[Marxism] CS Monitor discusses discontent among Iraq troops

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed Dec 15 19:55:02 MST 2004

A couple things about this article that are worth discussing a little.
One is the question of desertion, refusal to fight by individuals,
etcetera.  Unit solidarity, for obvious reasons, is vital in wars.  And
most recruits are reluctant to break it.  The decision to leave your
unit, even in the United States let alone in Iraq and let alone facing
or in combat, is an extremely difficult one, and those who make it
except in the most extraordinary conditions 

So some of the observations that reflect officer standpoints are
interesting and even correct. Some have been "surprised by the extent of
solidarity." A viewpoint that shows the deep impact of Vietnam.  But
unit solidarity is the way most soldiers will OPPOSE THE WAR, not just
the way they will fight it.  So this observation -- although the
"surprising" probably shows something about their real view of the war
and the overall situation -- does not tell us as much about resistance
in the armed forces as the author may imagine.

The main forms of resistance by soldiers are acts of solidarity, not
individual acts.  The refusal of the 343rd to go out on what they
thought was a suicidal mission -- indicating a very sharp awareness of
the strength of the resistance and probably more awareness of the rights
and wrongs of occupation than they brought to the fore in their defense
of the action. And safety of the troops is a LEGITIMATE concern of the
workers in uniform, not a social-patriotic one.

In saying this I am not at all taking a negative attitude toward
individuals who heroically step forward and take actions that show the
rest that THEY ARE NOT ALONE.  The tactical advice I might offer them if
any asked me for it is another question. But I have long since
(reflecting on the antiwar movement) have concluded that moral witness,
including by the radical pacifists every good Marxist is supposed to
berate as though they were the reformist scum Lenin refers to as
"pacifists," is an organic and necessary part of the class struggle.
There is a real sense in which the overthrow of capitalist rule and the
subsequent overturn of capitalism itself will be the work of millions in
a state of very high MORAL outrage. 

But still the mass are going to act collectively and I am opposed to
moral condemnation of those who wait for actions that can directly show
power to resist, take the risks collectively, and, if they are lucky,
get away with it as a group and change the overall mood, like the 343rd.
The main forms of resistance will be collective and solidaristic and not

"I am amazed that it is not greater," says retired Air Force Col. Sam
Gardiner. "The war continues to go badly. Their equipment is in bad
shape. Supply problems continue. Tours are extended. Many are on a
second or third deployment to a combat zone. I would expect a louder
voice." This shows the depth of the impact on parts of the officer corps
of the Vietnam experience -- the Vietnam syndrome, which is based in the
entire US population but extends into the officer corps at all levels.

But this officer, who has come to expect Vietnam-type opposition as a
matter of course, now forgets that what happened in the army in Vietnam
took years to develop. The current level has been reached 18 months
after the ground-troop invasion of Iraq. For us who went through
Vietnam, it is the level of opposition reached so soon that is a little
shocking and that requires adjustment to a pace of struggle that is
moving, in this instance, much faster -- not slower -- than in the '60s.
Fred Feldman

>From the December 16, 2004 edition -

The pattern of discontent in US ranks
By Brad Knickerbocker | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Griping among the troops is as old as armed conflict, illustrated most
memorably by cartoonist Bill Mauldin's "Willie and Joe" characters
during World War II. But something more than that is happening now in
Iraq with what appears to be growing resistance from the troops.

Evidence includes numbers of deserters (reportedly in the thousands),
resignations of reserve officers, lawsuits by those whose duty period
has been involuntarily extended, and a refusal to go on dangerous
missions without proper equipment. There's also been a willingness at
grunt level to publicly challenge the Pentagon - as Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld found out recently in a trip to the war zone, where he
got an earful about unarmored humvees.

While some don't see much defiance - and, in fact, have been surprised
by the depth of solidarity - others see an unusual amount of tension
surfacing for an all-volunteer military force.

