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Trump’s failure to honour fallen Americans at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery in 2018 speaks volumes.

Trump’s failure to honour fallen Americans at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery in 2018 speaks volumes.

Given his general vileness, it is easy for those of us who loathe and despise Donald Trump to readily believe the allegation that he uttered deeply disparaging remarks about World War I American dead whom he was scheduled to honour at a centennial ceremony on 10 November 2018 at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery and Memorial. Trump, and his flunkies have mounted a furious campaign of denial that he said what has been reported, first by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic and then confirmed by other media. But rather than argue over what he said, which is a matter of dispute, the focus should surely be on what he did, which is not.

First, some background. More than 2,000 Americans fell at the battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918 and are buried in the cemetery. They were part of a force composed of the 2nd and 3rd United States Infantry Divisions rushed to reinforce French troops on the Marne River front who were fighting desperately to stem a final German offensive to end the war. Belleau Wood became the focus of the German thrust in this sector but they ran smack into the US 4th Marine Brigade, comprised of the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments, part of the 2nd Division. The Marines had arrived just in time to see French troops retreating. When urged by the French to do the same the legendary reply came back from US Marine Captain Lloyd Williams: “Retreat? Hell we just got here!” The Marines dug in and repulsed the German attack. 

From the 3-26 June the ferocious battle raged back and forth until the Germans were finally ejected from the wood. In that time the Marines endured thunderous artillery, devastating machine gun fire as they advanced through open wheat fields, hand-to-hand fighting using bayonets, knives, rifle butts and fists and, perhaps most frightening of all, poison gas. During one gas attack, Gunnery Sergeant Fred W. Stockham gave his gas mask to a wounded Marine whose own had been shot off. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Some 10,000 Americans were casualties of whom over 1,800 Marines were killed. In their honour the French renamed Belleau Wood “Bois de la Brigade de Marine” or Wood of the Marine Brigade and awarded them the Crois de Guerre.

Against this backdrop and some 100 years later Donald Trump, when confronted with the prospect of a two-hour road trip and a rainy, possibly windy day that would play havoc with his hair, declined to attend the ceremony honouring the American fallen of Belleau Wood. To his chagrin, travel by helicopter had been nixed owing to inclement weather and rather than sucking it up as any other president would have done Trump, true to form, cancelled his appearance and hid behind the fiction that the logistics of moving his motorcade to the cemetery was beyond the organizational ability of his entourage; this despite the fact that several world leaders attended centennial events in the rain that day. There was strong criticism at the time, none more eloquent than this piece from Eliot A. Cohen in The Atlantic.

Not that the day was wasted. Trump apparently shopped for art at the residence of the US Ambassador to Paris and had several works of art shipped back to the White House.

So Trump skipped an event to honour our heroic soldiers and Marines who had given everything they had to give in service to their country to avoid a bad hair day or maybe simply because he couldn’t be bothered. Trump doesn’t need words to show his contempt for those who have served and sacrificed for their country. His actions speak far more loudly than his words. 

In his Atlantic piece, Cohen includes a poem from Alan Seeger as a sort of rebuke to Trump from beyond the grave. Seeger was an American who volunteered with the French Foreign Legion prior to the entry of the US into the Great War. He died of his wounds sustained during the Battle of the Somme on the 4th of July 1916 at the age of 28. I can think of nothing more appropriate:

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It maybe that he will take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear …
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Adolf Hitler was a Meth Head

Adolf Hitler was a Meth Head

German World War II soldiers’ drug of choice.

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From The Atlantic:

Pervitin was the early version of what we know today as crystal meth. And it was fitting that a German soldier would become addicted to the stuff: the drug, Der Spiegel notes, first became popular in Germany, brought to market by the then-Berlin-based drugmaker Temmler Werke. And almost immediately, the German army physiologist Otto Ranke realized its military value: not only could the methamphetamine compound keep fighters (pilots, in particular) alert on little sleep; it could also keep an entire military force feeling euphoric. Meth, Spiegel puts it, “was the ideal war drug.”

