Armistice Day

Dan Froomkin’s Friday column is mostly an excerpt from the book Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families. May they all come home safely, and soon.

This bit is by Sgt. Sharon D. Allen:

The camp is under red-lens light discipline, which means we can’t use an unfiltered flashlight. It severely lessens our evening entertainment options. So, soon after we arrived, we began our strange nightly gatherings. You won’t find it on any schedule, but you can set your watch by it. As the sun nudges the horizon and the gravel cools, some of us give up our battle with the ambient light and surrender our reading until the morning. Others collect up their poker winnings or grumble about their losses. And we all drag our chairs and cigarettes and joylessly warm water out to the gravel and talk. We call it “the circle.” In the Army there is an incredibly varied cross section of society, and we are a diverse group. We have a couple kids straight out of high school, who’d either joined to get a little excitement out of life or to get a leg up on it so that they could go to college. We have older guys, who’ve already put in their time. They tend to be either jaded or genial, both in reaction to the accumulated bullshit slung at most soldiers who’ve been in the service for years. We have everyone from idealists to realists to fatalists, more than a few who began at one end of the spectrum and eventually meandered their way to the other.

I always find it amusing when people talk about “the military” vote, perspective, or whatever. My company has 170-some soldiers, and 170-some opinions. We might have more invested in foreign policy than people back home, but that doesn’t mean we all agree on exactly what those policies should be. Two of the guys, Jeff and Sam, are brothers serving together here but in different platoons. They are both slightly to the left of extremely conservative, yet also very anti-Iraq war. Their father threatened to cut off his own head and send it in to Al-jazeera if his sons aren’t returned home soon.

Be sure to read the whole excerpt. The soldiers are asking the same questions about the war that we are (or should be).

There are some on both the Left and the Right — I think the Right is worse, actually — who speak of “the troops” as if they were an army of identical clones. For example, last week rightie bloggers declared that the Gannett-owned military Times newspapers don’t speak for “the troops,” as if they and they alone were authorized to declare who speaks for whom in the military. Just after the Tuesday election, I caught a couple of rightie posts (can’t find them now, sorry) declaring that “the troops” in Iraq were upset by the results because they didn’t want to come home before “the job” was done.

What a pile of manure. “The troops” are individuals who come to their own conclusions. Some want to continue military operations in Iraq, and some don’t. Some think the invasion was necessary, and some don’t.

You know I think the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. But speaking of war generally, I say — if you’re going to have a war, have a war. If the situation is so dire that a war must be fought, then the strength and resources of the entire country should be marshaled to fight the war and get the bleeping thing over with as quickly as possible. Every single day, every citizen should be reminded that our soldiers are fighting for us, and should be asked to give something to the effort. If recruitment goals fall short, then crank up the draft. There should be bond drives and oil rationing. There should be cookie baking and sock knitting, and children should donate their lemonade stand money for the troops.

And if the situation isn’t dire enough to go to that amount of trouble, then maybe we shouldn’t be fighting the bleeping war to begin with.

Suggestion: Donate to the USO.

From the archives: Wilfred Owen.

30 thoughts on “Armistice Day

  1. Maha,
    Sacrifice? You want us to sacrifice? I’m doing my part! I’m off to shop…

    BTW – I agree completely with what you wrote.
    I think we ought to pass an Amendment. Before you vote for a war, you have to make sure that at least one of your family will serve on the front lines.
    Maybe other countries will take this up, too.

    From the late, great Phil Ochs,
    “It’s always the old who lead us to the wars,
    And always the young who fall…”

  2. Owen’s “Dulce et decorum est” is my all-time favorite poem. I even have a couple characters discuss it in a scene in my new novel. (First wrote that scene a few weeks ago; it seems right now every day is Veterans Day, in my mind.)

    Thanks, maha, for opening up the perspective on what “the troops” may be thinking.

  3. I don’t believe we need to rework our political framework in light of what’s happened in the last 60 years since WWII.

