Dienstag, Oktober 25, 2005

Burn baby burn...

Whilst perusing my daily set of web sites, I came across this.

First this quote:

Although the American soldiers said they were burning the bodies for sanitary reasons (they were starting to rot), the Australian journalist believed that, because there were psychological warfare troops in the area, this was all some kind of ploy to get some nearby Taliban to come out and fight. The media portrayed the incident as an accurate representation of what the Australian journalist thought he was witnessing, and a major defeat for the U.S. in their war on terror. Actually, stuff like this has no impact in the Islamic world. That's because, in the Islamic media, stories like this are invented daily. You can check out the English language sites for media in Islamic countries for examples. Some wild stuff there. The Moslems who hate us won't change their minds because of two burning bodies. Those Moslems who are down on Islamic terrorists won't get very upset about two of them getting torched, even though cremation is frowned upon in the Islamic world (even for Islamic terrorists who burn fellow Moslems to death in the course of their operations, which explains al Qaedas sagging poll numbers.)

The choice of language here is critica: the journalist believed and the media portrayed. In other words, what was reported wasn't facts, but rather opinion. The journalist may well have stated it as his opinion - I don't know - but it's been reported as fact.


Where this will hurt is in the United States? It will hurt in those parts of the world where there is  is more concern for burned up Taliban than in the Moslem world. That's largely in the Western world, especially among some American politicians and pundits. How will this hurt? Congress can call for more "oversight" of U.S. military operations. The troops are already irked at the lawyers added to some staffs over the last decade. The lawyers are their to veto operations if there is too great a chance that the action will offend someone in the world and, ultimately, someone in Congress. 

Bingo! The whole point of the reporting is to impose impossible restraints that will ultimately kill US soldiers. The US military operates under very specific Rules of Engagement (ROE) that any troop ignores at their peril. Remember the sacking of the US embassy in Pakistan in November of 1979? The Marines guarding the embassy there operated under strict rules of engagement that forbade them from firing on the "protestors" coming in over the wall, and as a result a Marine died. The whole point of military discipline is to control the destruction and mayhem that the military can unleash, and the Rule of Engagement carefully delineate what is allowed and what isn't. What happened in Pakistan indicates a long tradition of being willing to accept friendly losses in order to keep within those rules of engagement: this is, if anything, stronger today than it was back then.

If the bodies were burned as a result of some psychological warfare operation, or just to clean up the battlefield, and the act offended the local Moslems, the troops will pay a higher price than any official investigation (which is already underway) can hand out. The troops have to deal with angry, and heavily armed, people every day. They try real hard to act in their own best interests. That being to avoid getting killed while carrying out their mission. Soldiers sent to Afghanistan go through many hours of cultural sensitivity training. They already know that one misstep can destroy lots of good will, and that in turn means fewer Afghans will pass on useful (often life saving) information, and more will fell inclined to take shot at Americans.

This is also critical to understand: the troops on the ground aren't dumb. This goes against the opinion that many pundits hold about the military, that deciding to pursue a military career is somehow something for people who couldn't do better elsewhere. The reality of the situation is that journalism is a career for people who couldn't do better elsewhere: that's what I remember from when I did my undergraduate degree back in 1979, and from what I can see it hasn't gotten any better.

Apparently, an abundance of combat images served up on TV gave lots of pundits, voters and government officials the illusion they know what's really going on, and should get involved. The fact of the matter is that the U.S. military has been punishing troops for misbehavior since 1776. Yet all this means nothing to those who seek perfection, or simply another way to criticize the way the war is being fought, or the need for a war on terror at all. Any problems with the troops in Afghanistan are a lot closer to home.
Now *that* is the money quote: those without any knowledge have the illusion that they know what is really going on, and "getting involved" often means nothing more than trying to gain control over events ex post facto for own glory. If these folks really wanted to know what is going on, then they'd have listened to their briefings, would be better informed, and would have paid more attention. The problem with the troops really is a lot closer to home than any of us think: the problem is not with the troops, the problem is at home.

Then again, this imposes an impossible burden on such pundits: it would mean admitting their own ignorance, recognizing that they aren't the one actually doing something in the world, and more fundamentally recognizing and acknowledging that there are others out there who are leading better lives.

And to clarify things: I haven't served in the US military because I don't pass muster, since I exceed the eyesight limits by a significant margin (I've got -9 and -11 diopters, and this is pre-Lasik: we're talking the late 1980s). Now I'm too old.

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