And it was, as such, put to wide use. The Wehrmacht, Germany’s World War II army, ended up distributing millions of the Pervitin tablets to soldiers on the front (they called it “Panzerschokolade,” or “tank chocolate”). The air force gave the tablets to its flyers (in this case, it was “pilot’s chocolate” or “pilot’s salt”).

Soldiers took it in tablet form. Hitler mainlined it.

Hitler himself was given intravenous injections of methamphetamine by his personal physician, Theodor Morell.

Hitler the meth head, Gangnam style:

And you think like I do, you are probably thinking Pervitin would make a great band name. Too late, already done.

 

Good Ideas about School and the Military Whose Time Will Never Come

Good Ideas about School and the Military Whose Time Will Never Come

In the The Washington Post ‘Outlook’s 4th Annual Spring Cleaning’ ten writers were invited to recommend one thing the country needs to throw out. Among the suggestions were these two standouts:

Peter Orszag, President Obama’s former budget director, makes the case for getting rid of the 3pm school day and extending it to 5 pm or longer. He points out that more time in school, especially when combined with other measures, is likely to help our kids to master the material they are taught by giving teachers more classroom time. It would also help parents with their schedules by addressing the problem of latchkey kids; these are children, many of whom are elementary school age, who go unsupervised once school gets out.

And as a parent who has watched my children’s progress over the years, I am convinced that their teachers, particularly from middle school on, are forced to rush through a broad curriculum that doesn’t allow sufficient time to explore concepts in depth, or ensure that students have mastered the material before moving on.

My high school and middle school children start school at 7:50 am and get out at 2:20 pm. This is a ridiculous school day which starts too early and doesn’t last long enough. A much better school day would start a bit later, say at 9 am, and end no earlier than 5 pm.

Orszag acknowledges the monetary cost but insists it’s worth it. He’s absolutely right.

Meanwhile Thomas E Ricks, who has written a couple of excellent books on the Iraq War, wants us to get rid of the all-volunteer military – not because it doesn’t work but because it works too well.

I daresay that during his book research as well as during his coverage of the Iraq war, Ricks must have appreciated even more clearly than the rest of us the folly of George W Bush’s Iraq invasion, both in terms of its stand-alone stupidity and because it resulted in the United States taking its eye off the ball in Afghanistan, thereby significantly adding to the length and human cost of that conflict.

Admittedly it’s odd to argue that because something is too efficient we should go to a less competent model. But the all-volunteer military’s very professionalism when combined with the tiny percentage of Americans who are thereby touched personally when it goes to war is too great a temptation to some presidents with a serious imbalance in levels of testosterone and common sense.

Ricks thinks our society needs to re-establish its connection to our military through the draft; that way if we do decide to go to war there is no doubt we will all feel the pain. It’s a point well-made but, like Orszag’s, it will never happen. Good public policy ideas rarely do in today’s America.

Iraq War Reckoning

Iraq War Reckoning

The last American units withdrew from Iraq at the end of 2011. Most of us breathed a sigh of relief while others believe it was premature to leave and that we’ll pay for it later. Who’s right? And what’s the final reckoning?

In a nutshell I think our troops were magnificent, our politicians awful and our national security overall has been diminished.  And as for Iraq itself, we won’t know whether we set it on a new path to a unified and democratic future or a dead-end of sectarian fracturing and possible civil war for a generation.

It’s fair to say that the 30% of us who opposed the invasion from the outset,  because it was unnecessary, unjustified and would create a messy aftermath to the successful toppling of Saddam Hussein were completely vindicated.  On the biggest thing, in other words, we got it right.

