge in their natty uniforms. A trooper with a steady job, even a foreigner, might not have seemed like a bad catch for an ambitious girl from a boring little scheißloch farm town.

And I'll bet he sighed, thinking that he really needed this like a case of the piles; some goddamn troop that couldn't keep it in his pants until he visited Mdme. Villebois down at the town brothel, and some little local wench who was probably more pissed off about the lack of an engagement ring than the actual ravishing.

And about how impossible it would be to try and figure out which one of his guys had actually done the damn deed.I can picture him drumming his fingers on the desk in irritation before shouting for his Stabsfeldwebel.

And I'll bet the Stabs had his guesses; if he was any good he'd know who had been on the prowl for the farmgirls in town. But he had a couple of hundred men, and the nights were dark, and the lanes were shadowy, and who the hell knew, anyway?

But whatever had happened, the two soldiers knew this; there would be hell to pay if they didn't do something.

The locals were quiet because they knew that to raise their hand against the occupation was to get crushed. And because the troops were usually reasonably polite, and didn't get in people's way without reason.

But...if this got around, and suddenly the local people began to think that their women, or anyone else, might be attacked, well...the officer and the sergeant both knew how many of the locals had been armed by the French government back in the last war...and how many of them probably had a Chassepot shoved up in the eaves somewhere. And they probably grimaced uneasily, remembering the damn franc-tireurs - the "free shooters" - who had made the countryside so unpleasant for them on the way to Paris a couple of years ago.

So the Stabs paraded the garrison, and the Hauptmann addressed them quietly, and the men drew lots out of a helmet. And the unlucky winner was marched out the following morning to the wall outside, neatly shot, and buried in the churchyard that evening. Personally, the Stabs suspected that Kirchen probably hadn't done it - Kirchen was a shy kid, really, and he suspected Knabe, the dirty hound; he'd been sniffing around that girl for the past week.

And with the weary rue old soldiers feel when they think about the things they're told to do or asked to do by the feckless people they work for the first shirt probably regretted having to shoot one of his own for a damn cheap little tart who'd likely be fat and blowsy by forty, married to some local yokel with mud up his backside, who both in five years would have forgotten all about the damn business.

How a good man had been killed because of someone's damn stupidity. About the fucking waste and misery and pointlessness of it all.

And how the Stabs would shoot another man just as quickly if it happened again.

Because the important thing is that the village remained quiet.

One soldier had died as soldiers have always died; to save his friends, and to serve his country's purpose.I have no doubt that the sergeant that killed a slew of Afghans this past week was off his nut. Shell-shocked, battle-fatigued, PTSD' it whatever you want. The man was on his, what, fourth? combat tour in probably six or seven years. That's a hell of a lot of time for a young man to spend doing the dirty work of imperial policing in some of the shittier parts of the world.And, honestly - I don't think that his insane slaughter says anything of any value about the "Afghanistan mission", or whatever the sweet hell the U.S. Army was doing in that town, or the province, or in A-stan, or southwest Asia, for that matter. It's just a tale told by semiautomatic fire, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. To take this tale of one man's journey into the mountains of madness is madness itself, trying to read the scribblings of a soul tormented to insanity by the peering in the abyss for too long.What tells me something very sad and sorry, though, is the general reaction I'm hearing and reading here in the U.S.

Which varies between much speculation about the very things this horror means nothing about - the Great Game that sergeant's country and mine is playing in the Afghan highlands, the "mission" he was supposed to be there for, or anything else having to do with the larger whys and wherefores that the United States has spent more than a decade farkling about doing in the hinterlands of central Asia - and personal hand-wringing about the trooper who seems to have gone bloodily nuts on the night of 11 MAR.

There are troubling, difficult problems there, there are difficult questions to ask about all of those things, but this particular incident touches on none of them.

