Category Archives: Military

“I’m tired of states’ rights”

“The thought had occurred to him on the day that he took it, that this would make a lovely burying ground for the Union soldiers who had fallen, or were still to fall in the battles hereabout, and almost before the smoke of his involuntary assault on Missionary Ridge had cleared, he had a detail at work on the project.

When a chaplain, who was to be in charge of the project, inquired if the dead should be buried in plots assigned to the states they represented, as was being done at Gettysburg, where Lincoln has spoken a couple of weeks ago, the Virginian lowered his head in thought and then shook it decisively, and made a tumbling gesture with his hands. “No, no. Mix ‘em up, mix ‘em up,” he said. “I’m tired of states’ rights”.

That’s from the second volume of The Civil War. I’m currently listening to it on Audible, and that passage appealed to me. The Virginian General is Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. Here’s what the place looked like in 1895.

A defense of the sniper on moral grounds

Oh, not from me — I’m still as conflicted as ever about the role of the sniper. As you’ll recall, in my first of several posts about “American Sniper” (one before I saw the movie, explaining why I was eager to see it), I wrote:

I know y’all all think I’m an incorrigible warmonger and all, but I’m someone who does not blink at the dark thicket of morally impossible choices and ethical quicksand into which war leads us. And I’ve always marveled that anyone can live with himself after having killed as a sniper. Yeah, I know; a sniper can save a lot of his comrades’ lives and perform a useful function in a just cause. But a sniper isn’t running and firing at people firing at him, with his blood pounding in his ears and adrenaline drowning his senses. He calmly, analytically, scientifically, artistically, with great care, observes his magnified victim close-up through his scope for much, much longer than any other soldier ever has an enemy in his sights. And the target is unsuspecting. He has no idea that his death is coolly studying him for long minutes, and then choosing the instant to calmly blow his head apart.

A sniper can be a hero. Everyone he knows may praise him for his skill and devotion to duty. But how do you live with yourself after that?

And I still wonder about that. And I’m not sure the film gave me a satisfactory answer (which was perhaps too much to expect of a movie anyway). And maybe that’s because of the subject. I’ve started reading the autobiography upon which the film is based, and it seems fairly clear already that Chris Kyle was not the most introspective of men.

And while my uncertainty is not quenched by this either, I did get a little grist for my mill from a piece in the WSJ this morning. It’s by a comrade of Chris Kyle’s, defending the role of a sniper as in some ways more moral than what others do in war:

Snipers engage individual threats. Rarely, if ever, do their actions cause collateral damage. Snipers may be the most humane of weapons in the military arsenal. The job also takes a huge emotional toll on the man behind the scope. The intimate connection between the shooter and the target can be hard to overcome for even the most emotionally mature warrior. The value of a sniper in warfare is beyond calculation.

I witnessed the exceptional performance of SEAL, Army and Marine snipers on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. They struck psychological fear in our enemies and protected countless lives. Chris Kyle and the sniper teams I led made a habit of infiltrating dangerous areas of enemy-controlled ground, established shooting positions and coordinated security for large conventional-unit movement.

More than half the time, the snipers didn’t need to shoot; over-watch and guidance to the ground troops was enough. But when called upon, snipers like Chris Kyle engaged enemy combatants and “cleared the path” for exposed troops to move effectively and safely in their arduous ground missions. These small sniper teams pulled the trigger at their own risk. If their position was discovered, they had little backup or support….

He makes some good points, specifically about the fact that the sniper is the least discriminate killer on the battlefield. But as the writer acknowledges, that very specificity, that relationship between the sniper and the clearly observed individual he kills, is what would haunt me, on moral (or at least empathetic) grounds, were I ever tasked with such an assignment.

Of course, this takes us to the old question of whether it is more moral to assassinate a problematic foreign leader than to engage in open warfare with his armed forces. If you look at it coldly, you say of course it is better to kill one bad (in your definition) guy than to take action that will almost certainly lead to the deaths of innocents. But then my inner Victorian Gent harrumphs loudly, horrified at the idea of specifically, deliberately, murdering a particular human being whose name you know. I feel a sort of atavistic aversion to regicide, I suppose.

Then there’s the problem that it’s almost impossible to deliberately take out an individual, as President Obama does with drones, without also killing innocents, or regular innocents.

There are no easy answers where war, or the semblance of war, is concerned.

‘The Interview,’ ‘American Sniper,’ and ‘Selma’

I’ve recently written about three movies — ‘The Interview,’ ‘American Sniper‘ and ‘Selma‘ — that I had not seen (which kind of limited what I had to say about them). This past week, I had planned to see them all and write about them further. Which would have been quite the hat trick for a guy who is accustomed to waiting until films show up on Netflix.

I managed to see two of them. I still hope to see the other soon.

My report follows:

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The Interview

This one took the least trouble to see, which was good, because I wouldn’t have crossed the street to see it. I rented it from iTunes on my Apple TV, and it didn’t cost me anything because I had a gift certificate I hadn’t used up.

It was about what you would expect, if you’ve seen enough Seth Rogen movies. On that spectrum, it was nowhere near as good as “Knocked Up” or “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” and a good bit better than “Pineapple Express” or “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” I’m not saying it was more elevated or worthwhile than those latter two, but the bathroom humor was funnier. The dirty talk wasn’t nearly as funny or relevant as the dirty talk in “SuperBad,” so you are forewarned.

