Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Neros Fiddle While The Humvees Burn

December 14, 2004

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

The Neros Fiddle While The Humvees Burn

Dear Colleagues:

It is probably pretty safe to say that the Army Reserve and the National Guard -- the groups bearing so much of the load in Iraq -- are pretty much comprised of the working class. That is the way it has been in America for a long time. And when one reads stories which tell of the prior lives in America of people who were killed or seriously wounded in Iraq, the impression that they are working class is reinforced. I wonder: if you who are reading this blog are middle class or upper class, ask yourself how many people you know who have been killed or wounded in Iraq. If you are like me, the answer is that you know no one.

As the greater writer Paul Fussell has pointed out -- Fussell himself was a child of privilege who nonetheless became a combat infantry officer and was seriously wounded after months of combat in northern Europe in World War II -- the people who fight our wars on the ground are people whom children of privilege like George Bush and Don Rumsfeld would often go out of their way to avoid. The people who bear the brunt of ground warfare, after all, know from nothing about the fancy pants New Trier High School (in the northern Chicago suburbs) of Don Rumsfeld or the Princeton of Don Rumsfeld. They are not people who are chosen to become presidents of large drug companies north of Chicago simply because they have been in politics. They know from nothing about the Phillips Andover or Skull and Bones of George Bush. They are not people who can be serial incompetent failures in business and drunks, yet still become President. If they had such records of failure and drunkenness, they and their children would not even be able to eat.

But children of privilege need somebody to fight their wars for them, so they send the working class off to do so while seeking to assuage the situation, and the troops, and the deaths, by saying we are sending the very best among us. They send people who have had sadly limited opportunities -- not for them Winnetka and Kennebunkport -- have had relatively little education, will not be our scientists, educators and entrepreneurs, often joined the Reserves or the Guard because they needed extra money, but now are anointed, by those who in ordinary times would often go out of their way to avoid them, as the best among us. You who are about to die, we salute you, is the hypocritical politician’s credo. (Kipling put the whole matter poignantly in Tommy, a poem about the Tommy Atkinses of the British empire, the common soldiers who fought for it. After stanzas describing the terrible treatment these men received in society, some refrains describe the different treatment they receive when they go to war to defend their abusers. It is all captured by the first two lines of the fifth refrain, which say, "For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out the brute!’ But its Saviour of ’is country when the guns begin to shoot.")

And if anybody opposes the Bush family wars, or if federal legislators or Democratic candidates like Kerry do not vote in favor of huge appropriations for the war, then such people are denounced for supposedly failing to support the troops, as occurred previously regarding Viet Nam. (Ergo the weak Kerry’s plaintive, foolish cry that he supported a major appropriation before he voted against it.)

But now look who is not supporting the troops. It turns out that, despite scores of billions of dollars for the war, the Bushes and the Rumsfelds and the rest of that incompetent crowd have not even seen to it that our troops have fully armored trucks and Humvees to ride around in. The men and women in Iraq who are from the Guard or the Reserve have been forced to ride around in unarmored vehicles that are susceptible to the insurgents’ main weapons: roadside bombs and rocket propelled grenades. We have lost about 1,200 dead in Iraq, half to two-thirds (or 600 to 800) from roadside bombs or rocket propelled grenades, and many of the 600 to 800 have died because their Humvees or trucks did not have the proper armor. (Not to mention the many serious injuries that might have been prevented.) Yet, in order for the subject of the armor even to become a topic of discussion, it took what by the exceedingly conformist standards of the current American army is virtually a pseudo mutiny -- it took a soldier challenging the Secretary of Defense in public about this.

The Pentagon, of course, lamented that a soldier would do such a thing, and considered it even worse because a reporter helped him frame his questions. The point remains, however, that it took a challenge to authority in a highly conformist army to even get on the table a question about a phenomenon -- lack of armor -- that may very well be one of the leading reasons for American deaths in Iraq. Except for the fact that they’ve now been embarrassed in front of the world, the Rumsfelds and Bushes gave a damn not.

By the way, two prior stories of a similar genre have quickly been largely or entirely forgotten by the attention-span-of-a-gnat news media. One is the story of the group of soldiers who refused to take a convoy of trucks across the desert because they thought it was just too dangerous. The story has been forgotten except for when the media reported the punishments these soldiers would receive. The other story is that the army adopted new smaller helmets which do not cover as much of the back and sides of the head as prior ones did, and which have thus led to an increased number of deaths and deeply serious wounds because the insurgents’ bombs tend to throw shrapnel toward the now uncovered areas. (The marines, always being smarter and better than the Army, refused to adopt smaller helmets for just that reason.)

Anyway, we now know that the military has not been protecting our men and women in Iraq with the armor they need (while the Bush crowd and its supporters hypocritically claim it is opponents of the war who are not supporting our troops). So, when he was confronted about the lack of armor, what did Winnetka Don say? Well, he whined for sympathy, he lied, and he did his usual number of trying to shrug it off as just another of life’s happenings. Yes, the macho Princeton wrestler, the macho guy who used to come up behind people in the office and put them in bear grips, whined. "[T]aken aback" at being challenged on this subject, and as "a murmur began spreading through the ranks," Rumsfeld said (as reported in The New York Times), "‘Now, settle down, settle down. Hell, I’m an old man, it’s early in the morning and I’m gathering my thoughts here.’" It’s early in the morning and this poor old man is gathering his thoughts. Of course, his thoughts (among those of others) have led to over a thousand Americans and tens or scores of thousands of Iraqis never becoming the old man that he is. But we are supposed to feel sorry for him because he is an old man confronted early in the morning. Well, this blogger doesn’t feel sorry for him. As they say in the Russian Marines, Don, toughsky shi sky.