Instead, what it drives home to me is how utterly, completely cluelessly disengaged the entire U.S. - from the public through the civilians in the federal government to the U.S. Army - is to whatever the fiddle-fuck we're doing there.Because the Hauptmann and the Stabsfeldwebel could tell everyone involved what needs to happen now.

Because if whatever the fiddle-fuck we're doing there means anything that soldier - regardless of how tortured his mind is, regardless of the demands of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, regardless of his rights, or the opinions of the gormless American public - needs to have a quick drumhead court-martial there at his post, be given a kind word and a good meal, and then taken out to the wall outside the FOB and shot.Because the important thing is that the village remained quiet.We just don't seem to get it.

Imperial occupations are damn deadly difficult things. They don't have a fucking thing to do with Goodness, or Rightness, or Freedom, or whatever bullshit pablum gets fed to the ignorant masses. They're about figuring out how to keep the locals quiet and as happy as possible.

Anything that makes that happen is what needs to happen.

And if you can't live with that - you need to get the fuck out of the business of imperial wars.Because we seem to have chosen to treat this like we'd treat a domestic murder rampage. Which makes perfect sense - because it was a murder rampage - except that in the context in which it happened is utterly mad. Other good men will die because of it.

Because people here and our media keep repeating that this man's madness says nothing about the tens of thousands of other GIs in the country that, while perfectly true, is perfectly meaninglessly mad.

Because while talking about combat stress, and giving this trooper his Article 31 rights, and a fair court-martial, and a long sentence in a military prison makes perfect sense to the world of the United States and the people comfortably here, or in their offices in Kabul, or in the quiet briefing rooms alongside the Potomac, in terms of what it will mean in the mountains of Afghanistan... a perfect wilderness of madness.


basilbeast said...

For all the years I've hung out with you and jim and the other milpubites, I think I've learned more than a bit, that no matter the quality of the small unit leadership and above that, things like this are bound to happen and worse.

I've also learned that in my years in the classroom.

No one learns from history, we all think that with our special time in history or with our special new and improved ideas and techniques and equipment, we'll transcend the mistakes of the past, problems solved and then ticker-tape, candy and flowers.

Qualities of leadership.

We needed a Moses to lead us out of tyranny and out of the wilderness, what we got is a good Aaron, but a Moses who's convinced that working it out with the Egyptians, doing the same old same old, is the best way to go.


rangeragainstwar said...

Look at the official helmet adornment shown in your post.
A 101 Airmob soldaten w. a Ace of Spades on his helmet. Cutsie but rather bullshit since the symbology is the card of death.Officially sponsored.
We have a society of violence and death glorified, and then we winch at the subtle, and or obvious nature of the beast.
You can't spot insanity in an insane environment. We learned that in Catch 22 and the Milgram study.
Simply put the Army is about killing and violence. We train for, adopt, and reward violent behavior with promotions, medals, and parades.Is it any wonder that we lose our sanity some where along the way.
Say what you will, but imo those who didn't serve fear those of us that did.
Hell, i fear us.

rangeragainstwar said...

In this months SOF there's a navy seal sniper who has killed 160 men, and he's a hero.
That's more than 16.
How many of the killed were a threat to any of us.
It's all a disney land for sociopaths.
Read SOF some time when you are wondering about how this is all gonna end.The American Rifleman is also a good source for hatred.
There's now a magazine called-SNIPER.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that all wars are mad, imperial wars have a special quality of madness.

There's really only one way to play them, and that's with the clear-eyed brutal understanding of what they mean and what it takes - including what it takes OUT of the men who fight in them - to fight them.

That's why I'm convinced that they're not good for supposed-popular democracies like ours. Because in liberal democracies wars have to be "sold" - the proles need to be convinced that they are on the side of Good and Right. And their soldiers do, too.

And imperia aren't anything about that.

The disconnect will eventually drive even the sanest man mad.

And so it is.

Anonymous said...

FDChief said: BTW, the above comment is mine.

Here's the thing, jim;

Until the Great Kumbaya and we don't study war no more, any and every society will need soldiers.