"What is driving the resistance is the same thing that drove it during
Vietnam - a lack of trust in the civilian leadership and a sense that
the uniformed leaders are not standing up for the forces," says retired
Army Col. Dan Smith, a military analyst with the Friends Committee on
National Legislation in Washington. Colonel Smith doesn't expect the
kind of "fragging" incidents that occurred in Vietnam where soldiers
attacked their own officers. "This force is too professional," he says.
"But the lack of trust and the inequity of the tours will very likely be
reflected in the numbers of Guard and reservists who vote no-confidence
with their feet."

That already appears to be happening. The Army National Guard is short
5,000 new citizen-soldiers.

"Although generally successful in overall mission numbers, we continue
to experience difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified
individuals in certain critical wartime specialties," Army Reserve chief
Lt. Gen. James Helmly told the House Armed Services Committee earlier
this year.

The number of officers wanting to resign from the Army Reserve has
jumped as well. And according to a recent report on CBS's "60 Minutes,"
the Defense Department acknowledges that more than 5,500 service
personnel have deserted since the Iraq war began.

While the complaints and the resistance to following some military
policies may pattern earlier conflicts, the fighting in Iraq has a
unique context, experts say.

It's the first large-scale 21st-century conflict against an aggressive
insurgency, causing thousands of US casualties; the first war in more
than a generation in which homeland security and the threat of domestic
terror attack seem so real; the first "semi-draft," with the
Guard/reserve component approaching 50 percent of combat and combat
support troops (and already taking more casualties than they did in
Vietnam); and it's the first time in many years that soldiers have been
ordered to serve beyond their commitments.

Legal challenges to military authority appear to be increasing as well,
with more use of civilian attorneys than was seen in Vietnam. "It's very
much in evidence," says Eugene Fidell, a former military lawyer who
heads the National Institute of Military Justice. Mr. Fidell just
finished teaching the first course on military issues at Harvard Law
School since 1970.

All this is happening in an age when CNN brings live war coverage to the
trenches and barracks, when troops are more aware of the successes and
debacles on the battlefield than ever before. At the same time,
reporters embedded with combat units, as well as e-mail and Internet
access, make it easier for families and others back home to be heard by
the soldiers - and for the soldiers to complain to them. This is
especially true, perhaps, of citizen-soldiers, who are not only older
than the average GI but more used to speaking out.

Since the fighting began in Iraq, the number of Guard and reserve troops
on active duty has more than doubled. Critics say this is an indication
that US forces are stretched too thin. One such critic is Senator John
McCain (R) of Arizona, a supporter of the war who declared this week
that he had "no confidence" in Secretary Rumsfeld.

At this point, much of the data is scattered and anecdotal, like the
doubling of desertions at the Army's Fort Bragg in North Carolina last
year to about 200. It may be too early to draw exact comparisons with
earlier wars, experts agree.

But they also note a growing trend for GIs to speak out and to find
leverage points to protect their interests - including personal safety.
"I am amazed that it is not greater," says retired Air Force Col. Sam
Gardiner. "The war continues to go badly. Their equipment is in bad
shape. Supply problems continue. Tours are extended. Many are on a
second or third deployment to a combat zone. I would expect a louder

A key issue for war planners is whether any of this adversely effects
individual morale and unit performance. That remains an open question,
particularly as the war goes on and its original rationale (weapons of
mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda) fades.

"Soldiers always gripe, and often with good reason," says Loren
Thompson, head of security studies at the Lexington Institute in
Arlington, Va. "But I don't see much evidence that the enemy in Iraq is
eroding the will of US forces to fight. As long as US forces are well
led, the gripes aren't likely to lead to more serious problems."

Others aren't so sure.

"When you are risking your life on the battlefield, the importance of
knowing why you are doing so cannot be underestimated," says Ivan Eland,
national security analyst at the Independent Institute in Oakland,
Calif. "If soldiers don't know why they are fighting there or believe
they've been hoodwinked, we may see the same phenomenon happen in Iraq
as occurred in Vietnam."

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