    Nope, what we need to do is a little work on our perspective, our knowledge of history and our willingness to accept ReichWing memes.

    This post is a classic example. We have the same old story about ‘the troops on the front lines…’ and how their lives are affected, what they are thinking, what others think of them.

    Not a word about…

    Why are they there.

    The possibility that they might be breaking international law.

    The real possibility that what they are doing is, in fact, making us less secure.

    The ‘folks’ who live where these troops are and how they might feel about their presence.

    The alternatives to a vast, bloated military industrial complex built up in this nation since WWII which, since it is the world’s biggest hammer, makes everything look like a nail.

    I could care less about what ‘righties think…’ it’s far more troubling to realize that many of us see ‘the troops’ and a group deserving of our support. As individuals that is true.

    As part of a imperial force intent on forcing the United States, that’s you and me by the way, will on humans everywhere on the planet they are not.

    No, we need to acknowledge our role in putting them where they are and work to change our society’s insane meme that…

    ‘If it’s good for America it’s good for everybody.’

  4. I live in Fayetteville, NC, home of Fort Bragg and Pope Airforce Base.
    I don’t see the “troops.” I see the “individuals”. Mostly kid’s. Kid’s who joined to get an educataion… To obtain skill’s.
    I see those about to leave. Scared. Brave. Honorable. Dedicated. Faithful.
    I see them when they return. I see those who came back whole and see the pride in what they did; the honor they feel.
    I also see shattered lives and bodies. Kid’s who will never be the same since they went to war as GI Joe or Jane. Their lives and bodies may be broken, but you can still see the same pride and honor in their eyes.
    And some of those who return have shame in their eyes. Disgust for what they were forced to do, and the “Leader’s” who ordered them to do it.
    I’ve seen it all here in my hometown, where I’ve worked for almost 4 years, and lived in for almost 2. If you can’t go to Iraq and see the ravages of war there, come and see it here.
    If you’re pro-war, it may change your mind.
    Troops aren’t number’s; they’re not lemming’s. They are individuals. Each and every one of them is as precious as you or me.

  5. There is no greater support that we can give the troops than to see that the cause for which they fight is just and true. The question I ask myself (as a veteran of Vietnam) is ..How can you ask a soldier to die for a lie? It’s difficult to separate the honor of duty and service to America from the lies that brought us into Iraq because those lies cloud the honor, and diminish the sacrifice that our troops have given. I respect and honor our military personel sevrving in Iraq, but their cause has been tainted in lies

    Casey Sheehan was faithful to America, but America wasn’t faithful to Casey. It kinda hurts to hear a mother say that her son has died in vain when he died serving his country.

  6. Thank you for that link, Bonnie. Doug Troutman wrote a very powerful piece, didn’t he?

    Troutman reminds me of another veteran I know who had served in Vietnam and vowed to never after whitewash the harsh reality of war’s particulars, and to devote himself to peaceful alternatives.

    “How is evil contained?” It is held in the hearts of good men, like Doug Troutman, men who have the strength and wisdom to remember directly, and the will to speak plainly about that ‘dying’ ‘business’ called ‘war’.

  7. Good post, Maha. I am a Navy veteran, and in a shop of about 24 sailors, I remember echoes of countless bull sessions over cards. We pretty much represented the full spectrum, politically and ethnically. Unless the military is using cloning techniques the Republicans have denounced, that’s gonna be true today. Slicing and dicing the voters by military class, or gender, or national origin, or religion, ignores the fact the voters are sentient beings and tend make up our own mind quite independently of our category.

  8. Maha,

    I think the reason our “leaders: nave not demanded (or even asked for) sacrifice from the general population for this war is because they understand that if the country really gets behind the effort they may start to actually think about why we are there. People might start to ask questions like: Why did we disband the Army only to create a new one? Why did we destroy so much infrastructure when we saw Hussein’s government fall so quickly? Why did we leave ammunition depots unguarded, so that the artillery shells could later be used as “road side bombs”? etc.

