FACTS ON THE GROUND
Re: Jay D. Homnick’s Unfriendly Fire in Congress:
The Army’s attempt to portray the death of Pat Tillman as a heroic sacrifice instead of a classic fratricidal FUBAR is only partly related to the CYA syndrome. In the Second World War, similar incidents were also rewritten to put a positive gloss upon them.
Take, for example, the case of Captain Colin Kelly, a U.S. Army B-17 pilot in the Philippines in late 1941. When the Japanese navy staged an amphibious landing, Kelly and his squadron were sent out to attack the invasion fleet. The bombers attacked individually, and Kelly’s was hit as it dropped its bombs on the ships below. Kelly was killed when his plane crashed near its base, after the rest of the crew bailed out. The story that was circulated in the press — and never openly denied by the Army at the time — was Kelly’s plane had been fatally stricken on its attack run, that he had ordered his crew to bail out, and that he had then crashed his plane into the Japanese battleship Haruna, for which action he was supposedly awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
All very nice, except: Kelly’s plane was hit after dropping its bombs, which failed to hit anything; the battleship Haruna was several hundred miles away when Kelly dropped his bombs (which missed the light cruiser Jintsu); Kelly’s plane had almost returned to its field when he ordered the crew to bail out; Kelly was killed trying to bring the plane in for an emergency landing; for which action he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Other than that, the story in the press was absolutely true.
Now, Kelly was an authentic hero: he made a gallant (albeit fruitless) attack on the Japanese against heavy odds, and he saved most of his crew by bringing the plane close to its base. Why then, did the Army feel the need to embellish? Because, at the time, the war was going very badly, and the country needed heroes more than it needed the “truth.”
One can find similar examples of obfuscation by the U.S., especially in the early days of World War II. Douglas MacArthur, for instance, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (for real), and not court-martialed for gross incompetence over his defense of the Philippines. Ernest King remained as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Navy, and not relieved for his inept handling of the U-boat crisis off the coasts of America between January and May 1942. The military grossly inflated the number of U-boats sunk in that time (fewer than ten) and hid the number of Allied ships sunk; claims were accepted on the flimsiest of evidence, and medals awarded by the bushel basket — because the country needed heroes and good news at a time when both were scarce.
There is a word for this sort of thing. It is “propaganda”. Now, this word has come to take on bad connotations in our day, but in fact, propaganda is a necessary component of any war effort, as even the genteel beast of the Press recognized some sixty years ago, when they were willing agents of U.S. and Allied propaganda. Of course, back then, the Press considered themselves to be Americans first and journalists second, so the kind of mindless “objectivity” we see in reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan would have been unthinkable in the Philippines, New Guinea, North Africa, Italy or Normandy. The Press was on our side, and spoke possessively of “our troops.” There was none of this “U.S. commanders claimed today….”, but rather, “Today our troops smashed… “There was a very good reason for this.
Karl von Clausewitz wrote that modern war rests on three pillars: the state, the army and the people. If one of the pillars is weak or collapses, the war effort collapses with it. It is impossible to wage a war — any war — without controlling the information the public receives concerning the conduct of that war. War is a terrifying, grotesque and confusing business; it is hard enough on men who have been trained to endure its rigor and who have become accustomed to its images. Civilians, without any standard by which to judge, will find the whole thing repulsive, and will turn away from it. In other words, the morale of the home front will suffer. This is particularly true when they attempt to judge the progress and leadership of war by the standards of the civilian world. Wars are not won by armies that are 90% effective over those that are 85% effective, but by those that are 15% effective over those that are 10% effective. This is due to Clausewitz’s concept of “friction,” the compounding effect of myriad minor errors that combine to make even the simplest thing difficult; it is what separates “real” war from “war on paper.” Yet the press, which deals in paper, can only talk of war on paper, therefore, from their perspective, wars are always being run badly. Civilian morale suffers, which in turn undermines support for the state and the army, and the war effort collapses.
If this war has demonstrated anything, it is the impossibility of waging a sustained war in a liberal democracy in the presence of an unfettered press. The enemies of liberal democracy, of course, do not believe in, nor have to deal with, a free press — and this gives them an dangerous advantage in the kind of war where will to victory is far more important than actual victories on the battlefield.
