Watching Football, Waiting for War

Yes, he's dejected -- but he's not deploying to Afghanistan

Yes, he’s dejected — but he’s not deploying to Afghanistan

Brandon Lingle

[Reprinted from the New York Times by permission of the author]

At an outpost surrounded by blast walls and scrub brush, I huddled in an auditorium with two dozen other airmen to watch the Super Bowl streamed via a jerry-built cellphone Wi-Fi connection.

“We probably have a worse broadcast than Kandahar,” said a senior airman after images of troops at one of the largest NATO bases in Afghanistan flashed on the screen during the national anthem. Others cheered at the sight of military members backing up the singer. Several in the room stood as the music played.

Many laughed at the comment since we weren’t serving on the Afghan frontier. We were safe at Camp Anderson-Peters, an Air Force compound in the middle of a military training facility just outside San Antonio, within view of multimillion-dollar homes that some said belonged to the singer George Strait and several Spurs basketball players. As students in the Air Force’s 10-day Combat Airman Skills Training, we found ourselves in a sort of limbo — neither at home nor war.

For some, the training served as the last stop before heading overseas. Others would get a few days or weeks at their home bases before beginning their tour. Most in the class had deployed before, if not multiple times, but this would be the first for more than a few.

Regardless, the simulated deployment offered the first tangible sign that we had hit the pause button on our lives back home for the next six to eight months.

The Super Bowl fell midway through the course on small unit tactics, communications, land navigation, combat casualty care, convoy operations, threat awareness and weapons, all taught by a cadre of noncommissioned officers with countless deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. “Our goal is to teach you so you’re able to do what you need to do downrange so you come home in one piece,” they told us on the first day.

“No Air Force flyover, just Army helicopters,” said a staff sergeant as we watched the pregame festivities. “Budget cuts.”

A few laughs hinted at the reality that nearly all of us were vulnerable to the possibility of losing our jobs as the Air Force looks to cut 23,263 people in the next year. Those being forced out could get the news while still deployed.

A collective “Awwwww” rose from the crowd each time the stream halted and buffered. One airman yelled, “Don’t use the microwave, man, it’s jamming our signal!”

Ranking from junior enlisted to full-bird colonels, and even Defense Department civilians, we represented a cross-section of the service with jobs including pilot, bandsman, intelligence, communications, public affairs, engineer, scientist, mental health and chaplain. Clad in a mix of camouflage and physical training outfits, with M-4 carbines and M-9 pistols, we ate hot dogs and hamburgers, drank water from Camelbaks and watched the game on a screen bookended by an American flag and a display of fake improvised explosive devices.

Just yards from our makeshift party, floodlights illuminated a flagpole and a stone memorial bearing the names of eight airmen who had completed similar training at the camp in previous years and died serving in Iraq. Many of our instructors knew one or more of the fallen. A few had been with them when they died. One instructor said, “I’ve got 15,000 miles of Iraq convoy time, been blown up six or seven times.”

We represented bases and hometowns from across the globe, and many of these airmen were in elementary school when the war in Afghanistan began.

“Who are the Red Hot Chili Peppers?” a young female airman first class asked during the halftime show.

“That song was huge in ’91,” said a major.

“Oh, that was before I was born,” the airman replied.

After halftime, the crowd started to thin out. They moved on with their night into cold tents to sleep or Skype with loved ones in a sort of preseason scrimmage of trying to stay connected to their families in the months to come.

For the uninitiated, this offered a preview of expeditionary life, and for the veterans, a reminder of spending time away from home, of lugging weapons, wrestling body armor, living communally, having minimal privacy, eating mediocre food, having to obey dozens of rules and worrying about the unknown. Anderson-Peters even mimicked forward bases in that it had contractors working around the camp.

When the Denver Broncos scored their first points, in the third quarter, the commentator’s words resonated: “This is the first of many two-point conversions required,” and “they have a long, long, long way to go.”

In the midst of the American drawdown in Afghanistan, after more than 12 years of war, we could be among the last United States forces headed into the country. We’re headed overseas against the current. We have a long, long way to go.

