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September 18, 2009
And now this kind of warBy Greyhawk
"...only those who will admit defeat can be defeated. ... Or, conversely, when the populace admits defeat, the forces in the field might just as well surrender or withdraw."
Ancient history, that. Hardly news by any definition.
The challenges in Afghanistan clearly are significant. But the stakes are high. And, while the situation unquestionably is, as General McChrystal has observed, serious, the mission is, as he has affirmed, still doable. In truth, it is, I think, accurate to observe that, as in Iraq in 2007, everything in Afghanistan is hard, and it is hard all the time.
I'd tell you to read the whole thing, but I believe you long ago determined whether or not this man's words were worth a read.
Perhaps this voice is less familiar:
I was in Iraq in 2007, so I had first-hand knowledge of the difference between reality there and its perception at home - and how close that came to bringing about an end that would have had consequences for our efforts in Afghanistan, that would have tipped the scales towards hopeless there, too. After all, we weren't the only ones who would have turned our attention to just one battlefield - but we would have been the only ones to demonstrate (yet again) how easy it is to quit. Sadly, conflicts continue until both sides do.
I seem to recall efforts at home to declare failure back in 2007 - back when the fighting and dying were at their worst - and to ensure the blame for that failure didn't rest with the troops but was passed on to the Generals who had sacrificed their soldiers' lives on the altar of appeasement to their civilian masters. Some might recall "Betrayus" - a disgusting trope that made its way from certain web sites (more concerned with winning elections than battles with guns) to the pages of the New York Times - at a discount.
You need no reminder of that, I am sure. Of days when scant available facts (and abundant fallacies) in initial reports were augmented with the assumptions of those who were most likely to be wrong, whose motives and commitment would require them to ignore or dismiss follow-on reports from on-scene (from those whose every word had mere days before been unimpeachable Gospel truth) and moveon to the next preliminary report, the new outrage of the day.
Those were grim days on the battlefield. The initial results from changes in our tactics and an increase in troops were predictable enough: more violence and death. Equally predictable were efforts by those near and far who would use that for their own gain. Less foreseeable were the medium- to long-range results - which anyone opposed to how we got there could insist were pointless or more easily achieved in other ways regardless... and so on.
Enough of that. We've learned those lessons, and those days are gone. What we have inarguably reached is a long awaited point where we can focus more on Afghanistan. As we take that which worked in Iraq and adapt it to that very different land so near it (where we've other lessons learned) we are much more interested in stories like these:
When I got up to leave, Shakar Khan gripped my hand and held it. My friend, he said. Do not go. Behind a trim black beard, his sun-beaten face crinkled into a broad smile. He cast an eye around the room, as if to find something to tempt me to stay. The shabby, one-room police office held a bed, a few cushions on the concrete floor, and two battered cooking pots. Outside, several of his men, Afghan National Police, bantered with American infantrymen, talking about joint training they'd be doing in the coming week.
It is the why are we there, what are we doing, and what if we didn't sort of report - the answer to questions others insist are unanswered, the answers still others will insist are not good enough.
Because the answers to hard questions are hard, and hard all the time.
Perhaps it's something new but like so many things these days it all seems hauntingly familiar (and predictable) to me.
Posted by Greyhawk / September 18, 2009 12:57 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...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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