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October 7, 2009
Tales of Mystery and ImaginationBy Greyhawk
Some years ago I was stationed with a guy who would use those two words as a response to just about anything you might tell him. I thought it was a pointless statement, but obviously a good political animal could certainly use it to great advantage - a mysterious two-word expression of interest, disinterest, or whatever the receiver wanted to hear.
The art of writing the headline - of painting a picture with words. Many are crafted to catch the eye (and hopefully sell newspapers) - and perhaps even create a buzz that could lead to more headlines. Truth and accuracy become disposable to that end, and even if some decision is made later to restore some degree of either, the damage done (and noted in Kabul, even) can't really be undone. (Was the descent into the maelstrom the landing in London or the return flight to war?)
But not every headline writer has to sell papers - though generally they do need to market ideas. Yesterday a Defense press release headlined Gates: Withdrawal from Afghanistan Would Embolden Radicals caught my eye like a message found in a bottle. But perhaps among all the things the secretary had said that was nothing more than a random selection...
And then there's today's headline in the New York Times, topping a story about the president's meeting with congressional leaders: Obama Rules Out Large Reduction in Afghan Force. He let them know "he would not substantially reduce American forces in Afghanistan or shift the mission to just hunting terrorists there," we learn in paragraph one.
And in the final moments of the meeting, Mr. Obama sought to put to rest suspicions of friction with General McChrystal. "I'm the one who hired him," Mr. Obama said, according to participants. "I put him there to give me a frank assessment."
And much of the sewage that's flowed in the form of news lately was squeegeed back, ironically with disclaimers like "...said one administration official, who, like others quoted in this article, requested anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting" as all the assignation we should ever expect.
For instance, "they" tell us the "Biden plan" "...would increase the use of such surgical strikes while leaving the overall size of the American force in Afghanistan roughly at the 68,000 troops currently authorized."
"Suspicions of friction..." - a great line, that.
Soldiers from Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment (Airborne), patrol outside of Forward Operating Base Keating in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, March 1, 2008. FOB Keating is the most North-Eastern forward operating base actively used by coalition forces. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Brandon Aird, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs.)
"A more detailed battlefield assessment following the Oct. 3 attack in Nuristan has determined that enemy forces suffered more than 100 dead during the well-coordinated defense -- significantly higher losses than originally thought," the International Security Assistance Force announced yesterday from Kabul - in a press release titled simply "Update: ANSF, ISAF Repel Insurgent Attack in Eastern Afghanistan".
The DoD has thus far uncharacteristically failed to post a press release giving the names of soldiers killed in last weekend's battle in Nuristan. But as the first group of flag-draped coffins arrived at Dover Air Force Base "the quiet ceremony was punctuated only by the sound of a crying child" - perhaps drowning out the click of a shutter as an AP photographer captured images of each oblong box.
A paratrooper from Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment (Airborne), pulls security during a patrol near Forward Operating Base Keating in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, March 1, 2008. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Brandon Aird, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs.)
It's the sort of place that in America would draw Hollywood stars and others desiring weekend retreats where they can get away from it all, and find respite from the grueling pace of whatever industry it is that has made them wealthy enough that they can afford to live there (or at least jet there for a day or two, in season).
And a glance at maps reveals the strategic significance of tiny and remote Nuristan - or lack thereof. It depends on your strategy, of course. And the enemy strategy, too.
Wuts up?" a soldier there emailed home shortly before he died, leaving us a look at some passages in the life of a lion. "I'm good maintainin' we bout 2 move outta here & go 2 our main fob pretty soon. It's alot safer there & im tryn 2 stay there da rest of my deployment lol."
Strategy. Not the "I need votes in Nevada and you need 'em from San Francisco"-kind of strategy, but the military type. If your goal is killing terrorists and you have sufficient troops Nuristan a good place to put them. That mountainous stretch of the border with Pakistan is an infiltration route for bad guys. Put enough troops there to seal that up and they'll be left with no option but to cross somewhere else.
President Obama told Congressional leaders on Tuesday that he would not substantially reduce American forces in Afghanistan or shift the mission to just hunting terrorists there, but he indicated that he remained undecided about the major troop buildup proposed by his commanding general.
On the other hand, if your goal is making Afghanistan the sort of place where terrorists aren't welcome, then your initial focus should be elsewhere - where the bulk of the people are - and exactly how that works is dependent on how many troops have you got?
So with questions unanswered you get comments like this: The American soldiers from this outpost were scheduled to depart the area as part of the new U.S. strategy to focus on securing areas with larger populations. Capt. Mathias said the soldiers at the outpost were not expected to leave this month and had not yet begun to prepare for their departure when they came under attack. Smith, who did not specify the number of American soldiers at the outpost, said such isolated bases at times have only "limited impact" against the insurgents.
Foot dragging, some might call that. Or "hurry up and wait." There's all sorts of waiting going on, and no denying the tell-tale heart. "I do not believe that SGT Daddy was one of the 8 (i would have heard by now), I haven't heard from him yet either since the attack. In these types of situations, there is usually a communication blackout..."
"I don't think we have the luxury of going so fast we make the wrong decision," said General McChrystal, as part of a talk that led to the headline that opened this post.
I do not believe that SGT Daddy was one of the 8 (i would have heard by now)... ...we bout 2 move outta here & go 2 our main fob pretty soon... ...the soldiers at the outpost were not expected to leave this month and had not yet begun to prepare for their departure...
No man of the crowd here:
Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said after the meeting that "it would be irresponsible" to send more troops until it became clear "what is possible in Afghanistan."
(Pause for a moment of silence.)
Perhaps anything's possible.
Posted by Greyhawk / October 7, 2009 3:05 PM | Permalink
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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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Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com