On the other hand, those of us who opposed the so-called “surge” got it wrong, I’m happy to say, and it would be sour grapes not to admit it. In truth, we should celebrate the fact that the army was able to show sufficient flexibility to reassess its strategy in Iraq and, rather than reinforce failure, produce not only a winning formula for success but the man to implement it. General David Petraeus’s introduction of sound counterinsurgency principles, along with the modest boost in troop strength helped to turn the tide. 

Of course, this success would not have been possible without the Sunni Awakening, for which we can thank al-Qaida-in-Iraq’s own murderous extremism, which drove the Sunni tribes of Anbar to make peace with the Americans and turn on the terrorists. This meant that 70% of the Sunni insurgents stopped shooting at us and, instead, provided valuable intelligence and other assistance which led to the effective defeat of al-Qaida.  Of course this too was part of the American counterinsurgency strategy but let’s not underrate the role it played in the US victory.

Yet the cost of this “victory” was horrendous.  It is now accepted that 100,000 Iraqis were killed as a result of the invasion and the awful chaos and violence that followed. A tad under 4,500 Americans were killed and scores of allied soldiers, mostly Brits, were also lost. The toll in wounded including maimed civilians and soldiers hardly bears thinking about. The damage done to Iraq’s infrastructure was enormous; even now, for example, Iraqis only enjoy a few hours of electricity on any given day.

In strategic terms the invasion has to be viewed as a disaster since one consequence has been to significantly enhance the power of America’s nemesis in the region, Iran, since Iraq is no longer the counterweight to Iranian influence it once was in its pre-invasion days.  

Even our long term relationship with Iraq cannot be taken for granted. There was no festoon of flowers along the route into Kuwait taken by the last American units to leave. Iraqis are at best ambivalent about the US invasion. Even those who benefit the most from Saddam Hussein’s fall wonder at the price they paid in terms of lives lost or ruined, and a broken country that we leave still in need of serious repair.

Back in America one of our major political parties obsesses about budget deficits whilst protecting our wealthiest citizens from overdue tax increases. This, when we face a huge and looming bill for the life-time care of thousands of former American servicemen and women who sustained permanent physical or mental injuries from this war and the one still waging in Afghanistan.  We can only hope that the GOP will one day soon return to the reality that most of us live in and leave their alternate, fantasy world behind.

Finally, we learned that our volunteer military is both blessing and curse: A blessing because it performed with incredible professionalism, bravery and military competence even as the war increasingly and bitterly divided the country. Our servicemen and women never faltered in fulfilling their duty and it’s hard to find the words to praise them enough.  But the volunteer military is also a curse because it enables idiot presidents with their own agenda to send it into unwise and unnecessary wars with few political consequences because most of us have no loved ones at risk. The few risked all while the many risked nothing.

So Much for Transparency in the New Obama Administration

So Much for Transparency in the New Obama Administration

From The New York Times:

President Obama is seeking to block the release of photographs depicting American military personnel abusing captives in Iraq and Afghanistan, an administration official said Wednesday.

The president’s decision marks a sharp reversal from a decision made last month by the Pentagon, which reached a deal with the American Civil Liberties Union to release photographs showing incidents at Abu Ghraib and a half-dozen other prisons.

“The president strongly believes that the release of these photos, particularly at this time, would only serve the purpose of inflaming the theaters of war, jeopardizing U.S. forces,” the official said, “and making our job more difficult in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said of the nation’s top military generals: “Odierno and McKiernan and Petraeus have all voiced real concern about this. Particularly in Afghanistan, this is the last thing they need.”

The photographs were set to be released on May 28. But as that date approached, a growing sense of unease among military officials was expressed to the White House.
Many also recalled the Abu Ghraib photographs, showing prisoners naked or in degrading positions, sometimes with Americans posing smugly nearby, caused an uproar in the Arab world and concerns within the military that the actions of a relatively few service members had tainted the entire forces.

In this more recent case, the A.C.L.U. argued that disclosing the pictures was “critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorizing or permitting such abuse,” said Amrit Singh, who argued the case on behalf of the group before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan.

