Monday, August 17, 2009

I'm Still Thinking

“In reading all your posts, it seems to me that most, if not 90-95 percent are positive and about people serving their country and doing good blah, blah, blah. But where is the dissent? Where is the bitching? Where are the people just tired of all the bullshit, being led by people who have been [consumed] by stupid?” Surely, he surmised, at least one person here has a problem either with his leaders, his peers, or his mission. As a veteran himself, he has experienced it all personally. In many ways, we all have.

This was the email that I received a few days ago. I have been expecting it, from one source or another. And in truth, these are all legitimate questions.

His inquiry brought back memories of some of my own experiences in Iraq. Days where I am convinced we existed and thrived on anger alone. They were tempered with days we were relieved to simply sleep, or be alive, or have all our limbs. But yes, we were angry.

During my first tour, I remember carrying out orders and missions that made no sense and seemed to needlessly endanger myself and my fellow Marines. I remember belting out a litany epithets at whomever would listen about how what we were doing was an absolute waste of time. I remember being involved in firefights and other shooting incidents where the first order of business upon our return to base was writing statements about precisely what happened. I remember fearing that we would be charged with murder, even when we clearly acted in self-defense.

I also recall wondering why we were issued rifles if our actions were going to be deemed inherently suspect, and concluding on more than one occasion that the Rules of Engagement (ROE) seemed more concerned with protecting the Iraqis than protecting us. I remember muttering that my commanders had fixated on their own careers and reputations at the expense of every one of their subordinates. I remember wondering aloud why I was in Iraq, when it seemed like every effort we made to kill the enemy was checked, watered-down, or altogether halted.

I remember writing emails home to friends and family about some of these matters, venting frustrations about orders and command decisions that, as far as I was concerned, led to the deaths of some of my friends. I also remember being sharply rebuked for doing this – by a family member. In fact, the only people who were interested in entertaining my gripes were various reporters who were hellbent on identifying and publicizing controversy. Fearing repercussions, I said nothing to them.

To make a long story short, when the time arrived for me to either stay in the military or leave, I ultimately left. It was a solid year before I began to see beyond my anger, and another year before I could articulate it with any intelligence. Even then, the best I could state was that I hadn’t yet formed an opinion. I needed to think about it further. That statement also applies now, too.

But, there are several things I have learned since I first set foot in this country more than five years ago. When combined, they form a very solid, clear answer to the question that was posed to me. Here is what I have learned:

I have learned that wars are imperfect situations at best. They are waged by imperfect men and women against a substantially more imperfect enemy, and serve as evil intended to defeat an even greater evil. They are extremely imperfect solutions, though often the only one remaining. Regardless of how well they are conducted, men will die, innocents will die, families will be torn apart, and many more will be driven into poverty as a consequence of the circumstances. I, and everybody else out here, volunteered to participate in war. It helps rein in the anger, to a degree.

I have learned that wars are also chaotic, and unlike other fields of work, a small mistake here may easily translate to one’s own demise, or similar harm befalling another. By virtue of the fact we are human, mistakes will be made. None of us is perfect. To include myself, the United States military does not summon the able, but the willing. Naturally, we will err from time to time. We simply try to keep it to a minimum.

I have learned that reporters, writers, or whatever you wish to call representatives of the media, all have personal agendas. It is innate, and cannot be helped. I, too have an agenda. My only defense is that I have made it clearly known from the very beginning of my writing: to reacquaint the public with the men and women of the United States Armed Forces, to share their experiences, and to remind the nation that, for all their faults and shortcomings, they routinely demonstrate astounding acts of selflessness. I am here to tell stories of their character, because it is inherently good.

I have learned that complaining about the mission and/or the military is usually altogether misconstrued by whomever hears what I say. Conservatives will most likely see it as a betrayal of the ranks and the aforementioned good men and women. Liberals will probably regard it as further ammunition to their argument that this war was unnecessary in the first place. Neither conclusion is correct.