— Stuart Koehl
Falls Church, Virginia
Two months after I came home from Vietnam, my closest friend was KIA when the mini-gun on a cobra gunship misfired and struck inside the small Ranger Team’s perimeter. Specialist Four Jaime Pacheco had, only moments before, rushed forward to throw 12-15 grenades and cover the withdrawal of his team mates. After Jaime’s death, the Company XO sent me a letter detailing how Jaime was killed, including the fact that it was friendly fire. This of course, took nothing away from Jaime’s earlier actions to save the team, actions that resulted in award of the Silver Star (Posthumously).
Not until I met Jaime’s family in 1998 did I see his Silver Star citation, which was presented to his family after his death. Like the Tillman case, there was no mention of the friendly-fire cause of death. With some unknown “sixth sense,” Jaime’s mother and siblings, as well as his son, always suspected there was something amiss.
I thought they were aware of the true circumstances of Jaime’s death and, after visiting with them and “spilling the beans” I felt quite guilty. Surprisingly, finally knowing the truth after more than 25 years actually brought closure.
Friendly fire deaths are facts of life in combat. The same cobra that took Jaime’s life may well have previously saved his own, as well as countless other soldiers. I’ve always had great sympathy for that pilot, and a proud respect for Jaime’s actions. I only wish the Army had told the family the truth in the beginning.
Should anyone wish to read Jaime’s story, it is online here and there are copies of his Silver Star Citation and the letter from our XO detailing how he REALLY died (here). Those facts don’t take away from his service, his sacrifice, or his heroism. The same is true for Jaime’s fellow Ranger of a new generation, Pat Tillman.
— Doug Sterner
I absolutely agree that is serves no purpose to add details about a soldier’s death in hostile action. There is just so much confusion with young people scared to death doing the best they can under extreme and impossible circumstances. In WWI and WWII it is commonly known that a very large percentage of deaths were due to friendly fire. We (U.S. and other modern armies) have actually gotten much, much better and the number of deaths due to friendly fire have decreased drastically. The story is correct — adding details, like, “he cowered in his foxhole and did not charge the enemy as ordered, but got it anyway” adds nothing positive to anybody, so why characterize how someone acted (and died) under extreme circumstances.
In Desert Storm we were very aware of this possibility and we went to extreme measures to avoid friendly fire deaths. When we had a fire mission, we challenged the person or computer calling for the fire — using secret codes and other means. We then plotted the location of the target and compared it to know friend/enemy positions — using GPS, we were able to get “friendlies” to update us on their exact position, and we always wanted “eyes on” target — someone we knew and trusted (not civilians or foreigners) — to insure that we were targeting the bad guys. Even with these measures, accidents happen. Powder gets wet, people move and don’t update their GPS locations, the weather changes and the enemy moves unexpectedly.
Anyway, in the past we accepted honest mistakes and characterized the deaths as, “died of wounds sustained in combat — he/she was a hero and represented his/her unit and his/her country with honor.” Think about it — the soldier volunteered, trained for months/years, went into a hostile environment, and tried to do good — let him/her have the honor of their overall intent and actions and not judge them by one moment in hell.
With today’s litigation prone society — “nothing is my fault, someone has to pay” thought process — we always seem to look for some advantage. Just look at the Virginia Tech incident. The libs want to embarrass Bush, so this situation (the two incidents in yesterday’s testimony) are brought up to gain some political advantage. This situation naturally makes people act in ways that are not good. “Cover your butt” is also an American term. People wouldn’t feel required to cover their butts if they didn’t feel they had to.
A young Lieutenant or the Colonel looking to make General knows that in today’s environment (everything looked at for some political advantage) that a single mistake can ruin their career. In business the result of a mistake could be a five cent hit on quarterly earnings, but in the Army it can be that someone dies.
I have seen many Military careers that were ruined utterly due to one mistake — with a zero defects mentality, some people lie. However, there are many — the vast majority — of military people that will not lie — under any circumstances.
I remember that I made a very big mistake when I was a Lieutenant — part of the incident was observed by a General in a helicopter and he landed in my area and asked what had happened. I took full responsibility, made no excuses, took the blame for me and my people, and he said only one word, “OK” and walked off and got back in his helicopter. I thought my career was over.
Well, a year later I got promoted — earlier than my peers — and I asked my boss why he though that happened. He told me that the General had put a word in for me based on the biggest goof up in my career — because I told the truth even though it would have been easier to lie to cover my butt (I had actually forgotten about the incident). The point is that it is always better to adhere to the code of honor that is taught and stressed in the Army. My General might have used me as a scapegoat, but by doing what was right I placed my career in his hands and he judged my character and he did the right thing too.