The world already has easy access to some very disturbing torture photos.  Are the new ones sought by the ACLU really so much worse than these that they would put our soldiers at more risk than they already are? 

I agree with the ACLU that the photos should be released.  If these photos confirm that torture took place in many places besides Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, they would support the allegations that prisoner abuse and torture was not carried out by just “a relatively few service members,” but that it was directed by high ranking officials in the Bush Administration. 

We need to see what, where, and when the abuses occurred so that we can investigate and find out who was ultimately responsible for the violations.  They need to be held accountable for their crimes. 

Someday we will see the photos, so we might as well see them now.  The sooner we get through this nasty episode in our history, the sooner we can atone for it and put it behind us.

Iraq Veterans Against the War

Iraq Veterans Against the War

Their story of lawlessness, mayhem and murder in Iraq.

U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are planning to descend on Washington from Mar. 13-16 to testify about war crimes they committed or personally witnessed in those countries.

“The war in Iraq is not covered to its potential because of how dangerous it is for reporters to cover it,” said Liam Madden, a former Marine and member of the group Iraq Veterans Against the War. “That’s left a lot of misconceptions in the minds of the American public about what the true nature of military occupation looks like.”

Iraq Veterans Against the War argues that well-publicised incidents of U.S. brutality like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the massacre of an entire family of Iraqis in the town of Haditha are not the isolated incidents perpetrated by “a few bad apples”, as many politicians and military leaders have claimed. They are part of a pattern, the group says, of “an increasingly bloody occupation”.

“The problem that we face in Iraq is that policymakers in leadership have set a precedent of lawlessness where we don’t abide by the rule of law, we don’t respect international treaties, so when that atmosphere exists it lends itself to criminal activity,” argues former U.S. Army Sergeant Logan Laituri, who served a tour in Iraq from 2004 to 2005 before being discharged as a conscientious objector.

Laituri told IPS that precedent of lawlessness makes itself felt in the rules of engagement handed down by commanders to soldiers on the front lines. When he was stationed in Samarra, for example, he said one of his fellow soldiers shot an unarmed man while he walked down the street.

“The problem is that that soldier was not committing a crime as you might call it because the rules of engagement were very clear that no one was supposed to be walking down the street,” he said. “But I have a problem with that. You can’t tell a family to leave everything they know so you can bomb the shit out of their house or their city. So while he definitely has protection under the law, I don’t think that legitimates that type of violence.”

Read the whole article here.

The “Not so Successful” Surge

The “Not so Successful” Surge

Last Thursday the Washington Post published a column by Michael Kinsley about The Surge titled “Defining Victory Downward.”  Here are a few excerpts:

It was also, implicitly, part of a deal between Bush and the majority of Americans, who want out. The deal was: just let me have a few more soldiers to get Baghdad under control, and then everybody, or almost everybody, can pack up and come home.

In other words: you have to increase the troops in order to reduce them. This is so perverse on its face that it begins to sound zen-like and brilliant, like something out of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” And in General David Petraeus, the administration conjured up its own Sun Tzu, a brilliant military strategist.

… the best that we can hope for, in terms of American troops risking their lives in Iraq, is that there will be just as many in July — and probably in January, when Bush leaves office — as there were a year ago. The surge will have surged in and surged out, leaving us back where we started.

Imagine that you had been told in 2003 that when George W. Bush finished his second term, dozens of American soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis would be dying violently every month; that a major American goal would be getting the Iraqi government to temper its “debaathification” campaign so that Saddam Hussein’s former henchmen could start running things again (because they know how); and that “only” 100,000 American troops would be needed to sustain this equilibrium.

You might have several words to describe this situation, but “success” would not be one of them.

I had the column fresh in my mind while I watched the Obama/Clinton debate that evening.  I thought maybe some of these ideas would make it into their responses to questions about whether or not they thought the surge has been successful.  They both danced around the perimeter a bit, but never really challenged the notion that the surge has been a success.