One of the more interesting things about this film was that North Korea was so ticked off about it, seeing that the guy who played Kim Jong Un was handsomer, more engaging — certainly more manly looking (both in terms of masculinity and maturity) — and more engaging on a human level than any of us have ever seen the Dear Leader be. I mean, even though the flick was making gross fun of him and making a joke out of killing him (which, one has to grant North Korea, is pretty offensive), it was actually kind of flattering to him.

If you can see it for free at any point and you want to know what all the fuss is about, it’s not completely unwatchable. But otherwise, don’t bother.

 

AMERICAN SNIPER

American Sniper

I had wanted to see this anyway, even more so after The Guardian (being The Guardian) practically painted Chris Kyle as a war criminal, but I sort of reckoned without the fact that everyone else in South Carolina wanted to see it this past weekend as well.

Bryan Caskey joined my younger son and me (neither Mamanem nor Bryan’s wife wanted to see it) at the 5:10 show at Dutch Square. Bryan got his ticket and went inside ahead of us. While waiting for my son to get through the queue, I spoke across the ticket-taker to Bryan, saying, “Don’t worry; there’ll be plenty of previews.”

The ticket guy said, “Yeah, but there won’t be plenty of seats.” He said this was their 11th show of the weekend, and several of them had been sold out.

Boy, was he right. With stadium seating, I normally sit about halfway up, so that the center of the screen is at eye level. But this time, we had to sit with the groundlings on the third row, way off to the side. So Bryan, my son and I all had to slide down in our seats with our knees propped against the seats in front and our heads resting back onto the tops of our seatbacks, looking almost straight up, at a weird, distorting angle. But I got used to it by about the 75th preview (OK; honestly, I didn’t count).

But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?

Good. But you knew it was going to be good. When’s the last time Clint Eastwood made a bad one? And the older he gets, he seems to get better. I’m thinking “Gran Torino” here.

And the portrayal of Chris Kyle was — matter-of-fact and respectful. It was the story of a guy who is definitely a sheepdog in the sheep/wolf/sheepdog model of killologist Dave Grossman — one of those who is neither a sheep nor a wolf, but one of those rare types who sees himself as a protector of sheep from wolves. And one of those rarer men (like, 2 percent of the male population) who doesn’t have nightmares after killing other people, if he has good reason to see the killings as morally justifiable.

Eastwood helps the viewer to understand a man like Kyle, without either condemning or overly glorifying him — although many will see him as a monster or as a red-white-and-blue excuse to wave the flag, according to their own proclivities. As I say, the depiction is respectful.

I could have used a little more examination of the psychology of a sniper. While many will feel like there was too much footage of Kyle taking careful aim on enemy combatants (and, in more than one case, “combatants” who are women and young boys, which is the thing that will make you want to walk out if anything does), I felt like not enough was done to show how most people would be torn up by that — say, with a side story about a fellow sniper who was not as unconflicted about his job. You know that the cost to Kyle is not nil, as you see the stress he undergoes after his fourth deployment. But I could have used more explication in that department.

Anyway, it’s worth seeing, whatever your attitudes on the subject matter. It’s well-done, and examines unflinchingly the moral ambiguity that accompanies any combat role, regardless of the conflict in question.

 

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Selma

Still haven’t seen this one. I passed up, with some misgivings, the Urban League’s annual breakfast, justifying it by saying that I was going to go with some friends to see ‘Selma’ at the Nickelodeon as my way of observing the day.

But even though we were there half an hour ahead, we couldn’t get into the 2:30 show. Sold out.

Has going to the actual movie theater experienced some huge resurgence when I wasn’t looking? I haven’t been to a show as crowded as “American Sniper” in decades, partly because I try not to go on the opening weekend at the most popular times. (Wouldn’t you think a 5:10 show would be an awkward time — neither matinee nor evening-out time? I did.)

And then, to not get into the show at all, when the film’s been out a couple of weeks?

OK, yeah, I realize it was MLK Day, and it looked like there were some school groups there. But still.

Have any of y’all seen it? Can you give us a review?

 

Guess I’ll have to go see ‘American Sniper’

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Has anyone seen “The Master,” one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last films? I saw it last night on Netflix (still fighting a cold, I’ve been vegging out in front of the tube a lot in my off hours) and was impressed. Not that it seemed to have much meaning, but it was interesting and well done, and had a couple of roles in it that actors would understandably kill for. Anyway, I was curious as to whether any of y’all had any thoughts about it.

I got up this morning thinking about that, but now, I think I may have to make one of my rare trips to the actual cinema to check out the subject of this Tweet from this morning:

Yes, that’s the kind of post that makes you give a second glance to see whose feed this is, and then you say, “The Guardian, of course.”

This particular writer was bending over backward to defend Clint Eastwood, saying that however much “we diverge politically… he is not a black-and-white ideologue.”

No, the problem that the writer decries is that “much of the US right wing” has failed to appreciate that this is a “morally ambiguous, emotionally complex film,” and regard it “with the same unconsidered, rah-rah reverence that they would the national anthem or the flag itself.”