After Rumsfeld collected his thoughts, he lied. He said that armor was being provided as quickly as possible, and that it was "physics" that prevented it from being built and supplied more quickly. Dishonest Don’s lie was exploded within one day. The Jacksonville company that builds the protected vehicles said it has already been prepared to build 50 to 100 more armored vehicles per month, by February (only 45 to 75 days from now) it could be building as many as 550 such vehicles per month, and for a long time it has simply been awaiting vehicle orders, but such orders have not been sent to it. In Washington it came out that orders for vehicles have been delayed by bureaucratic delay -- apparently the delay was caused by sloth in determining precisely how many of the concededly necessary vehicles are needed. And, because of the ruckus which arose when a soldier had the guts to challenge the lying, I-am-an-old-man Don, a large order for more armored vehicles was placed within three days. But it took a sort of pseudo mutiny for this to occur. It is terribly plain that men and women died while the Bush/Rumsfeld bureaucracy dithered. You talk about Nero fiddling while Rome burns! As a former National Guard ground officer in Iraq said, "‘This is a life or death situation for guys over there. Complacency, incompetency or negligence, I don’t know what other excuse there would be. But when these guys [Rumsfeld and Bush] screw up, we bleed.

To anyone who knows anything about World War II and the truly amazing ramp-up in industrial production that was needed to win that two front war, it is obvious that, if the incompetent George Bush and Don Rumsfeld had been in charge, we would all be speaking German and Japanese today. And these are the people and the Administration that talks about the need to support our troops!

And, in addition to whining and lying, Princeton Don Rumsfeld made some of his (almost patented) life-is-tough, that’s-just-the-way-it-is, it-really-doesn’t-matter remarks. "You can have all the armor in the world on a tank," he said, but it still "can be blown up." You can have an "‘up-armored Humvee and it can be blown up,’" he said. All of which is true, and all of which is irrelevant, is extremely callous, and shows total lack of regard for the lives -- the non-Winnetka, non-Princeton, mainly working class lives -- that will be lost. For the point, of course, is not that hummers and trucks will never be blown up and lives will never be lost if the vehicles are properly armored. It is that fewer lives will be lost if the vehicles are properly armored. Which is a reason why we put armor on vehicles, planes and ships in the first place.
Another of Winnetka Don’s remarks was that "‘You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want.’" Again, callous in the extreme and uncaring of lives. And grossly misleading. Has there ever been a lengthy American war, since the continuous technological revolution in warfare that began in 1861, in which weapons were never changed or upgraded in the middle of hostilities? I’m a military history buff and I can’t think of one. Just a few examples are repeating rifles in the civil war, tanks and better planes in WWI, and bigger and better carriers and vastly improved planes in WWII. But according to Dishonest Don Rumsfeld, who, like his boss, has never been the target of a shot fired in anger, we apparently can’t upgrade in the middle of the Iraqi war.

You know, the stupidity of Rumsfeld’s remarks gives Bush a perfect excuse for getting rid of him. But that will not happen, for several reasons. Bush is obstinate. He is dumb -- dumber than Rumsfeld. And Rumsfeld is doing what Bush wants. It all does illustrate some points constantly made on this blog, however. Does anyone think the hummers and trucks would not have been properly armored a long time ago if it were Bush’s daughters, or Rumsfeld’s family members, or Wolfowitz’s family that were riding around in them in Iraq? You can bet that all the needed armor would have been available many months ago if it were these bums’ family members whose lives were at stake. It has been said here several times that we will keep getting into wars unless and until our leaders’ immediate families, and the families of their friends and relatives, have to participate in the fighting. The point is really no different than, and is illustrated by, the fact that the armor would be there if the leaders’ families were there, and isn’t if they are not. Working class lives are expendable. The lives of leaders’ family members are not.

Also illustrated is the gross incompetence of Bush’s theory that he just sets general policy and leaves all the details to others -- he is the big think guy and lets others carry out all the grubby particulars. As said here before, any successful leader of any institution will tell you that such a theory inescapably leads to failure and incompetence. A leader simply cannot keep hands off all details. He must get involved with some of them. Bush’s theory has led here to a general disaster in Iraq, and now has led to the tragic fiasco of a lack of armor. How in God’s name could Bush have been so unaware, so stupid, so something or other, as not to know or care about this major problem? And, once again, you can bet he would have known and cared about it if it were his two playgirl daughters who were riding around Iraq in unarmored vehicles.

Of course, there is a point that may contravene my view of the Bush theory of so-called leadership. As one of his own people once said, Bush only became successful after he began leaving all the details to others. Left unsaid was that, before then, when he kept a hand in the details, he was a serial failure. So maybe we’d be even worse off in Iraq today if Bush, like Lincoln, Churchill, Clemenceau, Ben Gurion and others, kept abreast of details. That’s a sourly ironic thought, isn’t it?

I will close with this. As anyone who has known me over time or who reads this blog is aware, this blogger despised the Viet Nam War, despises the American leaders who caused it (Johnson, Rusk, McNamara, Nixon, Kissinger), despises the current Iraqi war, despises the American leaders who created it, and thinks that all the American leaders who created these two wars and are still alive should be hung by the neck until dead (as judges used to say) no matter how old they are. (I don’t care if they are 90.) But there is one other thing that is nearly as despicable as the two wars and their American leaders. That is the treatment given to veterans of the Viet Nam War and to soldiers in Iraq today. No matter how evil the leaders may have been in creating these abominable wars, if soldiers have laid their lives on the line for you, they should be treated well, both in the war zone and when back in the States. To me, this is a matter both of plain decency and of morality. The American government has flunked this test. It flunked it when our men came back from Nam and it flunked it today in Iraq, where the Neros fiddled while the Humvees burned.*

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