I emailed N.J. Barnes, a contributor to this site, to see what his thoughts were, and he had this to say:

That’s because they’re each afraid of being tagged as a naysayer.  But the generals themselves would admit, if pressed, that the Sunni “Awakening” and Sadr’s decision to tell his people to back off have more to do with quelling the violence than the so-called “surge” which started after the Awakening awoke.  None of that is to to disparage the American military effort which has been much more effective under Patraeus, no question. Their task has been made infinitely less difficult by the fact that they could afford to concentrate their efforts on al-Qaida-in-Iraq and with the help of local Sunni tribesmen who were previously shooting at us and blowing us up.
 
But what Bush and Patraeus and Gates really are saying is that there is no end in sight; that if we draw down, the thing will fall apart.  So with no real satisfactory end in sight, how is that success?
 
Best to tell the Iraqis we’ve done our bit and we plan to withdraw one year from the date the new Pres (hopefully not McCain) takes office.  The Iraqis in the final analysis must be prepared to take responsibility for their own country.  And if it falls apart so be it.  A lesson for us, hard learned, for the future.

Hearts and Minds

Hearts and Minds

So this is how we are winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people:

The committee staff report said Blackwater guards had engaged in nearly 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, and in the vast majority of cases the guards fired their weapons from moving vehicles without stopping to count the dead or assist the wounded. In at least two cases, Blackwater paid victims’ family members who complained, and the company sought to cover up other episodes, the report said.

The staff report said that State Department officials approved the payments in the hope of keeping the shootings quiet, and in one case last year, helped Blackwater spirit an employee out of Iraq less than 36 hours after the employee, while drunk, killed a bodyguard for one of Iraq’s two vice presidents on Christmas Eve.

The report by the Democratic majority staff of a House committee adds weight to complaints from Iraqi officials, American military officers and Blackwater’s competitors that the company’s guards have taken an aggressive, trigger-happy approach to their work and have repeatedly acted with reckless disregard for Iraqi life.

In the case of the Christmas Eve killing, the report said that an official of the United States Embassy in Iraq suggested paying the slain bodyguard’s family $250,000, but a lower-ranking official said that such a high payment “could cause incidents with people trying to get killed by our guys to financially guarantee their family’s future.” Blackwater ultimately paid the dead man’s family $15,000.

In another fatal shooting cited by the committee, an unidentified State Department official in Baghdad urged Blackwater to pay the victim’s family $5,000. The official wrote, “I hope we can put this unfortunate matter behind us quickly.”

And we thought Abu Ghraib made us look bad.  Our government hired mercenaries at Blackwater along with their pals in the State Department are doing their best to make us look even worse.

The price for murdering a guy started at $250,000 (pretty low by U.S. Standards) and quickly dropped to $15,000 so as not to encourage people to commit suicide to enrich their families after they willingly provoke Blackwater security guards to kill them.

That kind of reminds me of some scenes in the Hearts and Minds documentary where they talked about how the government and the media spread propaganda about how the people of Vietnam did not value human life – that their lives were worth nothing.  It was bullshit of course, just like this is. 

Do they really think that there would be a rash of Iraqis volunteering themselves to get shot for a couple hundred thousand dollars?  I don’t think so…

So the price went down to $15,000 and then to $5,000 at the urging of an anonymous State Department official.  That’s great.  Our military doesn’t count Iraqi fatalities, and our hired guns aren’t accountable to anyone, until now I guess, and when they start shooting, they pretty much unload and leave any wounded innocent bystanders to fend for themselves.

When they are confronted by grieving family members, they hand out $5,000.  Not even enough to buy a decent used car.

They don’t seem to be following their own “Core Values.”

P.S.  Says here that Erik Prince, Chairman and CEO of Blackwater, is a fundamentalist Christian.  Guess that means God gave him a license to kill.