Soldiers, like knives, slice and destroy things. Like knives, they can be used to carve your supper, or they can be used to kill an innocent man. They WAY they function is very similar, and so there will and has to be a willingness to kill in soldiers for them to do their work.

That IS kinda scary, but no scarier (to me) than a sharp knife.

What's important is the hand on the handle and the mind guiding the hand.

IMO the problem is there; we've lost much of our collective minds, between believing the bullshit propaganda, the hindbrain Muslim-hate, the foolish inability to distinguish between intent and capability...

We've sent our knives to try and cut into a rock. The knives know that it's foolish and futile, but for their own pride they HAVE to believe that their spending their lives and their youth for something valuable. And the only value, right now, is in "killing bad guys" - regardless of whether that killing is accomplishing jack shit, or, frankly, at this point, whether we're killing the "bad guys" who wouldn't be "bad guys" if we weren't there...

So...I'm not shocked or disgusted at the violence and death we bring with us - that's a part of humans and always has been.

What's shocking and disgusting to me is the degree to which we've let it become a beast in and of itself; we've lost sight of the notion that it's supposed to have some intelligent purpose, and that we are supposed to do the hard work of finding out the facts and the ideas behind that purpose...

But we didn't bother back in 1845 with the Mexican War...why start now?


Ael said...


You keep thinking that the desired outcome of these imperial wars has anything to do with winning or losing the war. This is flawed thinking and leads to incorrect conclusions about the sanity of the participants.

The desired outcome of the war is, well, the war itself. A self-licking ice cream cone if you will.

This indifference to outcomes is the fundamental reason that nobody is trying to keep the village quiet. It simply does not matter. Earlier empires cared deeply about the state of their empire. It was the basic source of wealth and power. Not so with America.

In the USA, all the power and wealth is generated domestically. The empire only serves as a conduit of that energy to ensure that the appropriate players are enabled and enriched according to their internal political power.

Therefore all the important action happens in Washington, and events in Afghanistan matter only insofar as they affect the arrangement of the power tokens in Washington.

FDChief said...

Ael: Thinking about how piss-poor our national "discussion", political process, and military efforts have been for these idiot sideshows I'm more and more inclined to agree with you.

Which says something truly vile about my country.

The old chestnut about Britain acquiring her empire "in a fit of absence of mind" does genuinely seem to apply to our policy at least in the Middle East. We've somehow managed to persist in thrusting our head firmly up our ass since 1948, and we can see the results...

I've said this before; I don't want to be a faux-Roman or my country to be pseudo-Rome. But I'm willing to accept that there are arguments to be made for the notion of a sort of American "soft empire"; people like Max Fucking Boot and Niall Ferguson make them all the time.

What I can't tolerate is this sort of ridiculous self-fakery, this If-I-don't-see-it-maybe-it-won't-happen bullshit. We either accept what we're doing and what it will mean in terms of fucked up lives and places, or we don't. The least we can do as adults is act like it; own up to the barbarity of what we need to do, and then do it.

The alternative is what we're doing; a sickly sort of half-measure; what jim would call "pushing" instead of "punching", and the results are bound to be as worthless as they are proving, and people's lives are STILL being fucked up in the process.

Leon said...

The problem with your current imperial war is that a Democratic president will never end it for fear of looking "weak" so will continue this dance just to save domestic face. the Republicans will never end it because they're convinced we can drag a medieval society into the 21st C in a few years and turn them into good Republicans. The MIC will run between the two and sell lots of toys. The general public won't care because it's not their blood, a small percentage will suffer loss but not the broad public - they're too busy shopping per Dubya.

Either go Roman (unpleasant and not possible in today's world), or truly demonstrate that you're there to help the Afghani's by putting their lives above force protection and plan on being her for a couple of decades (no clever metaphor for this) or just call it a victory and go home.

FDChief said...