We can not make specific actions on the ground subject to a microscope — for the reasons cited in the story.
— Dave Pfleeger
Charlotte, North Carolina
After Charlie Rose interviewed President Bush on Tuesday, he gave what seemed to be a defense and/or near apology for having the President of the United States on his show to talk about such things as the Iraqi War. He seemed to anticipate that people (liberals; cocktail circuit people) would be criticizing him for giving the President a chance to talk. We have come to this in our nation.
— Richard L.A. Schaefer
Pro-life conservatives have seriously misread the Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzales v. Carhart. Contrary to G. Tracy Mehan’s congratulatory pronouncement on Friday that the decision upheld a “ban” on “partial birth abortion” and Lisa Fabrizio’s similarly celebratory refrain that the decision represents a “victory…toward ending some of the carnage,” the decision actually only upheld the constitutionality of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 against a “facial” challenge, meaning that the Court ruled that the statute was not automatically invalid under all situations.
Sounds like a victory, right? Not really. The rub lies in the reasoning given by Justice Kennedy for the decision. Justice Kennedy, who is staunchly pro-choice (he was one of the justices who wrote the controlling plurality decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey), made clear throughout his opinion that the reason the statute survived the challenge was that it is so narrowly drawn as to be very easily evaded (indeed, the statute is so narrowly drawn as to be essentially meaningless in practice, see here), and because there is no clear evidence that “intact” late-term abortions are medically superior, in all cases, to late-term abortions in which the baby is removed in pieces. A statute that truly banned all late-term abortions (as the title of the act misleadingly implies) assuredly would have been struck down. In that situation, Justice Kennedy would have joined the four dissenting justices (Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter, and Stevens) in overturning the law. Moreover, Justice Kennedy’s opinion expressly left open the possibility that the statute could be found unconstitutional in the future “as applied” in specific situations, i.e., where the woman could present evidence that an “intact” late-term abortion was “medically necessary.”
Is this decision better than an outright loss? Of course. But those on the pro-life side who see in the Gonzales decision a harbinger of the eventual demise of Roe v. Wade are sadly mistaken. That day will come, if at all, only when the likes of Justice Ginsburg and Justice Stevens (not to mention Justice Kennedy) are replaced with reliable conservative judges. All the more reason why the Republican Party must win the presidency in 2008.
— Steven M. Warshawsky
New York City, New York
SHOULD HE STAY OR SHOULD HE GO?
Re: Quin Hillyer’s Senatorial Wisdom on Gonzales:
I totally disagree with Mr. Hillyer and the unnamed (and once again gutless) Senator.
If the Republicans surrender yet another time to the likes of Schumer and Leahy over this much ado about nothing they have sealed their fate with the base, and the country can look forward to a Democrat sweep in ’08. The likes of Chuck Hagel, Arlen Specter, John Warner, etc. have already convinced me to not contribute to the RNC. I do not want one my dollars going to these RINOS. I will contribute to individual campaigns only.
So as goes (or stays) Mr. Gonzales, so goes the country in this case.
— Jim Karr
Blue Springs, Missouri
As a Texan, strong Bush supporter and one who has met Alberto Gonzales on many occasions he is without a doubt an excellent attorney and decent human being. Unfortunately, like Harriet Miers (who was unfairly castigated at the beginning of the conservative crackup) it is time for the AG to tender his resignation for the good of the administration. Not because of his actions regarding the eight Federal attorneys (they needed to be removed) or even his handling of the matter before Congress. But like Ed Meese he is a surrogate for attacks on the President and the President does not need this distraction when dealing with a Congressional lacking in ethics, morality and patriotism.
President Bush unlike most Americans and politicians is endowed with the virtues of fidelity and loyalty. In this day and age of disposable people that is a hallmark of a man of character, but not always advantageous in politics. For instance Donald Rumsfeld should have gone immediately after the 2004 elections if not before. He was a lightning rod of controversy that the Republican party did not need going into an off year election when the odds were against team Bush to pull another historic upset. Leading up to the 2008 election the Bush administration and GOP do not need this controversy. The focus should be on the GWOT and defeating Democrats particularly dumb, dumber and Imam Obama.
Hillyer’s suggestions for Attorney General are like most Republicans stellar. I would add Michael Luttig to the list. He might prefer staying in the private sector and even see AG as a step down after serving as a Federal judge, but his expertise would serve the President and nation well.