This is supported with examples from some extreme trolls who wish that critics of the film would eat s__t, be raped and die. The usual sick puppies who, I guess we are supposed to assume, represent “much of the US right wing.” Trolls. Really nasty ones.

And of course, you have to be a pretty sick puppy, or challenged in the reading-comprehension department, if you can read the movie’s subtitle — “The Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. History” — and not pick up on the idea that there’s a pickup truckload of moral ambiguity churning about here.

I know y’all all think I’m an incorrigible warmonger and all, but I’m someone who does not blink at the dark thicket of morally impossible choices and ethical quicksand into which war leads us. And I’ve always marveled that anyone can live with himself after having killed as a sniper. Yeah, I know; a sniper can save a lot of his comrades’ lives and perform a useful function in a just cause. But a sniper isn’t running and firing at people firing at him, with his blood pounding in his ears and adrenaline drowning his senses. He calmly, analytically, scientifically, artistically, with great care, observes his magnified victim close-up through his scope for much, much longer than any other soldier ever has an enemy in his sights. And the target is unsuspecting. He has no idea that his death is coolly studying him for long minutes, and then choosing the instant to calmly blow his head apart.

A sniper can be a hero. Everyone he knows may praise him for his skill and devotion to duty. But how do you live with yourself after that?

I wonder at such things. So I wanted to see the movie anyway. But I wanted to see it twice as much after reading this actual review of it, also in The Guardian. This writer doesn’t bother making excuses for Mr. Eastwood, basically lumping him in with the rest of those thoughtless rah-rah American nutters. “American Sniper is so conditioned by its first-person shooter aesthetic that it never widens its focus or pans left or right… while the war on Iraq is a just, noble cause.”

Did you catch that? War on Iraq? This, apparently, is what passes as cool, analytical rhetoric in The Guardian, distinguishing right-thinking people from the “black-and-white ideologues,” all of whom, evidently, are neoconservatives.

Anyway, I was grabbed by this passage from the review:

In one early scene, Kyle’s father tells him that the world is divided into three types: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Kyle sees himself as a sheepdog, a noble protector of the weak and the innocent, and it is clear that Eastwood does too. But is the world that simple? A different film (a better film) might have asked the wolves what they think, or at least wondered why the sheep behave as they do….

This grabbed me because that sheep/wolf/sheepdog model is central to Dave Grossman’s study of what he terms “killology,” a field of inquiry he has invented and generally has to himself. Lt. Col. Grossman is the author of that book I’m always going on about, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. It demonstrates, through statistical analyses of battles and other means, that through most of human history, most soldiers have not fired their weapons in combat, and most who did fired over their enemies’ heads, for the simple fact that however they may have been trained, the training failed to overcome their profound aversion to killing fellow human beings. (Actually, in the past generation, U.S. and other advanced armies have overcome that reluctance through conditioning, which has led to more PTSD, which is a reason why Grossman wrote the book.)

That vast majority that doesn’t want to kill, and which suffers tremendous psychological damage when forced to do so, makes up the “sheep” category — not meant as a pejorative, but simply denoting normal, peaceful men.

I’m sometimes unclear as to who, exactly, makes up the “sheepdog” category. Sometimes, Grossman indicates it’s anyone who willingly dons the uniform — of the cop, the soldier, the sailor — and defends his or her society. Other times, though, he seems to be referring to a much rarer breed — the 2 percent of combat soldiers (according to a study from World War II, when there was such a vast cross-section of the male population to study) who “if pushed or given a legitimate reason, will kill without regret or remorse.”

The WWII study found these men to have a tendency to be “aggressive psychopaths.” But Grossman defends them from that damning term, explaining that they are just natural-born soldiers who “apparently do not experience the normal resistance to killing and the resultant psychiatric casualties associated with extended periods of combat.”

In that set of competing definitions, you’ve got enough ambiguity to employ an army of moral philosophers for a century.

Their the sort whose comrades might see as heroes, while those who have no military experience and look askance at those who do view as, well, psychopaths, in keeping with the time-honored tradition:

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot…

This 2 percent cadre of men tends to gravitate toward the special forces — toward jobs such as that of the subject of “American Sniper,” who was a SEAL.

Anyway, I need to see the movie, and see what I can learn from it. As should anyone who wants to take some responsibility for what we send other men to do for us.

Graham gives Ashton Carter a thumbs-up

This just in from Lindsey Graham:

Graham Statement on Nomination of Ashton Carter for Defense Secretary

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today issued the following statement on the nomination of Ashton Carter for Secretary of Defense.

“Ashton Carter has the knowledge and capability to serve as Secretary of Defense during these difficult times. He has proven to be a leading voice when it comes to articulating the damage done to our military by budget cuts.

“I expect he will face tough questions at his confirmation hearing about President Obama’s failing national security policy, but I expect he will be confirmed.”

####

Yeah, but it would have been so much cooler had he chosen Joe Lieberman! #threeamigos

Hagel, who challenged Obama on ISIL strategy, resigns

Here’s today’s news. The president said all the obligatory things about the Defense secretary’s service to his country, starting as a grunt in Vietnam.

But I worry about what seems to lie behind this change. This is from an Oct. 31 report:

Washington (CNN) — Earlier this month, while on an trip to Latin America to discuss climate change, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagelsat down and wrote a highly private, and very blunt memo to National Security Advisor Susan Rice about U.S. policy toward Syria.

