[Marxism] Active-duty US troops become outspoken critics of Iraq war

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Aug 28 21:50:25 MDT 2007

While it would seem suicidal for Washington do what what which the
Bush rhetoric increasingly suggests they would or should do from
THEIR perspective, one counter-vailing factor would be where would
Washington get the troops to occupy Iran?

Walter Lippmann
Los Angeles, California


from the August 29, 2007 edition -

Active-duty US troops become outspoken critics of Iraq war

Their public critiques represent a shift in the military's culture.

By Brad Knickerbocker | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

A recent op-ed about the war in Iraq charged that upbeat official
reports amount to "misleading rhetoric." It said the "most important
front in the counterinsurgency [had] failed most miserably." And it
warned against pursuing "incompatible policies to absurd ends."

Five years into a controversial war, that harsh judgment in a New
York Times opinion piece might not seem surprising, except for this:
The authors were seven US soldiers, writing from Iraq at the end of a
tough 15-month combat tour.

In books and professional journals, blogs, and newspapers,
active-duty military personnel are speaking publicly and critically
as never before about an ongoing war.

Respectfully, but with a directness and gritty authenticity that
comes from combat experience - sometimes written from the battlefield
- they offer a view of current strategy, military leadership, and the
situation on the ground that is more stark than Pentagon and White
House pronouncements.

Part of this reflects weariness with the war. But it also represents
a shift in military culture where speaking up publicly is more usual
and acceptable than in previous conflicts, experts say, thanks to
changes in technology and society.

"This is the first post-Internet, post-digital-camera war" in which
"the line between private lives and public lives has been blurred,"
says Eugene Fidell, a former military lawyer who teaches military
justice at Yale.

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), as long as
uniformed critics do not speak or write using "contemptuous words"
regarding the president or other senior officials, they are free to
voice their opinions, notes Mr. Fidell, president of the National
Institute of Military Justice. "We're a nation built on free
expression, and it can get pretty noisy."

Part of this criticism reflects weariness with the war, especially
among those serving multiple extended combat tours.

"You could almost construct an equation to predict the rate at which
dissension in the ranks will reach the public as support for a war
sours," says military analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington
Institute, a public policy think tank in Arlington, Va.

"I have to tell you as somebody who deals frequently with the
military, there's been a lot of disagreement for a long time about
this war," he adds. "It just tends to get expressed obliquely and in

A May survey of Army soldiers in Iraq showed 45 percent with "low"
morale compared with 19 percent who said their morale was "high." The
percentage of West Point graduates who quit the Army after their
five-year obligation has more than doubled since the Iraq war began
in 2003.

More and more, a vocal minority is also speaking out publicly - a far
cry from the World War II era when, in order to keep his political
conscience clear, Gen. George C. Marshall never even voted.

Earlier this year, Army Lt. Col. Paul Yingling challenged his
superiors head-on in an article in Armed Forces Journal.

The Vietnam and Iraq "debacles are not attributable to individual
failures, but rather to a crisis in an entire institution: America's
general officer corps," wrote the former West Point instructor and
Iraq veteran who recently took command of a battalion. "In both
conflicts, the general officer corps designed to advise policymakers,
prepare forces and conduct operations failed to perform its intended
functions.... As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle
suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war."

Acceptable target: the system

Colonel Yingling's target was institutional, not personal.

"He is going after the system - training, experience, the promotion
system that produces mediocre generals because all the innovators get
fed up and leave," says retired Army Col. Dan Smith, a military
analyst with the Friends Committee on National Legislation who fought
in Vietnam and later taught philosophy at West Point.

Military sources in Iraq and Washington also voiced their criticisms
on the record in "Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq ,"
Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks's best-selling 2006 book, The
blogosphere is filled with soldiers grumbling, not only about lengthy
repeated tours but also about the wisdom of invading Iraq in the
first place.

Is all of this a good thing?

"In these times when so few have any personal experience of the
military, it is good to have their voice in the public discussion,"
says retired Naval Reserve Capt. John Allen Williams, a political
scientist at Loyola University Chicago who teaches civil-military

But some observers worry that active-duty personnel speaking out in
this way begins to trespass on the constitutionally mandated civilian
control of the military.

"The notion that the military defends democracy but does not practice
it still seems sensible to me," says John Pike, director of
GlobalSecurity.org, a defense-information website in Washington. 
"We have sufficient serious problems with civil-military relations
without adding a politicized military as just another interest

There are obvious reasons for not speaking critically of one's
superiors or the mission: harm to one's chances for promotion as well
as potential legal difficulties from going too far under the UCMJ.

But here, enlisted men and women may have more freedom to speak out
since the "contemptuous words" provision applies exclusively to
officers. The seven soldiers who signed the column in The New York
Times are infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the Army's
82nd Airborne Division.

"To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago
outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local
population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched," they
wrote. "Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset
by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the 'battle space' remains
the same, with changes only at the margins."

Enlisted men freer to speak

However harsh the language, the soldiers' status may protect them
from military discipline.

"Enlisted men, so long as they ensure that they explicitly state that
they are expressing their own opinion, can say anything they want,
which is exactly what these men did," writes active-duty Army Lt.
Col. Bob Bateman in a blog at the online information-exchange and
discussion site Small Wars Journal.

But he takes them to task for asserting that they have knowledge
about conduct of the war which is "way above and beyond their

"The fact that they, like me, wear uniforms should not convey some
sort of magic pixie-dust validity to their opinions on events way
beyond their personal experience, just as it does not for mine,"
writes Colonel Bateman, recently back from Iraq himself.

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