Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Fear and Loathing" in DC

McChrystal is out and in comes Petraeus at the plate. I applaud the move because I viewed McChrystal as self serving and Petraeus as one of the greatest thinking Generals of our era. This move could be dangerous for several military related and political reasons. So far the great hope of the future has not materialized as promised by the Obama administration. The kind of rogue behavior expressed by McChrystal was not confined as the sole opinion of a single General, his views are held to be true throughout most of the people I know still serving. I could not go to a National Guard weekend without hearing dissent openly expressed by troops against their boss, Barrack Obama. This would constantly drive me up an internal wall because during the Bush years, some Marine would have ripped my head off for saying what I thought about Bush, but I shut my mouth, because ultimately, my boss was George W. Bush. Today the command switch will be the topic of every Obama hating serviceperson in every corner of the globe. McChrystal was a right wing pawn, his dissent was a message, his resignation, I believe to be of his own volition and the military backlash for this action may be greater than anticipated.
The military is very conservative right wing, which I have always found strange because most of the people I served with came from working class backgrounds. If Obama is going to try and take back control of this machine, he has a long road ahead of him. The reason we are not united the way that the Obama administration had hoped for is because the left is full of sack-less politician and can never back up what they say. On the right, the politicians don’t budge. The right’s policy of shooting down every idea presented by the left keeps them strong, and I believe that the right must hold this position, that they will survive, because the left let the momentum die after the presidential election of Obama.
As for the war in Afghanistan, it could not be a better move to put the General in charge that coordinated the successful troop “surge” of Baghdad 2007. The problem is that Afghanistan is very different than Iraq, a troop surge will not be welcomed by the people of Afghanistan because they are not getting their heads cut off in scores by crooked cops, religious rivals, and Al Qaeda the way the Iraqi’s were in 2006-2007. A surge will be seen as an occupation and the second that American presence is accepted by the Afghan people as an occupation, we will wish we did something else. I believe the current strategy of containment is a poor one. If there is going to be any hope of stabilizing the country the military should focus on the Pakistan border and work backward through the country instead of from the South up. General Petraeus’ doctoral dissertation was titled “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era”. Iraq was not Vietnam, but I believe that Afghanistan could be, if we do this wrong.

Monday, June 21, 2010


If there was ever a hope for a successful Afghanistan it would have been seen through a man of the country, a freedom fighter for his land who fought like a brave during the Soviet Afghanistan war and continued for another twenty years. I was standing post at the government compound located in the city of Jalalabad in north eastern Afghanistan. The city of Jalalabad is always a bustle of old world and new. Men with multi colored beards are always moving and watching. Afghans run small shops and some would look up at a convoy of Marines passing by with utter despise, others would wave. We would convoy out to the compound and navigate our way through these busy city streets, waiting for a sniper or a road bomb that never came. Donkey drawn carts, sleeping unemployed men, oversized trucks packed full of gear with flowers painted on them in bright colors, and a stray camel herding nomad were the usual sights. I would find myself there a few days a week and would volunteer for the work when it was needed. Life at the government compound was easy for a young Marine. We would work in teams of two, and truly had little to do at the post other than sit in a room and kill time.
I found myself in close quarters with former Taliban who had taken office and were not allowed to leave the compound for fear of assassination. There was an on grounds cook who would run out to town and return with meats and vegetables, a tall lanky man who had nicknamed himself “Snoop Dog” after the rapper. “Snoop” and I would shoot the shit in broken English and sometimes he would watch American films with me on my laptop. A junior Marine standing the post once pulled me aside and nervously explained that “Snoop Dog” had requested a porno and the Marine wanted to know what I thought we should do about this situation. Pulling him out by his collar and shooting “Snoop Dog” for requesting something easily accessible to myself seemed extreme so I explained to the Marine that even though his country forbids pornography,“Snoop Dog’s” adolescent interest in such material is a good sign for the future of democracy in the region.
I would walk the compound and marvel at the notion that twenty years ago this area was swamped with Russian soldiers. The very compound itself had once stood for something different than it did for my generation of warriors in the graveyard of empires. When I had a squad of Marines before the deployment I studied every book I could find on the Russian/Afghan War and had developed a quiet understanding that if and when the Afghan people turn on America, we will know it. When I found myself in the country I would listen to the stale wind and hatred was always the undertone.
One night I was swapping cigarettes with two friendly Afghan policemen. If you ever want information in a foreign country, gifts are essential. Smokes and porno are an acceptable and universal trade for whatever you need. That night I wanted to hear about a man. After handing over a few hard to find American smokes I asked one of the policemen if he had ever heard of Charlie Wilson? Charlie Wilson was a congressman who coordinated the funding necessary to import weapons to the Afghan Freedom Fighters in the 1980’s. The cop electrified and explained with happy intensity that he had met Charlie Wilson. I will never know if he really did but I believed him, the age matched and Wilson had made a visit to the country during the war. Next I asked about the “Lion of Panjshir”, the Afghan became more solemn and he said “Yes, Massoud.” I asked if he had fought the Russians and he replied that he had. These men are carved out of stone, they have fought too many foreigners, they have fought each other when there wasn’t anyone to fight, and now there are policemen trying to form a government. There will be more fighting and all of the American war movies made could never translate the damage done to people by people. I found myself content with the information gathered, it was not groundbreaking, but I constantly found myself staring at Afghan men, wondering if they shot down a MIG, lost their friend to a hind strike, and what hopes for the future these men can have after a lifetime of chaos. If there is one thing to pay attention to in Afghanistan it is that the people will never be conquered, and they are in a constant struggle in which their daily worries are far more serious than anything we in the states could ever empathize with or imagine. The Afghan knows struggle, the Afghan knows war, and there was a man who saw a way out…

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Two Documentaries and Too Much Time for Dead Men

Pt. 1 On Noam and 2002

The following is a work of fiction.