— Michael Tomlinson
Jacksonville, North Carolina
My favorite writer, Quin Hillyer, has perfect pitch on this one. Alberto Gonzales was in way over his head from the first day. He may have found his bathroom and the briefing room, but I bet that’s as far as he went in the building.
While listening to Gonzales testimony, I started to wonder what, if anything, he knew about ANY case working its way through the Department of Justice. Can’t you imagine his surprise (and the President’s) when the Sandy Berger plea deal was announced? I am convinced that he and the President didn’t have any idea about Sandy Berger stealing documents from the National Archives until the plea was struck.
Many articles have been written about how Attorney General Gonzales and President Bush allowed the Berger deal to go through for many nefarious reasons. I posit they knew nothing about it until Berger’s attorney — Lanny Breuer, a Clinton administration lawyer — and the DOJ Attorney — another Clinton appointee, I bet — announced the deal.
Friends are one thing, but national security demands that we have sharp, intelligent, aggressive people in positions of power. Not mealy-mouthed, shrinking violets — however much book learning they might have.
— Judy Beumler
Quin Hillyer makes a compelling case against the woefully inept Alberto Gonzales. Hard to believe that a Harvard trained lawyer and former Justice on the Texas Supreme Court could display such a pitiful lack of intellectual dexterity. I submit half of the readers of TAS, with sufficient preparation, could have matched wits with the senile dimwits on the Judiciary Committee.
The task, quite frankly, wasn’t that hard. The script, rather easy to follow: It’s solely within the President’s Constitutional prerogative, they serve at his pleasure or displeasure, he wanted changes made, no reasons or explanations have to be proffered, especially to Congress, end of story, get over it. Of course, we’d have an additional advantage; we’d take down these phonies because we would not be restrained by the sickening fake collegiality that Gonzales and the Bush Administration labor under.
Which brings me to my point. The President, a clear visioned, unwavering rock when it comes to the GWOT and the protection of the American homeland, remains stubbornly blind to the scorched earth war the Democrats are waging on his administration. It appears they intend on dismantling the Bush Presidency, one person at a time, until no one is left by January 09. This is Bush’s real failed strategy; the “New Tone” in all its unrequited civility. If
only the Democrats were as committed against our real enemies….
— A. DiPentima
Placing a person “who just isn’t up to the task” in an important governmental position has, unfortunately, been far too common in this administration. The resulting waste of time and resources from the mal-administration of these individuals should pain every conservative whose tax dollars are paying for the government services these individuals are supposed to be delivering efficiently and economically.
— Mike Roush
Be careful what you wish for. Notice the difference when a Democrat is in trouble he’s surrounded by fellow Dems. Republicans once did this too. Either party right or wrong did. Now those of us who believe you have to fight back watch tails tucked, if I don’t join in with the Dems I’ll lose the next election, running. It’s sad when you hear supporters who have given to the party sweat and money saying I’m through with them. I’m afraid we’ll see a greater loss in the next election than the last. I know I’ll not support them.
— R. Richards
Quin Hillyer replies:
I thank everybody on both sides of this debate. Glad to see conservatives still being feisty, on whatever side. A particular note on Mr. Tomlinson’s suggestion that Michael Luttig be considered as AG: I agree that Luttig would probably decline, but it’s one heck of a good idea!
NO MAGIC BULLET
Re: Robert A. Levy’s They Never Learn:
There are two standard civil rights boilerplate responses I have never heard used against gun-control advocates: 1.) The widespread ownership of guns is part of the price we pay to live in a free society and 2.) It is deplorable how so many people will trade their [second amendment] rights for the sake of a little security.
Of course, we know why.
Just as deplorable is the behavior of some of our “second amendment” congressional defenders who answer first to the beck and call of the Democrat leadership. Here in Indiana, we had a well known, now retired, representative who campaigned in part as an NRA member and a champion of the right to bear arms. When the “assault weapon” legislation was making its way through Congress, he assured his district that he would never ever vote such a law. When it came to the hour, however, the grind of party loyalty was heard: [I paraphrase] “The bill is a horrible infringement on the Bill of Rights! It singles out a set of firearms as “assault weapons” which bear no practical difference to other rifles average Americans have carried for years. This sets a terrible president which can be used to take away even more of our constitutional rights to purchase and own a gun….but, you see, there is this little thing in there that limits the size of ammunition clips that I always kinda liked. Seems to me any weapon should only have so many bullets it can fire at a time. So, I’m going to hold my nose and vote for this bill.”