    The war is meant to be separate from our lives, so we will continue to go about our lives (shopping) while the powers that be (private war contractors) profit. Our only responsibility is only to display yellow ribbon magnets and say “I support the troops”. I watched a special last night on CNN about the “troops” that have been injured, and how they have been cared for. It was hard for me to watch, it made me ill, to think that all these young men and women have lost so much, for what appears to be nothing more than a neocon experiment gone horribly wrong.

    Maybe a law should be enacted that if in the future we want to send troops into battle, those troops should be paid a pension monthly for the rest of their lives. Maybe then our “leaders” won’t be so eager if they know they have to pay for the people that actually do the fighting. That’s what I would call supporting the troops!

  9. I’m one of, “the troops” and, like all the rest, I am an individual in the mob. I hate (it makes me fume, at best) the various comments about what we think/believe/do.

    Mostly, we do what we do, which is serve. The armed forces in this country have a long history of both Cincinnatus, and of the Henry V speech on the “reckonning for kings”. We are obedient to the civil authority (and the entire question of lawful orders and what one can do to determine them is a subject of much discussion, and one which blithe appeals that a war is, or isn’t, illegal won’t resolve. I understand why I can’t declare a limited objection of conscience to this war, and only to this one).

    My favorite Owen peom is

    Apologia Pro Poemate Meo

    I, too, saw God through mud,-
    The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled.
    War brought more glory to their eyes than blood,
    And gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child.

    Merry it was to laugh there-
    Where death becomes absurd and life absurder.
    For power was on us as we slashed bones bare
    Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder.

    I, too, have dropped off Fear-
    Behind the barrage, dead as my platoon,
    And sailed my spirit surging light and clear
    Past the entanglement where hopes lay strewn;

    And witnessed exultation-
    Faces that used to curse me, scowl for scowl,
    Shine and lift up with passion of oblation,
    Seraphic for an hour; though they were foul.

    I have made fellowships-
    Untold of happy lovers in old song.
    For love is not the binding of fair lips
    With the soft silk of eyes that look and long,

    By Joy, whose ribbon slips,-
    But wound with war’s hard wire whose stakes are strong;
    Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips;
    Knit in the webbing of the rifle-thong.

    I have perceived much beauty
    In the hoarse oaths that kept our courage straight;
    Heard music in the silentness of duty;
    Found peace where shell-storms spouted reddest spate.

    Nevertheless, except you share
    With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell,
    Whose world is but the trembling of a flare,
    And heaven but as the highway for a shell,

    You shall not hear their mirth:
    You shall not come to think them well content
    By any jest of mine. These men are worth
    Your tears. You are not worth their merriment.

    My grandfather fought in The Great War, I know he wasn’t the same afterwards, though I never knew him before. I wonder if my children will say the same for me, and Iraq.


  10. Maybe a law should be passed requiring congress to lead the first wave (on the ground) in all wars, followed by “big supporters” regardless of age or gender. If nothing else, it would save us a bunch of money…..

  11. I always find it amusing when people talk about “the military” vote, perspective, or whatever. My company has 170-some soldiers, and 170-some opinions.

    Just because a person is (1) in the military and (2) has an opinion, doesn’t mean that counts as part of the “military opinion”. No, “Military Opinion” is defined by the REAL soldiers. Obviously no Liberal Hippie Wimp can be a REAL soldier (talk about a paradox) , so liberal opinions can be dismissed as reflective of “military opinion” because they are obviously the product of reflexive leftwing bias. Also, of course no atheist can have the inner strength to be a REAL soldier, so we can throw away the views of those godless sodomites as well. The opinions of people of other faiths can be judged by the legitimacy of their religion, so we can usually listen to Jews without fear of error, but most of the rest are right out – obviously the views of a person who was raised to chant to demons and idols isn’t going to reflect the opinions of REAL soldiers, who take their guidance from the one true God.