It was a detailed analysis, crafted directly by Hagel “expressing concern about overall Syria strategy,” a senior U.S. official tells CNN. The official directly familiar with the contents declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter….

The focus of the memo was “we need to have a sharper view of what to do about the Assad regime,” the official said. The official refused to provide additional details, but did not disagree with the notion that Hagel feels the U.S. is risking its gains in the war against ISIS if adjustments are not made.

Some analysts have pointed out US airstrikes in Syria against ISIS can benefit the Assad regime which also opposes ISIS. Hagel’s concerns are not related to the Pentagon effort to train and equip moderate Syrian forces, something he still strong supports the official said.

What concerns me is that a guy willing to challenge the president is leaving, while the Susan Rices of the world — all too eager to give voice to approved talking points, even when they’re not true — remain.

Joe Wilson questioning SecDef Hagel about ISIL

Just a little slice-of-life from Washington today. I’m listening to it myself as I post this. Here’s a release Wilson sent out with the clip:

WILSON: PRESIDENT NEEDS TO DEVOTE MORE ATTENTION TO ISIL

(Washington, DC) – Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statement after questioning Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel about the Administration’s strategy and military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Middle East.

“The complete and systematic defeat of ISIL is imperative for the United States’ national security and the safety of our allies around the world,” Chairman Wilson stated.  “Achieving this outcome is growing increasingly difficult due to ISIL’s changing tactics and the President’s reluctance to listen to the advice of his experienced military advisors.  After today’s hearing, I am further convinced that the President needs to devote more resources and attention to effectively destroy ISIL. Additionally, I believe that a comprehensive plan, which considers all options presented from our military leaders, is critical to complete our mission, protect our national interests, and bring peace to Iraq and Syria.”

Open Thread for Veterans Day, November 11, 2014

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Members of the Royal Irish Rifles, first day on the Somme. Look at them staring at us from a century ago…

It’s been a century now since the badly labeled War to End All Wars began, and 96 years to the day (to the hour, as I write this) since it ended in an unsatisfactory manner that helped lead inexorably to the next conflagration.

If you’d like to reflect on that, this would be a good day for it.

Here are some other possible topics:

  1. I see Cindi Scoppe has written my usual post-election column on our endorsees and how they fared. As I did after each election, she does it to deep-six the nonsense about our endorsement being the “kiss of death.” This time, the board went 9-2, slightly better than the usual 75 percent or so winners. Of course, endorsements are not predictions of who will win, but statements about who should win, and more importantly, why they should win. But one does get tired of people saying untrue things about one, hence this tradition that I started about a decade ago.
  2. Haley picks the dollar-a-year guy to run $7 billion agency — The career of Christian Soura, since he first came to SC to work for the governor, has mystified me. He started work here at a dollar a year, explaining that he was living in part off his government pension from Pennsylvania — even though he was only 32. Later, he became deputy chief of staff at the somewhat more substantial compensation of $128,698. Now, he’ll be making $154,879. And no, he has no experience running a Medicaid agency. Tony Keck, whom he replaces, had. Guess we know who just won an election. Note the picture at the link. Keck looks like he could be Soura’s father. (He even looks like a baby next to Nikki, as youthful as she is.)
  3. The Hummer is back. Blame falling oil prices. Sheesh.

Or, whatever you’d like to bring up.

 

 

Studies: High rate of military suicides are NOT because of repeated tours in Iraq, Afghanistan

Here’s an interesting fact that struck me when I read it, counterintuitive as it is. It’s part of a piece in the WashPost headlined “Five myths about military suicides“:

Repeated tours through the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan are often cited as a primary reason so many troops take their own lives. But the statistics don’t support that explanation. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in the summer of 2013 found that longer deployments, multiple deployments and combat experience didn’t elevate suicide risk. In fact, more than half the troops who had taken their lives had never deployed. A separate, massive Army study found that, while suicide rates for soldiers who had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan more than doubled between 2004 and 2009, the rate for those who had never spent time in the war zones nearly tripled….

ONE bit of progress in SC: We’ll no longer elect adjutant general

OK, I’m shaking off the doldrums here…

Let’s talk about something good that happened in yesterday’s election: We changed our constitution so that South Carolina is no longer a banana republic wannabe. We will no longer politicize the state’s highest military post. We will no longer elect our adjutant general. Instead, the AG will be appointed by duly constituted civilian authority, according to specific requirements, according to actual qualifications.

No, it’s not as big a deal as if we stopped electing, say, the superintendent of education. But it’s something. Set it alongside the decision in the last election to stop separately electing the lieutenant governor, and the elimination of the constitutionally perverse Budget and Control Board, and we’re starting to get a state government that is organized at least for the 20th century, if not the 21st.

Of all the executive-branch posts that, against all reason, we have continued to elect separately from the governor (thereby fragmenting the already-weak executive), the adjutant general was the one that most obviously needed to change. We were the only state in the nation that chose its top-ranking officer in a popularity contest — a partisan popularity contest, which produced the obscene situation of having a serving officer declare a party affiliation.

But it also seemed like the office that was most resistant to reform. The incumbent AG was always opposed to it (politicians dance with the one that brung them, and we required our AGs to be politicians), and those serving under him tended to follow his example, and the public at large tended to give the Guard what it wanted.