I have learned that people like to demonize somebody, just as they like to find a scapegoat. After the initial shock and response of 9-11, the entire United States saw to blaming somebody for the “security oversight” that permitted such an attack on US soil. They forget that our government, too, is comprised of humans.

I have learned that the product of these investigations and inquiries are often fellow US citizens who at some point or another may have made a mistake or misjudged a threat. Despite their limited responsibility, they are tangible, they are relatively close, and they will often shoulder more of the blame than is appropriate. I have learned that we quickly forget that it was the enemy who hated us and attacked us in the first place. We prefer to attack something more palpable: ourselves.

I have learned first-hand that the military is composed of men and women who answer to the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Congress, and the White House. In other words, the gravest decisions being made are taking place in the continental United States, in many cases by men and women who have never set foot in this country. Those beneath them, from generals all the way to privates, are left with the task of carrying out those orders.

I have learned that despite the fact that orders are coming from mostly civilian leaders in the states, the men and women who volunteered to serve are bearing most of the blame in the public eye. A “concerned citizen” will have a hard time getting his message heard by the President or his congressional representative, but he can easily approach a Soldier or Marine and voice his opinions on the conflict. The President has an entire organization devoted to his safety. US servicemembers have no such thing. It is they that will be screamed at, called baby killers, have food thrown at them, or mocked publically for their service to country. I have learned that blame is being poorly cast.

Finally, I have learned that complaining about something without providing a viable solution degrades the complainer to no higher position than gadfly, an annoyance that has no better suggestions, but is content to merely fuss with the status quo. Problems are not solved with complaints, however, but solutions.

So why have I elected to restrict my writing to predominantly positive stories about the good troops, blah, blah, blah? Because that is my mission. Why have I chosen to ignore or simply not report the negativity, the injustices, the low morale and lack of belief in the mission? Because I refuse to be responsible for any more negative opinion of the United States military. As is, they are already receiving undue blame for decisions in which they took no part. They carry out orders. They do not dictate policy.

Why am I comfortable with the fact that I am effectively silencing the voices of thousands of men and women who I claim to be reacquainting with the public? Because I am protecting them from those who will not understand them – at least not yet. They are already considered ignorant, mindless automatons who gleefully carry out heinous acts against innocents. I will provide no further “evidence” for that baseless accusation.

Why am I not sharing the numbers of troops who oppose the mission and doubt it will work? Because it is not relevant – at least not yet. They did not join to complete a mission, they volunteered to serve their country. It is the decision of our elected and appointed political leadership how and where they will serve. Nor does opposition to the mission in any way alter their dedication to it. Their country called them and they answered. If this is how the county wishes them to serve, they will do so to the best of their abilities, regardless of their conviction that it will work. And that is what I WILL write: they exhibit superb character.

Something more important needs to be remembered right now, and learned, and taken to heart. Tonight, more than 130,000 United States citizens, all of whom volunteered to serve their country, will go to sleep alone, missing their spouses, children and families. Tomorrow, they will awaken and return to duty. That is what the country needs to know.

What is my opinion on the war? I don’t know yet. Ask me later. It’s still waging right now, and the men and women serving in it deserve our fullest attention. I will complain when I have a solution.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved


  1. Well stated and well written, Grasshopper. While the troops may feel they are being blamed for the situation in Iraq, that is not the case. I know of no one who doesn't blame the former and current administration for all activity in that theater.

    The troops are always appreciated. As you pointed out in another article, people get used to them being there and the sense of immediacy has gone.

  2. What good does complaing ? NO GOOD!! If you believe there's a God in heaven, who intensely involved with the affairs of men, "not a sparrow falls to the ground" then all we have to do, trhe only thing to do IS TRUST HIM. And leave the messy , ugly, maddening , detail to Him.

  3. Those are all really good points -- but one especially resonated with me: the gravest decisions are made by folks far from the theater.

    This happens even in small organizations. Are there good examples of organizations where the workers' input informs decisions made at higher levels?