After Budweiser’s “A Hero’s Welcome” commercial, a senior airman said: “What’s with all the military commercials? It’s like they’re trying to make the war cool again.”

These words ricocheted in my head. To me, they acknowledged that our Afghanistan odyssey drones on in the background of our national dialogue. They underscored that a vast majority of Americans have no connection with the military, especially the 37,500 service members still serving in Afghanistan. They argued that commercials, tributes and ceremonies were no substitute for a meaningful conversation about the war. They showed that young Americans who joined the military after 9/11 know that their country isn’t really paying attention.

As Peyton Manning hung his head and skulked off the field in a shower of blue and green confetti at the end of the game, I couldn’t help but think of the cleanup crew at the Meadowlands. I pictured hundreds of uniformed workers rushing in as the crowd flooded out. In my mind, I watched them struggle against the garbage of the thousands who came for the big game, made a mess and just walked away when time ran out.

Brandon Lingle served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a public affairs officer. His nonfiction was noted in “The Best American Essays 2010 and 2013,” and he is an editor of War, Literature & the Arts, published by the United States Air Force Academy. He is an active-duty Air Force major stationed in California. You can follow him on Twitter. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force, Department of Defense or United States government.

17 thoughts on “Watching Football, Waiting for War

  1. Brandon.. Welcome to TCP. Yes, there is life after the military and that will be the time to debate your question. Americans are looking back at the mess and trying to figure out how to clean up the Augean stable that we have been conned into dirtying.

  2. Nice irony: all that struggle to get reception to watch probably the worst “Super” Bowl ever!! Hell, this game hasn’t been “super” since the NFL absorbed the AFL. It should be labeled what it is, simply the NFL Championship Game. My personal cure for all the bullshit military tie-ins to that broadcast is to avoid them, along with all pre-game activity. The famous Half-Time Show? I didn’t stick around, the game being so one-sided and thus boring. Wouldn’t have watched the “entertainment” anyway.

    On more serious matters: From what I can glean, the latest Obama administration line is that if “President” Karzai doesn’t sign off on the agreement re: US personnel to remain beyond this year, the US will unilaterally decide what’s to happen. This is quite a change from the previous threat to simply pull all US personnel out if the little puppet doesn’t get with the program. (Frankly, I’m amazed Karzai hasn’t simply been “taken off the headcount.”) The bottom line remains: this war was never justified, cannot be justified now, and every US casualty is a life wasted utterly.

    GREG LAXER, US Army, 1967-1971

    • As we used to say back in the day: “We lost the say we started. We win the day we stop.” So just stop.

      Or, as the commedian W. C. Fields put it: “If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit. No sense being a damn fool about it.”

  3. “In the midst of the American drawdown in Afghanistan, after more than 12 years of war, we could be among the last United States forces headed into the country. We’re headed overseas against the current. We have a long, long way to go.”

    How this reminds me of 1969 at the Defense Language Institute where we had a sardonic standing joke about our impending deployment to the long drawn-out retreat from Southeast Asia:

    Question: “If President Nixon is withdrawing the troops from Vietnam, how come I’ve got orders to Vietnam next year?”

    Answer: “You fool! How can Nixon withdraw you from Vietnam unless he sends you there first.”

    President Nixon and his Rasputin adviser, Henry “Der Bomber” Kissinger, euphemistically called our upcoming deployment “Vietnamization.” The French called it “Yellowing the corpses,” meaning that the gradual, grudging retreat (i.e., “withdrawl,” or “drawdown”) had only one purpose: namely, to continue the U.S. War on Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) while getting the Southeast Asians to do the dying instead of Americans. Nixon and Kissinger — along with the American foreign policy “elite” who had initiated and perpetrated the disaster — thought that with the dropping number of American servicemen (meaning, casualties) would come a loss of interest in the war by the American public, so that the war could go on indefinetly — or at least until its official American perpetrators could slip out of office leaving their successors to either clean up the mess, or — more likely — to keep making more of a mess until they could slip out of ofice leaving their successors to …

