It's hard times in the new milleniumGettin' by on just the bare minimum
Everything to lose and nothing to spare Going to hell and nobody cares
Ain't the future that Kennedy promised me In the 21st century
Finally come to the age of Aquarius And if we live through the Mayan apocalypse
There'll be pie in the sky above lemonade springs
A goddamn American utopian dream
If you believe that, you're more optimistic than me--Steve Earle
You know, events overwhelm me at times and the on-going military crises-circuses we have blasting around the world make my getting a handle on them especially difficult. It occurs to me, however, that the old Buffalo Springfield line about “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear/ There’s a man with a gun over there, Telling me I got to beware’ really telling in the 21st Century.
If you caught the John Oliver Show, Last Week Tonight, on July 27, you caught an excellent piece on the utterly screwed up US Nuclear Program. While the problems with officer morale and performance, failure to do systems maintenance or upgrades, and general nuttiness – talking about an Air Force General who was relieved for a variety of things culminating on his activities on a trip to Russia where he was pretty much continually drunk on his ass, Oliver pointed out that he’d been “too drunk for the Russians…the Russians!” Telling of one escapade when the general demanded that his staff accompany him to a Mexican Restaurant because he wanted to see the Beatles cover band there and then got them basically thrown out for demanding to be allowed to play guitar in the band, Oliver pointed out that we should consider the chain of bad decisions leading up to that event – drunk, in a Mexican Restaurant in Russia someplace, vomiting a half-eaten Chimichanga over the drum kit of a White Russian Ringo. Of course, his boss – a Vice Admiral -- had been relieved for trying to use counterfeit chips in a tribal casino in Council Bluff, Iowa. Oliver again pointed out that any Vice Admiral should be smarter than an Iowa Pit Boss.
The most telling point in the bit was a brief segment of Colin Powell saying that after 30 years of involvement with the planning, deployment and potential use of nuclear weapons, he had become convinced that they were useless. So, we have over 4800 of these things, capable of blowing ourselves and everyone else to ash, and we can neither protect, maintain, nor figure out a rationale for them.
Reminds me of the old Davy Crockett jeep mounted nuke – you’d orient the jeep so that you were facing away from the target with the missile pointed out the back of the trailer, light it off and drive like hell to try and get out of the blast zone…what exactly was the genius who invented it thinking?
Well, one thing he was thinking was that the actual use of the thing wasn’t his problem. When Generals and Colonels talk about the strategic corporals, they’re thinking that that two-striper is going to be doing their job and “Ain’t it Great?” However, the most critical tool for that grunt’s ruck sack, a strong moral compass, is probably missing, broken or poorly designed.
The United States Army used to be proud of its moral stance. We didn’t torture prisoners, we liberated them. We didn’t kill children, we fed them. We didn’t kill civilians, we freed, fed, clothed and took care of them. Somewhere that went wrong. We held ourselves up as a role model, and some people paid attention. That ethic matched where they were at – the IDF, for example, prided itself on minimizing collateral damage and civilian casualties. And then, they also lost the way.
There’s an interesting article in The Guardian this morning. Yuli Novak is a former pilot and operations officer in the Israeli Air Force, and she comments that when she was a young captain, the Israel Defense Forces prided themselves on being the “most moral military in the world.” She describes an incident where the Israeli Air Force employed a 1000 pound bomb on a house in Gaza to take out a Hamas military commander. She says that it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to consider what that weapon did to the building and the target. They killed him, but they also killed twelve civilians including eight children. She describes the outcome this way:
After the assassination, Israel shook. Even when the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) insisted that there was operational justification for the attack, public sentiment could not accommodate this assault on innocent civilians. Israeli intellectuals petitioned the supreme court, demanding it examine the legality of this action. A few months later a group of reservist pilots criticised such elimination actions....As soldiers and officers used to carrying out our missions without asking unnecessary questions, we were affected by the public reaction…my friends and I trusted our commanders to make the right moral decisions, and returned our focus to the “important things” – the precise execution of further operations.
She goes on to point out that such trust is utterly impossible today. She sees what’s happening in the Gaza Strip as nothing less than a series of war crimes originating at the operational planning level, with no effort to minimize casualties, collateral damage and maintain the moral high ground. Israel Armed Forces are to her mind no longer able to claim any moral suasion; they have become as amoral as any other invading force and are engaging in things that remind her of the SS or the Red Army rampaging in Eastern Europe.
Interestingly, she places the responsibility for regaining a moral force not on the shoulders of the military but on the public. That in fact makes a lot of sense in Israel, where everyone serves except those religiously exempt. Those exempt are largely the most bloodthirsty, which is something I find amusing, of course. In a nation that sees itself as living in a continual state of Total War, those most reluctant to find a peaceful solution are a permanent class of REMFs. Anyway, Novak sees it as a public as well as a military challenge:
I know how hard it is to ask questions during times of conflict as a soldier. The information that the officers get in real time is always partial. That’s why the responsibility for drawing the red lines, and alerting when we cross it, lies with the public. A clear, loud voice that says that bombing a house with civilians in it is immoral must be heard. These killings cannot be accepted without question. Public silence in the face of such actions – inside and outside of Israel – is consent by default, and acceptance of an unacceptable price.
Novak is now the Executive Director of “Breaking the Silence” an organization of Israeli veterans who have served during and since the Intifada and want to educate the Israeli public as to what the military is doing in their name. I find that admirable, and rather similar to a lot of what we do over at Veterans Today. I’m hoping they are more successful. But, I’m not terribly confident in either case.
One of the problems that we face is the inability to define end-states. What exactly is the end state for Israel and the Palestinians? What is the end state of our involvement in Iran or Afghanistan? What do the Russians want to accomplish in Ukraine? What do the separatists want to accomplish; what do the Ukrainians want to accomplish? If you have some sort of idea as to where you want to go, you might get there. But otherwise, you’ll get wherever you end up, and it will undoubtedly be pretty lousy.
For example, as I was writing this, news broke that the Israeli Air Force has targeted a hospital and a park where children were playing. Israel denies this, claiming that Hamas had hit these targets due to malfunctioning rockets. Frankly, I don't care -- my initial reaction was that the targeting team at IAF HQ was operating off some intelligence that the hospital was being used for storing rockets and ammunition, and that the kids playing in the park were really Taliban soldiers training on the monkey bars.
Based on the casualty data available from the Gaza authorities, I tend to think the Israeli story is probably correct, but the result will remain; they are already convicted in world opinion. This is really madness --