But things changed in South Carolina, and that is something to celebrate. Leadership in both parties embraced change, and most importantly, the incumbent AG did, too. And the rest of us followed suit.

And so we took a step forward in South Carolina yesterday. And that’s something to celebrate.

Maybe we should ask Toby Ziegler about the military shuttle

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Today, The New York Times sort of scoffed at its own report, 25 years ago, about the National Aero-Space Plane, which was to boldly go where no man had gone before, spacecraftwise:

In his 1986 State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan promised “a new Orient Express that could, by the end of the next decade, take off from Dulles Airport and accelerate up to 25 times the speed of sound, attaining low-earth orbit or flying to Tokyo within two hours.”

On Oct. 3, 1989, an article in Science Times, “Designing a Plane for the Leap of Space (and Back),” reported frenetic activity at NASA and the Defense Department.

“Scientists and engineers are making rapid progress in developing technologies needed to build a 17,000-mile-an-hour ‘space plane’ that could escape earth’s gravity and circle the globe in 90 minutes,” the article began….

But the whole project was abandoned in 1994, and experts say it remains technologically beyond our reach.

Or does it?

Just this week, the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane returned to Earth after a mission lasting almost two years.

Or, at least, they say it was unmanned. And they’re not telling us much more about it. Apparently, our government is still capable of keeping some secrets, even in the Edward Snowden era. This leads to speculation:

Theorists speculate the spacecraft is a space bomber, a spy plane against such targets as the Chinese space station, or merely an experiment as the government states, according to a Popular Mechanics story in 2012.

Maybe we could get former White House aide Toby Ziegler to tell us what he knows about it…

Haley, Sheheen SHOULD join together to call for a ‘yes’ vote on adjutant general reform

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On Nov. 4, South Carolina voters have the chance to put an end to an embarrassing anomaly — we have the power to cease to be the only state in the union that elects its adjutant general, the leader of the state’s National Guard.

The reasons why it’s a horrible idea to have a popularly elected general are many; Cindi Scoppe goes over some of them in her column today. It’s something I’ve never had to think about very hard, because when I was a kid, I lived in a place where it was accepted that that military officers got mixed up in politics.

In fact, it was far from an abstraction to me. We lived in the upstairs of a large house that was owned by a captain in the Ecuadorean Navy. One day, the captain asked if he could borrow our part of the duplex. My parents went out, and my brothers and I went downstairs to stay in the captain’s part of the house, while the captain and an Ecuadorean admiral met upstairs in our home. The next day, the president of the country had been put on a plane to Panama, the admiral was the head of the new military junta running the country, and our landlord was the minister of agriculture.

Actually, given what a disaster el presidente had been, Ecuador was no worse off. But in a country such as hours, with it’s deeply treasured culture of constitutional government and subservience of the military to legal authority, such a development would be catastrophic. Fortunately in our national history, such events have remained the stuff of political fiction such as “Seven Days in May.”

Except in South Carolina, where we require our top general to be a politician first (and really don’t even require him to have any military background at all).

Fortunately, our current adjutant general, Bob Livingston, is a well-qualified officer who also understands that we need to do away with this anomaly. That’s a very good thing, since his predecessors resisted reform, and the Guard followed their lead, and the electorate followed the Guard.

But now we have the opportunity to change the situation. We also have two people running for governor — the incumbent, Nikki Haley, and Sen. Vincent Sheheen — who are both known for advocating this reform (as well as doing away with other unnecessarily elected constitutional officers). In her column today, Cindi put forth a great idea:

Most of all, we need to hear from the most visible advocates of empowering governors to act like governors: Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Vincent Sheheen. This is a signature issue for both of them. It’s not too much to ask them to set aside their bickering for long enough to make a joint appearance — or to cut a TV ad together — asking voters to vote yes for the military meritocracy.

If they’re not willing to put some skin in the game, they’ll have no one but themselves to blame if we keep electing the adjutant general — and all of those other constitutional officers who ought to be appointed.

That would be wonderful on so many levels — including the first level, which is that it would make this long-awaited reform all that much more likely to occure.

Yes, says the general: Ground troops may be necessary

Here’s today’s lede story for The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal:

Dempsey opens door to combat troops in Iraq

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff raised the possibility Tuesday that U.S. troops could become involved in ground attacks against the Islamic State, despite repeated pledges to the contrary from President Obama.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that U.S. military advisers are helping Iraqi government forces prepare for a major offensive to reclaim territory seized by the Islamic State in recent months. Although the advisers have been assigned primarily to assist with planning and coordination, Dempsey for the first time suggested that they eventually could go into the field on combat missions.

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Islamic State] targets, I’ll recommend that to the president,” he testified….

Maybe we can degrade and destroy ISIL with only air power. But as I’ve said before, we don’t know that we can — which is why it is ill-advised, sinking to the level of “doing stupid (stuff),” to rule out using ground troops on the front end. (Saying you don’t want to do it is one thing. Saying on the front end that you won’t is another matter.)

Ground combat troops could become necessary. Which is why a senior general officer, who must have plans for all contingencies, would say what Gen. Dempsey said. And why the president shouldn’t have said what he said.