    As the engineers like to say: “When a man makes a mistake, he makes a mistake. When a machine makes a mistake … makes a mistake … makes a mistake … makes a …”

    Anyway, I always thought of us expendable non-entities — a motley collection of leftovers and misfits that the miltiary still owned but otherwise had little use for — as the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent. Today’s expendable non-entities have a task indistinguishable from ours: namely, to Afghanize the Afghans (as the U.S. more recently Iraqified the Iraqis). The French would no doubt call this policy, “browning the bodies.” And the motley assemblage of expendables for which the bloated U.S. military has no other use? Let us call them the Buy Time Brigade.

    Short version in verse (from Boobie Counter Insurgency):

    The blowback, though, comes round in time;
    No one has yet escaped.
    Vietnamized; Iraqified;
    Corrupted by the raped
    The victors thus are vanquished by
    The monkeys that they aped

    Longer version:

    Bring Home the Buy Time Brigade

    The Buy Time Brigade is busted
    It’s run out of money and luck
    The guy at the top can’t be trusted
    Because he does not give a fuck

    He starts with his missions “accomplished”
    After which he unravels the gain
    Then spinning his endless excuses,
    He covers up losses and pain

    Commanding, Commandments, commanded:
    He’s fallen in love with command
    Stone deaf to how he’s been backhanded
    By voters and their reprimand

    The people don’t like what he’s doing
    They’ve told him both time and again
    They’re tired of his endless pooch-screwing
    They want the war over by ten:

    That’s minutes, or hours, or bedtime
    That doesn’t mean weeks, months, or years
    For those who don’t listen, it’s dead time
    Like getting tossed out on their ears

    The blood and the billions have vanished
    It’s time for the twerp to atone
    To Dante’s tenth level he’s banished
    A new low for just him alone

    Or maybe Dick Cheney will join him
    To smirk at his armpit and sneer
    Which Dubya will take as a coin hymn
    A chant to make money and cheer

    The Fig Leaf Contingent from Asia
    Has come back again to be heard:
    “Fuck him and his fucked-up Fantasia!
    No Lyndon Baines Bush: Texas turd!”

    And no more from old Tricky Dickies
    Those Kissingers, Nixons, and Fords
    The vampires who left us with hickeys
    From bleeding our necks for their gourds

    Just cut off the money and maybes
    Just quit all the stalling for time
    We don’t need these rats with their rabies
    To rob us of our last thin dime

    The Buy Time Brigade has no reason
    Except to die fighting for zilch
    To parasites we’re open season:
    Our pockets and veins they will filch

    Yet still with these gruesome reminders,
    Obama has hired the same jerks
    Who always advise bloody nonsense:
    Like staying with what never works

    “We’ll know what we see when we see it,”
    Says Holbrooke of what he can’t state:
    Like one damned good reason for staying
    Where wise ones leave early, not late

    Yet greed knows no limits too hyper,
    And before all our regiments fade,
    It’s past time to pay off the piper
    And bring home the Buy Time Brigade

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2006-2009

    • Since I associate that rhetorical question with John Kerry, who currently spends his time threatening any number of other countries for his boss, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, I would refine that hauntiing thought down to its essence, and inquire: “Who wants to die in any war?”

      • Yes, as they say in “All Quiet on the Western Front”: When it comes to dying for your country, it’s better not to die at all.

  4. “I couldn’t help but think of the cleanup crew at the Meadowlands. I pictured hundreds of uniformed workers rushing in as the crowd flooded out. In my mind, I watched them struggle against the garbage of the thousands who came for the big game, made a mess and just walked away when time ran out.” — Brandon Lingle

    I always get a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I run across a military officer attempting to grapple with metaphors, similies, analogies, or other figures of speech. You know, “dominoes,” “tipping points,” “oil spots,” “tunnels with a light at the end of them,” etc. So consider:

    (1) The cleanup crew at the Meadowlands gets paid not to “struggle” with garbage, but to get rid of it, which they do in rather short order and for not very much money. If they could only “struggle” with garbage, their employers would fire them in short order and find someone else who could do the job.