— Michael Dooley
DEFINING DARWINISM DOWN?
Re: Richard Kirk’s Darwin, Brooks, and Mass Murder:
Richard Kirk’s ability to detect the odor of Darwinism in the presence of ideas he finds distasteful or impious seems to rival Hugo Chavez’s nose for brimstone. Yet there is something fishy about “Darwin, Brooks, and Mass Murder.”
Its failure to acknowledge just how much of what he, Brook , and sundry knee-jerk neocons style ‘”postmodern” is old hat to science, an anachronism he compound by elision. “Like Marx and Freud, however, Darwin has no language that takes seriously individual acts of good and evil.” Oh yeah ?
Just where did that bearded Victorian say, “good and evil become epiphenomena generated by impersonal forces that lie beyond good and evil.” It helps to have a citation handy when bandying accusations like: “This fatal flaw trivializes, and continues to spawn, acts of horror,” but Kirk offers none — has he got his German philosophers mixed?
I hope readers whose curiosity he has enlarged will examine the very different, and perhaps more edifying, perspective afforded by a recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay by David Barash.
— Russell Seitz
I have been following the thread of articles and reader mail emanating from David Brooks’s column on the “Age of Darwin.” I consider myself a conservative person — I abhor secular progressives’ view of the world, I can’t wait to read Ann Coulter’s next column, I watch Fox News, I read conservative blogs and I agree with the vast majority of the opinions found there. But, I am also a professional petroleum geologist and have used evolutionary principles throughout my 30-year career to find oil and gas. I find it extraordinary that conservatives can exhibit such a high degree of common sense and understanding on a variety of subjects from politics, economics — even such scientific subjects as Global Warming — and yet be so blinded by religious beliefs as to vilify Darwin for this wonderfully utilitarian theory. Evolution is a useful scientific principle, it is not RELIGION. In hydrocarbon exploration evolutionary principles afford us the opportunity to age date subsurface formations based on microfossil assemblages and extinctions. This, in turn, allows us to correlate groups of formations of previously unknown age with hydrocarbon-bearing formations of known age and predict where we would most likely find additional hydrocarbon accumulations. Unfortunately, we cannot do the same based on biblical accounts of the earth’s history — it just doesn’t jibe with the subsurface scientific data gathered over the last one hundred plus years of oil exploration. Creationism simply isn’t science because it doesn’t follow the “scientific method” used by well…scientists. Many geologists I know are people of faith, but they are able to separate their religious beliefs from scientific principles. I wish the rest of the conservative community could learn to do the same.
— Bob Crown
Re: Christopher Hayes’s letter (under “Undercover Angels”) in Reader Mail’s Assimilation Breakdown:
I must respond to Christopher Hayes’s letter in regards to Mary Grabar’s article Little Girls in Headscarves. Mr. Hayes states that he is a Christian and that his daughter has a “choice” to follow whatever path she wants. This is all well and good. But in light of the recent events in Iran involving women jailed for failure to wear the correct headscarf, and countless other examples of the same in Muslim governments it would seem that your problem should be with the “choice” denied these women. Of course this is a free country and women can wear the hijab any way they see fit, but why does your concern about women’s choices not extend outside your borders?
— Nicholas DuBoyce
Mr. Hayes obviously has a big problem with America. Sad. I never understand why people who despise their country stay here, but that’s another story.
What surprises me is this “who are we to tell them” attitude. Why it should be obvious: we are AMERICANS. The strength and greatness of this country is not multiculturalism. It is a culture of freedom from oppression, to do what one wants and to pursue one’s dreams unfettered by ancient mores that demand certain classes (women) remain subservient.
Tolerance of subservience is not a virtue. Mr. Hayes apparently thinks it is.
— Garry Greenwood
Re: Glen Hoffing’s letter (under “Masters of Deconstruction”) in Reader Mail’s Assimilation Breakdown:
I know it must have been shocking for some readers to be told that good and evil don’t exist. How about watering it down a little to “Good and evil exist only to the extent that human beings define the extremes of positive and negative behavior within their respective social contexts.” Basically, helping people is good and hurting people is bad — or evil when very hurtful. This doesn’t mean that there is objective good or evil anywhere. If a random asteroid struck the Earth and killed everyone, calling it an evil asteroid would be pretty stupid, I think.
As far as my fictionality is concerned, I assure you that I’m not an invention of TAS. However, I don’t think they do background checks on letter writers. This is democracy at work.
— Abe Grossman
Pleasantville, New York
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