Going into a fluid military situation, you can’t know that it won’t become necessary to resort to ground combat. You just can’t.

With a program like this, maybe even I could have served

I’ve always chafed at the fact that I could not serve in the military, because of something as simple and stupid as chronic asthma.

As long as I use Asmanex and Singulair daily, it’s totally under control, as my nightly strenuous workouts on the elliptical trainer prove. (Although, I confess, the drugs available when I was military age were considerably less effective.) But as an Army general confirmed for me recently, they don’t want you if you need to take anything on a regular basis.

But according to this video shared by Stan Dubinsky, Israel makes it possible for anyone and everyone to serve in the IDF.

That’s the way it should be. I think everyone should serve. It’s good for the individual, and good for the society overall. But at the very least, you should be allowed to serve if you want to.

Here’s a piece about the Israeli program:

Children with special needs in Israel face an often harsh disappointment at the age of 18, when they are left behind as others join the IDF. A unique project seeks to change that, allowing disabled children to overcome their limitations and enlist.

Maj. Col. (res.) Ariel Almog founded the project ten years ago, to integrate disabled youth into the IDF in a three-year program, helping prepare them for independent life in Israeli society.

A few months ago the association “Lend a Hand to a Special Child,” founded in 2005 by parents of special needs children, joined the project to help increase its scale and allow thousands of disabled youth to join.

Rabbi Mendi Belinitzki, CEO of Lend a Hand to a Special Child, explained that the project “starts in the army but doesn’t end there. We can clearly see how afterwards it leads to a better integration into the society, the community and the workforce.”…

Yeah, I know, wise guys out there. This indeed invites comparison to the classic Onion piece about “very special forces,” which was funny but cruel.

But this is a serious matter. Everyone should have at least the opportunity to serve.

Yo, T-Rav: There’s a REASON Stonewall Jackson never wrote a ‘little note’ like that, but it’s not the one you think

T-Rav, military historian

T-Rav, military historian

At the end of the story relating the appalling news that Thomas Ravenel is seeking to put his name on the fall ballot for U.S. Senate was this gem:

Still, Ravenel is cagey when asked about his strategy for the race, declining to discuss his campaign plans and fundraising goals or disclose the number of registered voters who already have signed his petition to be on the ballot, due to the State Election Commission by noon on July 15.

While he says he is a proponent for peace, Ravenel used a war analogy to explain his campaign secrecy.

“You think Stonewall Jackson wrote a little note over to Gen. Grant and said here’s my battle plan?”

Um… correct me if I’m wrong, Civil War buffs, but isn’t the main reason Jackson never wrote a little note like that the fact that he never faced Ulysses S. Grant in any battle at any time? Grant was out West until nearly a year after Jackson was killed in action.

For the record, Julius Caesar never wrote a little note like that to Napoleon Bonaparte, either.

Obama, the coup de main commander in chief

Something struck me over the weekend about POTUS.

We know he’s not much of one for committing conventional forces. He’s no Rommel or Patton; you’ll never see major armored formations maneuvering in large land battles if he can help it. And trench warfare is about 180 degrees from anything this commander in chief would engage in.

He’s even hesitant about the use of air power in any sustained way. He went along in Libya, but on the condition that we were just what Nick Adams in “No Time for Sergeants” called the whole danged Air Force: the helpers. Leading from behind, and all that.

On the other hand…

He’s more willing than any president in my lifetime to launch one-time, deus ex machina attacks from the sky, with devastating and deadly effect. I refer here to the drones, which he has used more extensively by far than any predecessor.

Also, let’s not forget the killing of Osama bin Laden. Or the snatching from Libyan soil of one of the ringleaders of the Benghazi attack, just last week, the success of which the president was happy to tout:

“It’s important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice,” the president said Tuesday at an event in Pittsburgh. “That’s a message I sent the day after it happened, and regardless of how long it takes, we will find you. I want to make sure everyone around the world hears that message very clearly.”…

No, he’s not one for the long-haul slog. But if he can pounce down on you and kill or capture you out of a clear blue sky, leaving behind nothing but a puff of dust in his wake, he will get your a__.

Over the weekend, it finally hit me: He’s the coup de main president. For those not up on military theory, a coup de main is “An offensive operation that capitalizes on surprise and simultaneous execution of supporting operations to achieve success in one swift stroke.

It’s like, if this generation of leaders had been in charge of the Normandy invasion, you’d want Colin Powell in charge of the beach landings — he’s all about putting massive, irresistible force on the objective and overwhelming the enemy’s defenses. But you’d put Obama in charge of something like the Pegasus Bridge operation — a swift, sudden attack by glider-borne troops on a small target of strategic importance to the overall operation.

Except he wouldn’t have gone in for that “hold until relieved” part. He would have wanted to go in, kill all the Germans defending the target, then get out. Which wouldn’t have been helpful in that case, since we needed the bridge to advance inland. So, bad example.

But you know what I mean — don’t you?

Pilotless error: 400 drones have crashed since 2001

The Washington Post has put together a rather sobering report that finds that 400 military drones have crashed since 2001:

Commercial drone flights are set to become a widespread reality in the United States, starting next year, under a 2012 law passed by Congress. Drone flights by law enforcement agencies and the military, which already occur on a limited basis, are projected to surge.

