"Cover Your Ass"
"I am no kook, hippie, hawk, or dove. I am just a veteran combat photographer and foreign correspondent who cares intensely about my country and the role we are playing -and assigning to ourselves--in the world of today. And I want to shout a loud protest at what has happened at Khesanh and in all of Vietnam." ~ David Douglas Duncan, I Protest.
Recently Special Forces veteran Stan Goff wrote an open letter to US troops in Iraq. A cautionary essay about the roles being hoisted onto the shoulders of in-country soldiers, the column advises the young troops to consider their actions carefully, with their own moral code or self-interest at heart.
"The National Command Authority and its cheerleaders cannot say out loud . . . this is what we are doing, and it can't get done unless we dehumanize the occupied. This reality, this system, will express itself in the thoughts and emotions of you, the troops who carry it out, because this military occupation is in a sense making a prison of Iraq and making you, the troops, its turnkeys," Stan cautioned. "It will only be those exceptional individuals among you in the military who refuse to surrender their humanity - no matter how little you may understand the big picture."
To this may I add, Cover Your Ass. Without a doubt, the top brass who gave those orders which resulted in courts martial for the "S&M-7," the torturers of Abu Ghraib, are nowhere in sight, but wasn't that to be expected? You soldiers in Iraq should understand that college courses are taught at West Point on CYA, and your Commander-in-Chief endorses a similar policy called Incompetence Rewarded. How did you expect General Myers got elevated to Chairman of the JCS? Talent?
For those Guardsmen too dumb, too cruel, or too damn naive to know you were metaphorically crossing a rice paddy in enemy territory with a treeline on each flank and a full pack, you have my slight sympathy. Not much, but slight. Sacrificial lambs of an imperial foreign policy, you'll get your tenner while General Karpinski, Gen. Geoffrey Miller and Steve Cambone get wristslaps.
You could hardly be expected to fully understand what just happened to you, but you were reamed like some of your Abu Ghraib victims. Call it payback or poetic justice, but now you know what it feels like.
The Big Picture, as Stan Goff called it. The war crime wrapped around an atrocity, within an immoral, foreign policy. Just like in Vietnam. No damn difference; just one to two generations removed.
I confess, my feelings as a veteran are mixed. I hated the Vietnam War just as I hate this one. After I joined the Air Force in 1968, I went to jail to avoid even the slightest chance of war zone duty. If that makes me a coward, so be it. As an American with quaint, outdated ideas, I believe my duty as a serviceman is first to love, honor and protect my country and loved ones--and none of mine lived in Vietnam.
No way in hell are you young guys defending my freedoms by smashing down doors and brutalizing civilians in an occupied country. I don't care if all the blowhard conjobs in the Pentagon call your duty in Iraq "liberation" or the Second Coming; the plain, unvarnished truth is you are prison guards in a vast, poisoned, outdoor penitentiary.
"No matter how hard American propaganda tried to portray the Vietnam War as a righteous battle for a better world, it didn't take long for soldiers stationed in Vietnam to realize that this was not the case," wrote Jonathan Clyne. "It wasn't the brutality of the war that in and by itself led to the disintegration of the U.S. Army. All wars are brutal. The very essence of war is to solve conflicts using a maximum of force. American soldiers were subject to and perpetrators of brutality also during the Second World War. The crucial difference is that they believed in their cause."
By contrast, if the Neocons believed in the righteousness of the Vietnam War, why weren't most of them in uniform then? Ask yourself that. Convenient how they now have you doing the same dirty work in Iraq that they shirked in Vietnam. What did Christ say about hypocrites and high priests? And what is the whole purpose of torture? Can someone explain what-the-hell our born-again leaders hoped to learn? Except how dead they are?
Nope, I don't give a flying fuck for the defense of democracy in Iraq if it means smashing democracy here at home and abroad. Soldier, if you have to declare your own independence in a combat zone, then do so before you're conquered. Certainly I wish for each of you soldiers in Iraq a perimeter of safety: moral, mental and physical safety; no broken limbs or busted souls.
By the same token, I pray for your homecoming. Git home soon, get home safe, but just git-the-hell home! Express this longing to every officer you meet: "Begging your pardon, sir, but when are we going home? My wife/mother/lover wants to know." Pester the hell out of those fuckers. Get them to pester the hell out of the fuckers above them. A great Christian soldier once said: "Ask and ye shall receive; seek and ye shall find; knock and the door shall be opened to you." Well, knock loudly on that door and shout boldly, and what you seek may yet come to pass--despite the criminal obstruction of a cabal of evildoers.
Army veteran and columnist Charley Reese called some of you soldiers "thugs and sluts," but Charley is two or three generations removed. The harsh truth is many of us older veterans have gotten a foreboding sense of deja vu: Iraq-Nam. We see wasted lives and wrong-headed thinking. We see you young lions, full of piss and vinegar, full of yourself as we were full of ourselves. Willingly used, cheerfully abused, but eventually deceived and doomed.
We see our fellow soldiers victimized, while the architects of war win the peace prizes. We see a string of new monuments on the lawns of Washington DC, beautiful bronzes and marbles to fallen heroes soon forgotten.
What sort of monument will we create to the fallen soldiers of the Middle East occupation? Ask yourself: Can you imagine the future Iraq War Memorial, and does it look like the Robert Gould Shaw monument (right) dedicated to doomed soldiers like yourself? Or perhaps you imagine a memorial in the shape of a toppled minaret with a bronze US Marine Corps sniper atop.
Defending my freedoms, are you? Yeah, the same way William Tecumseh Sherman defended those of my Michigan forefathers, sacking, looting and raping Columbia, South Carolina while Mr. Lincoln kept dissident newsmen in prison. General Sherman--"War is hell"--knew a thing or two about war crimes, but luckily, he was on the winning side. His monument astride a horse (below) would hardly fit our armored legions, but the angel is a lovely stretch of the artist's imagination--especially if the figure is the avenging angel of death.
I pity my fellow enlisted men in boots and fatigues far from home, but reserve nothing but scorn for the brass hats and stuffed suits who put them there. For that brute soldier in Iraq, whether commanding general or common soldier, who wears the uniform and salutes the flag of my country, yet easily commits the atrocity with nostrils flaring and a giddy feeling, I despise you. You no more represent democratic values than Jack the Ripper represented surgeons.
Fuck off and leave us alone, you say? Okay, dipshit. Plunder the treasure and wear it with pride back home. Take the self-respect of an Iraqi who never wronged you; take the enormous wealth of oil; take the stolen gold. Take it, and the depleted uranium in your body, and the spiritual poison in your soul, and live with it every night. But Karma comes around and kicks us all in the ass, and you, my hotshit young friend, are no exception. Payback is a motherfucker. No one gets a free pass.
War correspondent John Pilger wrote about the hidden cost of war, a debt payable now or in the future. "The real tragedy of soldiers policing a colonial occupation is also suppressed. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed in Vietnam. The same number, according to a veterans' study, killed themselves on their return home." No one gets a free pass, young lads; this you'll learn one day. In this life or the next. Come home safe in every sense of the word; just come home.