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October 12, 2005
An Army at Dawn (Part II)By Greyhawk
(Part one of this series is here)
II - A Desert War in Shades of Grey
PBS has created a portal, a compilation of their Frontline reports on Iraq. A goldmine of information, with interviews, video, transcripts, and more.
Just looking at the overview of the series provides interesting insight onto how the media narrative of the Iraq war has evolved with time.
Originally broadcast on October 9th, 2003, Truth, War, and Consequences is a good place to start. Here's the description from the site:
FRONTLINE traces the roots of the Iraqi war back to the days immediately following September 11, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered the creation of a special intelligence operation to quietly begin looking for evidence that would justify the war.An especially interesting line, that tracing the roots to September 11 bit. The previous episode detailed just below it offers an odd juxtaposition.
The Long Road to War originally aired on March 17, 2003 - just as the shooting war in Iraq began again. From the PBS description:
With the U.S. apparently within days of attacking Iraq, FRONTLINE draws on its 12 years of reporting on Iraq to chronicle the key moments in the history of America's ongoing confrontation with Saddam Hussein.So, an ongoing confrontation stretching back 12 years becomes (seven months later) something whose "roots" can only be traced back to September 11, 2001 - a day that apparently inspired Don Rumsfeld to cook up some sort of excuse to invade.
Those of us who've worn the uniform over all those years know September 11 was but another of many turns in an extremely serpentine road. We watched the news coverage of the parades of troops returning home back in '91 too - and then we proceeded to rotate in and out of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other points nearby to maintain an uneasy "ceasefire" for the next dozen years. Our seemingly eternal military presence in Saudi - mostly Air Force enforcing the southern part of the "no fly zone" - was a significant factor in Osama Bin Laden's determination to bring death and destruction to the US that fateful day. Though ultimately (perhaps obviously) untenable, the world was happy with that status quo. And as the Iraqi people suffered and died - from starvation or poison gas or other methods to be discussed more fully in a certain upcoming trial - a few opportunists from many lands made fortunes on something we now know was (perhaps inevitably) corrupt - Oil For Food (even more trials to come). Still, from time to time over those dozen years we'd get a quick headline after launching a missile in response to Saddam's violation of UN regulations, and the world went on its merry way.
Yes, September 11 was one of countless events on the road to finishing our unfinished business in Iraq. Being "the" event along that path is a construct of the post-war media, as PBS rather unexpectedly demonstrates for us in quite dramatic fashion.
Everyone has a right to change their mind, of course. But those damn pesky facts just never want to change...
III - A Desert War in Fading Color
In the post-Vietnam era there was a nickname for the war in Korea - "the forgotten war". Just after the horrible glory of WWII and prior to the pure horror of Vietnam, the conflict ended with a ceasefire and no clear victor - a situation that persists - five decades later. The forgotten war indeed.
Now, in order for the Iraq was a result of overreaction to 9/11 narrative to work it's important that we forget another war. Desert Storm has practically vanished from our national memory - and certainly from any discussion of the current situation in Iraq. As noted above, it "ended" with a 12-year ceasefire, enforced with GIs on the line. As noted above, we as a nation are perfectly willing to allow such things to go for decades - we can be quite comfortable with that, as long as we aren't reminded too often of the situation. As noted above, Osama Bin Laden felt we needed reminding. It wasn't just our threat to Iraq that offended him so - it was our presence on the ground in Saudi that fueled his hostility - among many reasons equally inexplicable to those not afflicted with blind adherence to an orthodoxy of hate.
Oddly enough I was in Korea during Desert Storm - the one location from which troops weren't pulled for duty in the desert. And I well recall the abrupt end of the conflict, and from my perspective there near the 38th parallel I could see a bit of the future too. We're never going to leave... I predicted - another short tour opportunity created for yours truly some fine day. Yes, I was a cynic back in those days...
PBS' Frontline series offers a look back at that newly forgotten war too. The Gulf War was first broadcast in 1996. (When was the last time you even heard a reference to "the Gulf War"? Use the term today and it's likely that few would know what you mean.)
Look into the oral history section and you'll find a name you might recognize. It's none other than Rick Atkinson, author of An Army at Dawn, whose participation in the project stems from his also being the author of the book Crusade : The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War.
Asked by a PBS interviewer "what were Saddam's miscalculations?" Atkinson responds that they were legion:
Sadam made many strategic miscalculations. He failed to recognize that the world was awash with oil. That Iraqi oil was not critical to the functioning of the Western democracies. There was plenty of oil.He didn't realize that we didn't need his damn oil? Hard to imagine that being mentioned in the context of the current situation in Iraq, eh?
In fact, check out this quote from a recently published book on the latest invasion, from a reporter who was embedded with the 101st Airborne. He describes the Forward Area Refueling Points (FARPs) set up to refuel helicopters advancing ever northward through the desert:
With stupefying obtuseness, the military had named the FARPs for oil companies, despite Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's insistence that the invasion of a country with 112 billion barrels of confirmed reserves had "nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil".And explains the motivation of U.S. Soldiers:
But most soldiers evinced a cool detachment toward their potential Iraqi adversaries. Certainly no hate lodged in their bones. Many had an inchoate conviction that this deployment was somehow linked to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, a delusion encouraged by the nation's political leadership. Long before 9/11, however, the Army had become an expeditionary force that careered among global hot spots. If they were modern legionnaires, these soldiers nevertheless thought of themselves as defenders of a secular faith embracing sundry liberties and entitlements, including many that were noble, and others - such as the daily consumption of more than 25 percent of the world's oil supply by only 5 percent of the world's population - that were less so.Seems diametrically opposed to Rick Atkinson's views that the world didn't need Iraq's oil - until you check the name of the author. It's none other than Rick Atkinson, from his latest book, In the Company of Soldiers, his telling of the tale of the invasion of Iraq.
Everyone has a right to change their mind, of course. We'll guess he gained some sort of enlightenment somewhere between 1996 and 2004.
More to follow. In the meantime, I haven't changed my mind. Rick Atkinson's An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943 is a fine account of the early days of US involvement in WWII.
Posted by Greyhawk / October 12, 2005 8:48 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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