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Friday, September 18, 2015

The Eternal Vietnam War

Last week I attended a Vietnam panel hosted by Rice University's Baker Institute.  It featured the reminiscences of four acclaimed novelists and memoirists--Philip Caputo, Tim O'Brien, Larry Heinemann, and Tobias Wolf--whose war experiences kicked off their writing careers.   They read from their works and took questions from the audience.   I enjoyed the presentations.

But the question that kept eating at me is: how different would these presentations have been had we won?   Would the four have focused so much on the corruption, the lost of innocence, the brutality, and the sheer "sinfulness," as O'Brien put it, of the experience?  

Take a book like E. B. Sledge's "With the Old Breed," about his Marine experience in two island campaigns in WWII.  It is a straightforward, honest book.  Sledge looks at everything with a colder eye.  But I would say there is no cynicism or irony here--There was a job to be done, and this is the nasty things we had to go through to do it.   I think "This Kind of War" by T.R. Fehrenbach, about Korea, is the same way.  Even the books on the Iraq war seem less inward-looking and self-absorbed.

Perhaps it is a generational thing on how we look at war.  There was something touching about the way O'Brien after all these years is still obsessed with the Viet Cong fighter he killed.  But his experience was not unique to Vietnam.  Likewise Heinemann, who was a draftee and didn't want to be there.  There were lots of guys like that in World War II, but no one really cared so much about what they thought. 

Maybe if the novelists had felt the cause was better they would have written different books.

The event was moderated by an Annapolis graduate and attended by other veterans and many ROTC cadets and midshipmen.  Guys and gals, don't be warmongers; but don't be pacifists, either.

Friday, September 11, 2015

We Need to Get Over 9/11

September 11, 2001 might be the most famous date in US history.  Can you think of another event that just goes by three numerals and a slash?   July 4 is important too, but technically we weren't a country yet. 

Does 9/11 deserve to be this famous?  I think not. Maybe it would be better if we started moving on...

I don't mean forget.  I mean get over the grief and the fear, and the belief that Islamist terrorism represents some kind of existential threat to the US, and that is it getting worse, and if we let down our guard for a minute, the raghead bastards will be at our throats. 

But continuing to harp on 9/11, we give these guys way more credit than they deserve.  And ever deserved. 

They pulled off the worse single terrorist assault in history.  But gained nothing in the process.  The perpetrators are dead, the evil guru dead, and tactical mastermind is in jail forever.  Al Qaeda is in ruins and has no chance of ever making a comeback.

Is Islamist terrorism worse, as Rudy Giuliani argued in today's WSJ?   Not even close. 

Their airplane caper cannot be repeated.   Terrorists in the US are reduced to "lone wolf" attacks and most of these get caught before they get started.  Islamists commit many atrocities abroad, mostly against fellow Muslims.

The incident rate of terrorism against US citizens is extremely low.   Last year there were 18 fatalities attributed to terrorism in the US.   Five occurred in one attack, by a white couple in Las Vegas shouting "revolution."  They killed two cops in cold blood, and other bystanders.  In NYC, a psychotic killed two cops in a patrol car.

 A few of these incidents were by individuals who identified as Muslim.  One of these criminals was responsible for three attacks across the country.  In two instances, white supremacists were to blame.

Eighteen deaths at the hands of terrorists is bad.  But to give you some perspective, every year 500-600 Americans die from self-inflicted accidental gun shots. 

All terrorist attacks are unacceptable.  We should stay vigilant and continue to adequately resource the police, intelligence, and military units going after terrorists.  But constantly exaggerating the threat plays into the terrorists' hands by perpetuating a climate of fear. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Iran's Dirty War Against US Troops

The Iranian Quds Force supplied explosively-formed penetrators (EFPs) as part of roadside bombs to kill American troops in Iraq.   We sustained more than 1,000 casualties from these weapons.  How Many Troops Did Iran Kill?

EFPs are essentially a copper cone that is fitted to the bomb.   The bomb's detonation turns the cone into a molten jet of metal, which can penetrate armored vehicles.

There has been some debate over the number of troops killed or wounded by this device.  But these were only used in areas in which Iranian-backed Shia militias had control.   Most of our heavy fighting was against Sunni insurgents, and they produced the most casualties, probably at least 10 times have the Shia militias produced.

But still.  The Iranians were waging a dirty war against us in Iraq.  No mistaking that. 

(And yet,  I still agree with the nuclear negotiations.   This is realism, folks.)