    (2) The tens of thousands of fans who attended the game paid good money to see a contest with a known time limit. They also paid for the right to throw trash all over the place in their enthusiasm. After all, we don’t call them “fanatics” for nothing. But everyone knew and accepted all this going in. They knew the time on the game clock would run out, and they knew they would “walk-away” — i.e., leave — when it did. No one pays outrageous ticket prices thinking that they will have to stay after the contest and pick up their own garbage.

    (3) The author of the above remarks somehow missed the real point concerning the mess down on the field, created by professional athletes paid extraordinary amounts of money ostensibly because they can do what they do better than anyone else in the world. After all, we don’t call it a “super” bowl for nothing. Thousands of fans no doubt left the stadium as quickly as they could (1) to beat the traffic out of the parking lot, (2) just to get away from the stench wafting up from the astroturf below., and (3) hoping to get home where they could see some comparativley decent entertainment on television.

    In short: everyone knows and accepts what happens at heavily hyped professional sporting events. So why does this sort of thing have any relevance as a metaphor illustrating a prospective military deployment to Afghanistan?

    The analogy breaks down, in my opinion, because the author associates the military with the cleanup crew and the American people with the trash-throwing fans, without acknowledging that the professional military — like the professional athletes on the field — encouraged the fans to hysterically support them while the “professionals” made an unholy mess of the so-called contest. In the real world, as a matter of fact, the U.S. military demanded that the American public uncritically support them while they made a mess in Afganistan (after making another one in Iraq) while charging the American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars a year for a game with a clock that keeps getting reset year after year after year — for over a decade. Apparently, the U.S. military expects for any game in which they particpate to last indefinitely until, at some distant point in the future, doing the same thing over and over will magically, produce a different result. Now there you have the definition of a fanatic.

    In any event, the Afghan people will have to clean up the mess that the American miliary professionals have made of their country, just as the Vietnamese and the Iraqi people had to do — and still have to do — years after the clock of history ran out on the fanatical U.S. military leaving behind a mountain of bloody trash wherever they go. The professional U.S. military made the mess on the field of Afghanistan and so it only stands to reason that they should clean up their own mess. Unfortunately, since they only know how to make messes, it would probably work out better for all concerned if the U.S. miltitary simply ceased sending any more mess-makers to Afganistan. Just bringing home the ones already there would probably work out better for the professionals, the American people, and the Afghan clean-up crew.

    Time’s up.

    • A powerful critique, Mike, which deserves to be its own article. Here’s where I differ from you: The U.S. military is not a monolith. And not all within it are created equal, nor do they bear equal responsibility for the mess created. I suppose you could argue we’re all responsible, since the military acts in the name of the people. But the truly responsible ones are the leaders who call the shots: Our presidents, Congress, and the brass, as well as those corporate entities that profit most from war. They are the ones most responsible.

      The young airman who volunteers, looking to serve her country in an honorable way, and preferring military service to a dead-end job at a fast-food restaurant: Can we really blame her? She probably joined for naive, even idealistic, reasons. She wants to do her bit in an honorable way. But how can she, really, when we send her to a lost war under false pretenses? Is she to blame for this? I don’t think so.

      • Thank you for your response, Professor, but my analysis, I thought I made clear, concerns the remarks of a military officer — and a public relations specialist (i.e., propagandist) at that. I didn’t say anything about the enlisted ranks whom I believe I undersand quite well having gone there and done that myself. I’ll get around to them later along with the whole emotionally loaded subject of “hiding behind the troops.” For the immediate present, though, I’d like to stick to analysing the remarks of professional military spokespersons — exclusively officers — who speak for the U.S. military and to the American public. Please forgive my jaundiced personal view of the U.S. military, but I can still remember forty years ago when military public-relations officers gave briefings in Saigon that knowledgable reporters (like David Halberstam) derisively labeled “the Five O’Clock Follies.” Nobody who knew anything worth knowing paid the slightest attention to them, so divorced from reality had they become. Nothing but self-serving, careerist propaganda aimed at the taxpaying folks back home. Obviously, I still feel the same incredulous disdain when I read remarks by military public-relations types like the one I quoted above.