The documents obtained by The Post detail scores of previously unreported crashes involving remotely controlled aircraft, challenging the federal government’s assurances that drones will be able to fly safely over populated areas and in the same airspace as passenger planes.

Military drones have slammed into homes, farms, runways, highways, waterways and, in one case, an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane in midair. No one has died in a drone accident, but the documents show that many catastrophes have been narrowly averted, often by a few feet, or a few seconds, or pure luck….

That’s kind of ominous, when you think about Jeff Bezos and all those other people who want to fill the skies with them on the home front….

D plus 70 years

sc078

This was the Day of Days, and I am still overwhelmed by the enormity of what was undertaken, and the fact that it succeeded in spite of monumental mistakes and frightful odds:

  • The idea of putting 175,000 men in one day on a beach, every square inch of which was pre-sighted by German machine guns, artillery and mortars.
  • The decision that Eisenhower and Eisenhower alone had to make, giving the “go” signal after a day’s delay, with only the most primitive weather forecasting. A mind-bogglingly complex plan involving more than a million men, thousands of ships and boats, amounts of materiel that make today’s stockpiles look like nothing, all having to come together at the right instants. And he said “go,” knowing it could be a disaster — as it nearly was at Omaha, which would have rendered the whole beachhead untenable, and the invasion a failure.
  • The stupendous foul-ups that nevertheless didn’t keep the invasion from succeeding — the aerial bombardment that fell too far inland to do any good (the pilots were afraid of hitting the boats approaching the beach), the rocket barrage that fell short into the sea, the naval artillery battering that failed to take out any of the German gun emplacements, the complete chaos of the airborne drop, with paratroopers landing as much as 20 miles from their drop zones, all mixed up with troops from other units and unable to find their own.
  • The moment when Omar Bradley was close to declaring Omaha a failure, with a pitiful few wet, bleeding men huddled against the cliff, unable to advance or retreat, and reinforcements unable to land.
  • The individual initiative here and there by sergeants, lieutenants and captains who knew the plan had gone to hell and that they had to improvise, leading small bands of men up the cliff, and (among the paratroopers behind German lines) organizing tiny ad hoc units to attack targets as they presented themselves. As impressive as what the generals had done in planning and preparation, it was these small, improvised actions that saved the day. (And, to give the generals a little of the credit, a result of the American method of training soldiers, which — unlike the doctrines of many countries — emphasized initiative, critical thinking and improvisation.)
  • The incredibly difficult fighting through the hedgerows — something entirely unanticipated by intelligence, providing the Germans with multiple defensible positions to drop back to every few yards — over the coming month.

And so much more.

I’ve never in my life seen a pivot point of history condensed and crammed into one place and one day, and almost certainly never will. It just amazes me something like this, something so huge, so sweeping and momentous, such an effort, such a throw of the dice, occurred just nine years before I was born.

President Barack Obama chats with John Cummer of Blythewood, a World War II veteran in Normandy, France, for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Winston Pownall of West Columbia, another veteran on the trip, is next to Cummer. SGT. MICHAEL REIHSCH — U.S. Army Europe

President Barack Obama chats with John Cummer of Blythewood, a World War II veteran in Normandy, France, for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Winston Pownall of West Columbia, another veteran on the trip, is next to Cummer. SGT. MICHAEL REIHSCH — U.S. Army Europe

The Bergdahl scandal — and ‘scandal’ is what it’s becoming — seems about to burst into full flower

At this hour, The Washington Post is touting an “exclusive” in which Afghan villagers give their eyewitness accounts of the day Bowe Bergdahl walked away from his post. They say he appeared, inexplicably, to be deliberately seeking out the Taliban:

To them, it’s clear something was wrong with the American. And he seemed to be deliberately heading for Taliban strongholds, they say.

“It was very confusing to us. Why would he leave the base?” said Jamal, an elder in the village of Yusef Khel, about a half-mile from the American military installation. (Like many Afghans, he goes by only one name). “The people thought it was a covert agenda – maybe he was sent to the village by the U.S.”

Locals remember Bergdahl walking through the village in a haze. They later told Afghan investigators that they had warned the American that he was heading into a dangerous area.

“They tried to tell him not to go there, that it is dangerous. But he kept going over the mountain. The villagers tried to give him water and bread, but he didn’t take it,” said Ibrahim Manikhel, the district’s intelligence chief.

“We think he probably was high after smoking hashish,” Manikhel said. “Why would an American want to find the Taliban?”…

This comes out as the Taliban releases video footage of the handover of Bergdahl to U.S. special forces. In the video, the sergeant looks highly stressed, even terrified. Of course, there could be many interpretations of that. Even if everything about his “capture” were kosher and he was thrilled to be handed over, he could have been afraid they’d shoot him at the last minute.

But that is secondary to the Post story. The newspaper’s political blog, The Fix, declares that “Bergdahl is the new Benghazi.” Indeed. Only this is one that people other than dog whistle-attuned Republicans can understand.

No wonder, as The Guardian reports, “US military promises ‘complete review’ into Bowe Bergdahl capture.” The whole happy-welcome-home scenario seems increasingly untenable.