Leon: Sadly, I agree with your summation; there's just no real constituency for looking at this mess without our geopolitical beer goggles. Nobody "wins" if we just grab a hat, at least nobody whose opinion or existence matters worth a damn inside the Beltway.

So we can expect more journeys into the high peaks of the mountains of madness.

basilbeast said...

A look from the other end


pellegrinch said...

It had crossed my mind to wonder whether this guy, on his own initiative or prompted, did this as a way of hastening our exit - falling on his sword, taking one for the team, whatever. It makes some perverse sense, and I can't find any other sense in it.

FDChief said...

Lee: Sadly, I think it's simpler than that - I think he's just batshit crazy. You read about WW2 and Korea and there were guys like this, guys who just didn't care anymore, who decided that they'd just kill until they got killed. These cabinet wars don't offer the same opportunities, but I think this guy just said "fuck it".

But...the way the Army has handled it (they're not even releasing this guy's name) DOES make me wonder what the hell else is going on. Maybe there is a pretty clear paper trail documenting that this guy was going Asiatic and his chain-of-command just ignored it so as to have another warm body for deployment...

Either way, if that WAS his intention the Army hass sure helped him achieve it. The lesson they drum into you in the NCO Schools is that as a troop leader you have two tasks; 1) accomplish the mission and 2) take care of the troops. They're both critical, but the Mission Always Comes First. If you and your unit have to die to win, then you give it up with the conviction that you're bringing the battle, or the war, closer to a victorious end and saving the lives of your brother soldiers.

We've turned this entirely ass-backwards; by putting this guy's welfare first we've helped screw whatever's left of the Umpteenth Afghan War mission nine ways to Sunday.

Don't get me wrong - if I was this guy's father, or his brother, I'd want my country to do just that. But I'm not - I'm in the position of the First Sergeant of the company in the next FOB down the valley. And I know I'd be pissed off knowing that the Afghan bastards blowing me up tomorrow are getting all fired up today by this stuff.

basilbeast said...

What the Afghans are saying:

A parliamentary probe team on Thursday said up to 20 American troops were involved in Sunday’s killing of 16 civilians in southern Kandahar province.

The probing delegation includes lawmakers [eight MPs listed]. ... The team spent two days in the province, interviewing the bereaved families, tribal elders, survivors and collecting evidences at the site in Panjwai district. Hamizai Lali told Pajhwok Afghan News their investigation showed there were 15 to 20 American soldiers, who executed the brutal killings.

“We closely examined the site of the incident, talked to the families who lost their beloved ones, the injured people and tribal elders,” he said. He added the attack lasted one hour involving two groups of American soldiers in the middle of the night on Sunday.

“The villages are one and a half kilometre from the American military base. We are convinced that one soldier cannot kill so many people in two villages within one hour at the same time, and the 16 civilians, most of them children and women, have been killed by the two groups.”

I smell cover-up.


Lisa said...

I agree with your historical assessment: "They're about figuring out how to keep the locals quiet and as happy as possible."

What is interesting is that the Afghans seem to be more incensed by the disrespect of the Koran burning, or at least, this is how the press is spinning it.

If so, the Afghans have a handle on something we do not: The inviolability of The Idea. We act as though we value every life, though we manage to be very selective in this project; we are situational ethicists and manage to play "Twister" when we deem it necessary, and to do so without too many qualms.

For that reason, we stand not a chance against the True Believer, who allows for no exception.

FDChief said...

basil: So hard to tell. Everybody involved has multiple axes to grind. My guess is that this really IS the work of one man; it doesn't make sense as a sort of night-raid gone wrong. But, again, the simple fact is that at this point any speculation or damage-control is useless. The damage has been done. More of my Army brothers will die, and be maimed, and find that they have given their youth and their spirit to a handful of dust and ashes.

Lisa: To the believer flesh is grass; the Word is the Truth, and the Life. We would have been better off had we thought that through before embarking on this nonsense.