        Speaking of which, did you notice how the Air Force major said:

        “In the midst of the American drawdown in Afghanistan, after more than 12 years of war, we could be among the last United States forces headed into the country. We’re headed overseas against the current. We have a long, long way to go.”

        I suggest we focus on the words “drawdown,” “war,” “could be”, and “long.”

        Now, first of all, why can’t this officer use the word “withdrawal” instead of the Orwellian euphemism “drawdown.” Actually, “retreat” would characterize the real situation even better. Napoleon did, after all, retreat from Moscow. The German Wehrmacht did retreat from Stalingrad. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps did retreat from the Yalu River. Retreats happen when military forces find themselves in an untenable position. Skillfully conducting a retreat can often save a military force from obliteration. The British, to take but one salient example, did not manage their retreat from Afghanistan successfully, as only one wounded doctor managed to escape with his life. But I suppose we can hardly expect this level of historical realism from those who speak for the U.S. military today. A “drawdown,” refers only to a reduction in the number of troops to some unspecified level, not to getting the lot of them completely out of the Afghan sand-trap shooting gallery. The American people wrote off this ghaslty blunder years ago and when they hear President Obama say that this war will end by the last day this year, then they understand that to mean that all of our deployed troops will come home.

        Second, the U.S. military has “invaded” and “occupied” Afghanistan for the past 12 years, so it would really help to clear things up if we used the words “invasive occupation” instead of “war.” They mean entirely different things.

        Third, the U.S. miltitary spokesperson waffles about in the potential mood — saying that he “could be” — instead of opting for the simple declarative — saying that he “will be.” As I like to say in response to such semantic waffling by U.S. military spokespersons:

        “If you knew what to do, you’d have done it already. If you could have, you would have; but you didn’t, so you can’t.

        Fourth, this interminable foot-dragging by the U.S. military seems to me like that old Third Reich slogan: “Wherever the German soldier plants his boot, there he must remain.” Pure institutional inertia. Nothing more. Why, in fact, does the Air Force major assume that what he has to do will take a “long, long” time? Hasn’t the U.S. military ever heard of doing the job ahead of schedule and under budget? When I deployed to Vietnam in the summer of 1970 — during another long, drawn-out retreat — I wound up staying in-country for 18 months. The enlisted guy who relieved me at the end of January 1972 only stayed for three months before rotating back home. So, again, why does this Air Force major assume that he couldn’t do his job in three months or less? Doesn’t he actually want to see the job done well and expeditiously? Or does he simply want the job to continue indefinitely, just so he can have a job? I think his choice of words pretty much tells the tale. A more forthright spokesperson might have written:

        “In the midst of the American retreat from Afghanistan, after more than 12 years of invasive occupation, we will be among the last United States forces headed into the country. We’re headed overseas against a steaily weakening stream, and we have now but a short way to go before we finish this job.” [key word: “finish”]

        As our friend, the WII Veteran says: “Semantics do matter.”

        Finally, I’d like to address the subject of irresponsible officers hiding behind the poor enlisted men and women, but that subject will take more time to address than I have available at present. I will get back to it, though. I promise.

      • Mike: This is an explanation, not an excuse: When you’re on active duty, whether you know it or not, your thoughts (and thus your writing) are constrained. It is extremely difficult to write “retreat,” because the word suggests a betrayal of all those who have gone before you. It is extremely difficult to write “invasion,” because that suggests the US is an imperialist aggressor with a choice, rather than a humanitarian country fighting an honorable war of necessity against dishonorable elements like the Taliban.

        It took me two years after retiring in 2005 to distance myself from the military, to be a little more dispassionate about, a little less connected to, the military. And I know some of my ex-colleagues in uniform see my writing today as misguided (at best), perhaps even disloyal (at worst), or at least less than fully loyal.