Sheheen releases plan for veterans, with footnotes

This just in today from Vincent Sheheen:

Sheheen Releases Plan of Action for SC Veterans

Gubernatorial candidate lays out plan to address delays and obstacles for veterans in-state given severe problems with national VA

Camden, SC. – Today, Sen. Vincent Sheheen released his plan of action for veterans in South Carolina to address the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs at the state level while Washington works out its problems. The plan lays out a course of action to be taken at the state level to get veterans the care and benefits that they need and have earned.

Sen. Sheheen’s plan for veterans includes immediate steps that he will begin work on in the legislature, and actions he would take as Governor of South Carolina.

This week, he will work with veteran and State Rep. James Smith to introduce budget provisos in the House to open DHEC clinics to veterans after-hours and on the weekend, provide no-interest loans to wounded warriors who are delayed their pensions due to DC’s backlog, and make specific requests of state agencies to take action at the state level and do right by South Carolina’s veterans.

View Sen. Sheheen’s plan of action for veterans as well as his other ideas for how to improve leadership and accountability in South Carolina at www.vincentsheheen.com. His book, “The Right Way: Getting the Palmetto State Back on Track” is free and also available online, here.

 

Honest Leadership for South Carolina’s Veterans

 

Our nation’s veterans put their lives on the line to protect and serve our country. The very least that the government should do is provide the care and the service those veterans were promised and have more than earned.

The major problems and delays that have been ongoing with the VA for decades, problems that are now amplified with the increase in veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, have brought us to a crisis point. The extreme dysfunction in the Department of Veterans Affairs that’s putting veterans at a terrible risk is unacceptable and requires urgent and appropriate action.

Washington has created this crisis, yet the leaders in Washington seem more interested in pointing fingers than taking the urgent action needed to properly address the crisis.  Therefore, South Carolina leaders have no choice but to take immediate and aggressive steps to protect the health and lives of our veterans here in the Palmetto State.

To that end, Senator Vincent Sheheen has proposed an urgent plan of action for South Carolina’s 420,968 veterans, and is working with veteran and State Rep James Smith to get it done.

PROVIDE IN-STATE ALTERANTIVES FOR VETERANS TO ACCESS CARE

There have been six veterans’ deaths at Columbia’s Dorn VA Hospital that may have been caused by on-going delays in appointments.[1]Reports show 10,500 veterans have waited longer than 125 days for an appointment at Dorn.[2] And memos show that the VA knew of the delays here in South Carolina as far back as December 2011.[3] Clearly the problem is systematic, and we must take action to provide veterans with alternate ways to access care at the state level.

Open SC Public Health Facilities to Serve our Veterans

  • Direct all DHEC Public Health Clinics to open after hours during the week and on Saturdays to provide appointments for veterans waiting for care through the VA.
  • Create a Veterans Care Triage System within DHEC, in coordination with Dept. Mental Health, SCHHS and the SC National Guard, to work with VA-qualified veterans in need of healthcare.
  • Expand outreach and resources to SC Department of Mental Health for veterans suffering from PTSD.
  • Appoint a point-person to work with all state agencies, to:

o   Help veterans wade through Federal red-tape and identify possible state solutions or alternatives for care;

o   Hear from veterans being negatively affected by the VA’s national backlog to ensure no more veterans die while on a wait-list;

o   Connect veterans with non-profit and other in-state organizations to ensure they get the medical care they need.

  • Coordinate with rural hospitals, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) in rural areas and free medical clinics – as well as any other501 c#3 funded by Medicaid – to find alternate ways of providing access to care for veterans

 

Accept Our Federal Tax Dollars to Expand Medicaid for Veterans in SC

  • Expand Medicaid to provide health care to more than 13,000 veterans in the Palmetto State that earn at or below 138% of the poverty level, according to The Pew Institute.[4]
  • Direct the Inspector General to conduct an audit of existing state programs and identify additional Federal or state-based funding sources currently not being used, that could help provide local veterans with access to care.

 

ENSURE DISABLED VETERANS GET THE PENSIONS THEY ARE DUE

There is currently a backlog of more than 340,000 veterans waiting for the VA to process their disability claims, and South Carolina should provide some level of financial security for these wounded warriors.[5]

Provide No-Interest Loans to Bridge the Gap

  • Immediately provide no interest loans, through the S.C. Office of Veterans’ Affairs, for up to 80% of the claim filed, to disabled veterans waiting for their claims to be processed.
  • Allow South Carolina’s veterans to repay those no-interest loans when the Federal government finally approves their claims.
  • If a claim was denied, allow that veteran repay the loan with no penalty, so long as there was no finding of fraud.

Improve Public-Private Partnerships to Assist SC Veterans

  • Increase funding for existing non-profits and faith-based organizations within South Carolina already helping veterans get access to the care they need.

 

 

[1] WIS-TV: Thousands of veterans wait months for appointments at Dorn VA, 5/28/14

[2] Center for Investigative Reporting: Where is the veterans’ backlog the worst?, 8/29/12

[3] WIS-TV: Thousands of veterans wait months for appointments at Dorn VA, 5/28/14

[4] Pew Charitable Trusts State & Consumer Initiatives: A Quarter-Million Vets will miss out on Medicaid Expansion, 5/27/13

[5] VA Press Release: Disability Claims Backlog reduced by 44 Percent Since Peaking One Year Ago, 4/1/14

Interesting choice of an issue for a gubernatorial candidate…