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Weighing in on the Wait over Afghanistan

By       Message Ed Tubbs     Permalink
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An acquaintance this morning asked me how I felt about President Obama's pending Afghanistan decision; more American soldiers, maintain the status quo, or begin a cutback. She was of two opinions: One, that the president was going to accede to General McChrystal's (Note: Some spellings have it "McChristal.) request for 40,000 more, and two, that she wanted to "keep them [the bad guys] over there."

As I know the lady is a Democrat and that she voted for Obama, I'm going to hope her opinions were the products of just not knowing any better, not thinking any of it through, rather than something deeper, much darker, wholly ugly and sinister. After all, she has no knowledge what she's asking of the men and women this country sends, and re-sends, and re-sends into the heart of the fight-or-flight psychological swamp. Having a brother . . .. Having a father . . .. Having a husband (or wife) . . .. Or son. Or daughter. Vicarious doesn't count. Vicarious doesn't cut it. Ya can't get the all-the-way to the mind warping, gut wrenching that is life survived every day, every week, every month without actually having been there.

My own bona fides: Ten days following high school graduation I enlisted in the US Army; June 22, 1964; RA 16 805 398. On May 6, 1965 I was in the same patrol with PFC Hendricks. PFC Hendricks was walking point. (For the fortunate ignorant souls, that's the first person in the patrol.) PFC Hendricks was exploded to the point a gallon Glad Bag would have been sufficient to send his parts home; room to spare for a meatloaf sandwich. I didn't see the explosion . Neither did Hendricks. But it took me some years to stop hearing it, and I don't want to ever hear it again. I was honorably separated from service on June 21, 1967, as a Sgt-E5, and was discharged three years later. Commitment fulfilled.

This doesn't diminish an iota the service of those who went, or the terror they experienced while in the front lines, or the creeping horrors that roamed their minds, plaguing their nights with nightmares, while awaiting deployment to one. But the Korean War was the last protracted military combat campaign with a front. Removed from it and, for all intents and purposes, one was also removed from literal danger. Every US action since has been different. That little girl carrying a basket; could be a grenade inside. That young woman with the wan smile, the one in heavy garb; could be her waist is ringed with explosives. Paranoia is being fearful when there exists no legitimate reason to be caught in the grip of it. Vietnam began the era of unremitting, day in, night out, legitimate fear: They are out to get you.

Stipulating that one does survive such assaults on one's psyche, a stipulation that can't easily be made, because the evidence suggests no one survives intact, survives to leave the environs at all the way one entered, the survival strategy begins with a huge 'X' on a calendar; the date months hence when the soldier or marine is scheduled to leave. Pull that from under his or her feet, extend the tour, and repeat the deployment, and emotionally you have pulled the lever on that serviceperson's emotional scaffold.

BF Skinner, the psychologist after whom the Skinner box was named, demonstrated conclusively that the quickest way to drive a test subject over the edge, often to permanent damage, is through random, negative reinforcement; random until it isn't any longer necessary to deliver the electric shock, the threat of one becomes adequate. Give the subject no way to effectively terminate the shock or the threat, and in relatively short order you have a subject with a mind of Jell-O.
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It's not just a little wrong, to ask or expect a soldier to march again into the belly of the beast that is nothing less than one Skinner box after another. It's the most damnable obscenity one can conjure. Yet scheming to the obscene is precisely what those on the Right, and now the president of the United States, are contemplating. It's obscene for more than merely readily apparent reasons.

One of the reasons pertains to every military campaign this country might consider: If the international circumstance is that much of a peril that such actions are necessary for the national defense, then basic morality demands that EVERY citizen and US resident of arms bearing age, say, between 18 and 45, be subject to serving the cause as a combat member of the active military. Going to college? Doesn't matter. Wrong gender? There is no 'wrong gender." Wrong gender identity? Barry Goldwater, Mr. Conservative, said, "You don't have to be straight to shoot straight." Have an irksome anal cyst? Your country will remove it. Too fat, too thin, too weak? Boot camp and army basic will take care of that deficiency. Too dumb, or too poorly educated? Filling sandbags takes neither extraordinary intellect nor education. Married? That's a personal situation -- deal with it. Have children? Won't make any difference, they'll be either the victims or the beneficiaries of whatever failures or successes their parents might experience. Genuinely a member of "none of the above"? Then you should expect to contribute via an escalating surtax on income, or assets, or both. And it should hurt . . . like hell. Because the financial pain will be nothing compared to what that proudly serving woman or man might suffer. So just shut up, and do your part.

The point here is that, if the proposed action is so critical, so essential to the country that it requires one American's life and limb to be put at risk, it's critical enough that everyone bears somewhat an equal risk and burden. No one's life is more important than anyone else's. No one's! No one's limbs are less dear than another's. No one's! No one's dreams and hopes and fears are more precious or real than anyone else's. No one's! You're too afraid, too much a coward? I met PFC Hendricks before we went on patrol. He had but one week to go before he was scheduled to hop on that big bird that would escort him safely across the pond. Hendricks was filled with the most profound fears. The fact, however, is when a country goes to war people die, and people lose all manner of limbs in the most ghastly ways; arms, legs, noses, eyes . . .. Back in the day there was a bumper sticker that said, "Gas, grass, or ass . . . no one rides free." This is fundamental civics and one's moral, civic responsibility to one's relatives, to one's friends, and to one's country.

Now Mr. Obama has himself a serious decision to make. McCrystal has asked for 40,000 additional troops. Because of the wholly disreputable and incompetent mess created by the Bush administration, this country just does not have 40,000 folks to send . . . for any mission, for any reason. What we've got are those we've already put through the meat grinder, several times. Sending them again works an outrage that no decent human being in the United States should tolerate . . . except on a temporary basis; that temporary basis to be alleviated through an institution of the draft and a temporary reform of the tax code; a draft that doesn't discriminate for any of the above so-called classifications. Or, it's just not that important after all.
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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."

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