        Major Lingle’s article does us a service. He reminds us that there is a war/invasion on; he reminds us that there is a drawdown/retreat in progress. Many Americans have no clue about either. He encourages us to think about how we’re being distracted by the bread and circuses of the Super Bowl, even as our heartstrings are deliberately tugged/manipulated by commercials that seek to exploit our patriotism to sell cheap beer. Those are positive qualities of his article.

        For me, the most compelling part of the article was the young airman who blurted out, “Oh, they’re trying to make war cool again” with regards to the feel-good pro-military commercials. That’s a penetrating insight that most Americans simply don’t get. But many in the military DO get it — but they do their duty, as their leaders compel them to do.

        War is a packaged product in the US. People need to understand that. Major Lingle’s article does help a careful reader to draw that conclusion. Don’t dismiss him just because he’s in public affairs. Listened to with care, oft-times those officers will tell you a lot more of the truth than most Americans are prepared to hear. Even now.

    • Mike–Well, except for perhaps their first couple weeks in the military, commissioned officers probably don’t go on good ol’ “police call” to pick up the garbage on the compound like we enlisted personnel were privileged to do. Again and again and again. More seriously, my analysis of Afghanistan is that it is basically an ungovernable, unconquerable-by-foreigners wilderness. Since the crimes of 9/11 were, in theory, committed by mostly Saudis, on instruction of the bin-Laden of Yemeni origin, why exactly did the US military invade Afghanistan? “In theory” (the quot. marks indicate escalated skepticism) this bin-Laden was being harbored on Afghan soil. Was he ever really there? What can explain USA’s real interest in Afghan turf? I would suggest: 1.) opium poppies; and 2.) simply a chunk of territory thru which/over fossil fuel natural resources abundant in neighboring territories can be transported, via pipeline, rail or truck.

      • As my fellow Vietnam veteran, Daniel Ellsberg said about Deputy Dubya’s stud-hamster vendetta against the toothless Sadam Hussein: “The United Staes invaded Iraq for three reasons: Oil, Israel, and Domestic Political Advantage.” As former South Carolina Senator Fritz Hollings put it: “America invaded Iraq to secure the state of Israel — and everybody knows it.” Naturally, no responsible official in the United States government — corporate civilian or corporate military — said anything about their “real” reasons for initiating a war of aggression against a sovereign Arab state that had never attacked or threatened the United States. In a similar vein concerning Afghanistan, I think you have every right to suspect whatever official reasons — or rationales — our government puts forward to explain its policy in Afghanistan. As I like to say about spokespersons for the U.S. corporate oligarchy: “They lie, just to keep in practice; just so they won’t forget how.”

        I agree with your assessment regarding opium and oil pipeline transit rights. Pepe Escobar of Asian Times Online calls the place “Pipelineistan.” Historically, the British Empire used opium as its lever to invade and annex parts of China, since the Chinese would sell their China, Tea, and Silk to the British but would only accept silver as payment. This led to a near collapse of the British currency. So getting the Chinese hooked on opium grown in Britain’s India and Afghan colonies provided the economic and political answer for the Imperial English. No doubt you’ve heard of the First and Second Opium Wars, from whose devastating consequences China only started to recover midway through the last century. Additionally, the U.S. CIA got heavily involvd in the “Golden Triangle” drug trade in Indochina during the Vietnam War and no doubt had to overthrow the Taliban because they nearly wiped out the drug trade as “un-Islamic.” Can’t have that. Where do people think the C.I.A. gets much of its off-the-books funding, anyway?

        And about the Saudi — not to mention the Israeli — stranglehold on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, one can hardly overstate the case; although, again, you will seldom find any mainstream corporate media outlet openly discussing these twin baleful influences. So we proles get only more official lying.