I was powering through the instant streaming function of my video game machine to locate a documentary that might spark some intellectual thought and possibly stimulate the hamster that had been napping on the exercise wheel in my head. In the future the television will become a functioning arm of the internet, I find cable to be an unnecessary expense as we figure this out. Everything moves so… in the future, no flying cars but some of the same so much faster. We are connected; I can send these words into space, on their own little mission around the world and into another computer. We have all become little presidents, ambassadors and celebrities. This may not faze the modern man but I try to take a moment out of the day to appreciate the white water of the thrashing technology wave with the momentum of a world full of human beings with different agendas behind it. Lives have been changed and lives will be changed, Time Square is no longer a bastion of pornography and Bill so and so doesn’t need it anymore because some of the beautiful women of our planet are stuck in time, twisting their beautiful bodies somewhere in Bill’s twisted computer wires. On the other end of the spectrum I can time travel, on this instant streaming function that highlights obscure documentaries from 2002.
I awoke from a sleeping off a poker game from the night before. I am twenty four years old and in a month I will be twenty five, and something is turning inside of the deep innards that twist the stomach and remind me both of being a child anticipating a favorite holiday and that feeling of darkness after a close friend dies. I think about it often, and then it becomes so vast and exciting and devastating that I find myself endlessly driven to explain a little bit of it. I began to flip through my instant streaming choices on a Sunday morning, knowing that tomorrow is my double shift and that it is going to be long and that part of me prepares for the average part of my life. When the title caught my interested eye I suited up for something else, the mission, this thing I have no control over, the reason I am an average man living an average life, so I click on the movie, “Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in Our Times” and I watch because I know Vonnegut was not the only time traveling combat veteran of these United States, and I had found my portal.
A handy-cam pans the eclectic group ranging from college students to the elderly. They are taking their seats in anticipation of the panel discussion by Noam Chomsky on the matters of our time in this year of our lord 2002. Afghanistan held much water as the topic of discussion, U.S. Special forces had made great headway in the region, fighting the Taliban and searching for Osama Bin Laden. The invasion of Iraq and total collapse of planning that followed had yet to be realized, so what intrigues me is watching a man of supreme intellectual faculties attempt a prediction while I know many of the outcomes eight years later and in 2010, I know more than the Noam Chomsky of 2002.
I must not be so arrogant; I continue watching, interested in this group of people from eight years ago. I wonder what the chatty lively folks of the audience are doing right now, if they were inspired to accomplish great things after this discussion or if they carried on as usual and apathetically created the problems of today? Most of the audience would be losing jobs and houses in seven years so I focus on the gleam of light a hanging lamp in the conference room of this hotel in the movie is casting on the top rim of the metal backseat to the chair in front of the man with the handy-cam. I feel my body begin to tingle, like an appendage that has fallen asleep, there is always the complete darkness and loss experience of time travel, experts call such things depression, so I focus on the light gleam off of the chair as I return to March of 2002.
It is a clear day on the national mall in Washington D.C. as I materialize on a park bench. I am sixteen years old all over again, I can remember some of the future because we can never fully return but most of it is gone and I am back. I watch these people walking and jogging toward the Lincoln Memorial, six months after the towers fell. I am in D.C. tagging along with my father on one of his business trips, and I only relive this scene so vividly because I wrote it down and found it in an old book of notes when I returned from the war the first time. Sixteen years old I write about what I see, a cheesy observation of a jogging America, “carrying on” with resilience, perfecting its body after a terrible blow. I write that I see strong people “carrying on” in the face of it all. The magazines of the period featured the now joining soldiers of post 9/11 as the new greatest generation, comparing them to the volunteers of the WWII generation. Looking back from 2010 I think to myself that of course we carried on, what else is there ever to do? If you are not carrying on you are not drawing a pulse.
I am sixteen years old and grounded, my grades suck, love life sucks, but I can download a free song in less than a little over an hour with my external 28.8k modem. I read that thing I wrote in 2002 after the war and I almost choked. Noam got it all wrong, focusing on turning the image of the growing seed into Vietnam when the real war began with the people sitting in the very seats he speaks to in 2010 on my television. I disrupt the audience and I have broken a great rule of time travel. I rise from my seat and howl, “You people are the reason things are the way they are now, you can blame your government but you allow them to do what they do!” Noam looking startled politely asks who I am and I reply, “I come from the future, my name is Bill so and so, and the answers you are searching for rest inside a pile of twisted computer wires.”...