        Regarding your suspicions about the true imperial-economic motives underlying America’s current “wars,” you might want to check out Daniel Ellsberg’s interview on The Real News Network (TRNN) back on October 25, 2009, entitled From Vietnam to Afghanistan. In it he alluded to the pipeline plans that you mentioned, but expanded upon them:

        “ELLSBERG: Well, Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff of General Powell when he was Secretary of State, and others, felt then and apparently feels now that the major thing behind US policy here is the need for a pipeline through Afghanistan from the gas and oilfields of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and others. That, I’m sure, is not the major thing in the minds of the military. It seems as though many of them want to re-fight the Vietnam War and do it right this time and show that they’re not doomed to failure against these ill-armed, ill-uniformed peasants that they’re facing, that surely they can do better.”

        So here we have two intersecting and reinforcing interests motivating and sustaining the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan: (1) economics for the corporate oligarchy, and (2) “military metaphysics” (in the words of psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton) for the professonal officer corps. The American people, for their part, find themselves caught in an endless crossfire of lies and excuses, or what I like to call Manufactured Mendacity and Managed Mystification.

        Oh, and by the way: did you see the recent reports where Pakistan has reneged on its part of the energy pipeline from Iran through Pakistan to India? I swear, the government of Pakistan actually said that they did this — in spite of their own critical energy needs — because, and I quote: “The United States forbade it.”

      • Just the way I see things — from the bottom up.

        I try to give words a good look, both as I read them and as I write them. For example, when the airman in the article above says: “What’s with all the military commercials? It’s like they’re trying to make the war cool again.” I immediately thought: “What do you mean by “the” war? And what do you mean by “again”? If you mean just the “war” in Afghanistan, then you missed the entire point of the commercials. They mean to make “war itself” — what I like to call Warfare Welfareand MakeWork Militarism — “cool” (an adjective aimed at inexperienced adolescents). Everybody has pretty much already discounted and dismissed Afghanistan. That happened years ago. And who in their right mind ever considered this war “cool” in the first place? Military personnel who say things like that remind me of Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, where he definines “patriotism” as “combustible rubbish, ready to the torch of anyone ambitious to illuminate his name;” and “patriot,” as “the dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.” I never served in the military because of “patriotism.” I never wanted to burn just to illuminate someone else’s vainglorious name. I knew better, even as a kid just out of high school. So nobody duped me with vapid rhetoric or empty symbols. But I did serve as a reluctant “tool” of erstwhile American “conquerors.” About that, I had little choice, but I at least honestly admitted my own insignificant role in the great scheme of things. I never wanted a parade. I just wanted out. I tried to make the best of a bad situation and get whatever education and training I could. But I just wanted out.

        I don’t know the age of the airman in question, but I will never forget 11 years ago when Deputy Dubya Bush landed on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, popping out of a custom decorated plane in his “top gun” pilot’s regalia: about as juvenile and transparent a propaganda stunt as any I have ever witnessed. But a great many Americans [at the time] considered that “mission accomplished” moment “cool.” I remember watching television as inside-the-beltway pundits fairly raved at the sheer showmanship involved. Eleanor Clift of Newsweek noted the “adoring” gazes of the Navy crewmen assembled around their “Commander-In-Chief.” David Broder of the Washington Post exulted: “This president has just learned to move in ways that inspire confidence!” But I thought to myself: “You stupid bastards. You just bombed the holy shit out of Bagdhad, killing numerous people you didn’t know a thing about and wouldn’t bother to count even if you did. And you feel so proud of yourselves that you could just piss your pants.” That a U.S. Navy captain would have allowed his ship and crew to be used in such a puerile political stunt made me ashamed to have ever served in the U.S. Navy. Unless the airman mentioned above was a baby at the time, he or she must surely have seen that farce on prime-time television — and probably thought it “cool.” Not me. No way.

        Just as an aside: I’ve jgotten halfway through reading Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, by Nick Turse, and The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, by Andrew Bacevich. When I finish with them, I’ll have something more to add to this conversation.

  5. Military or no, we create more garbage than will allow us to sustain this planet – the only one we happen to have at the moment. No one can “pay for the right” to toss garbage around. It is something that we all pay for, whether in the Meadowlands or deplete uranium hardened shells in Iraq…

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