    Basically, when you finish, it amazingly turns out that the REAL soldiers are the ones who think like the Ultra-Right – which makes sense, because rightwingers are tougher :).

  12. The previous was supposed to have little [SNARK] [/SNARK] tags, but I guess your filter took them out.

    …I didnt mean any of it 🙂

  13. A. Citizen:

    This post is a classic example. We have the same old story about ‘the troops on the front lines…’ and how their lives are affected, what they are thinking, what others think of them.

    Not a word about…

    Why are they there.

    Bullshit. If you had read the column linked, you’d find the soldiers themselves asking hard questions about why they are there and whether what they are doing is making matters better or worse. And anyone who’s been to this blog ought to know that I have opposed the invasion since the first time I heard the Bushies promote it.

    You exemplify the very quality I warned against — you are a self-righteous, tight-ass snot who thinks “the troops” aren’t worthy of his respect or concern.

    Whether the war is righteous or not, they are our responsibility. We — meaning the civilian population of the United States — are to blame that they are there. Do not dump on them because the civilian leaders of this nation are stupid and corrupt.

    Good bye.

  14. I think we need to put a little more thought into such:

    May they all come home safely, and soon.

    That’s so similar to “Praise Allah” “May God be praised” or other knee-jerk appendages. Yes we all want them home safely and not in flag-draped coffins.

  15. That’s so similar to “Praise Allah” “May God be praised” or other knee-jerk appendages. Yes we all want them home safely and not in flag-draped coffins.

    So what’s your problem with saying it out loud? People can’t read your mind.

    Be advised: Nobody likes a snot.

  16. I know I come online so late at night that it is unlikely that anybody reads what I write but I hope at least one person reads this. To our soldiers, both past and present – God Bless You.

    Our best friend is a Vietnam veteran who has never been the same since that war. He can’t sleep when it rains, is undone when he smells Asian cooking, and can’t watch the news because of the war in Iraq. He has beaten his addictions (one day at a time), renewed his relationship with his daughters, and occasionally manages to go out and have a good time. I know this from observation only – because the guy won’t talk about it. There are thousands like him and they have been left behind in our memories. His name is Chuck.

    I bring this up today because, not only is it Veterans Day, but we are witnessing the beginning of the next generation of Vietnam Veterans. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty years from now, somebody else will have a Chuck in their life.

    Every year our children are paraded by the Vietnam Memorial on their annual school trips to Washington. Maybe our leaders, both current and future, should also be required to take the long, solemn walk past the extended piece of granite that represents what happens when men think that they have the quick answer to complicated problems.

    Unfortunately, there will be yet another piece of granite that future schoolchildren will have to parade by.

  17. Zeus:

    “Unfortunately, there will be yet another piece of granite that future school children will have to parade by”

    Unfortunatley you are right. But it’s not too late.

    The best way to prevent future conflict is to end the one we are involved in now. And once and for all tell the truth about this war. Georgie-boy really fucked this thing up. Six years of ignorence. A bad war with no planning. Even had this been a noble cause G.W. would have screwed it up. Isn’t it obvious? Two more goddam years left, and the “liberal” media will insist that we not be to hard on the commander in chief. Also known as the C-student in Chief. But at least the neoconsuperfratboys have a scape-goat. After all the democrats are in charge now!

  18. There was a young Iraq vet on Washington Journal yesterday who stated that “he didn’t want to leave until we’d won”. To some in this generation, winning is everything and nothing else matters. Many of the young, who have never seen the horror of war, just see the glory. It isn’t only the old that want the young to fight the wars, it’s the young as well. I agree with the sentiment that we should do whatever it takes to win, any sacrifice necessary, and that if we’re not willing to do that we have no business going to war. This isn’t really a war on terror, its a war for profits by KBR, CACI, TITAN and HALLIBURTON. What’s in it for them for us to win?

  19. Many of the young, who have never seen the horror of war, just see the glory.

    In the case of an Iraq vet, I assume he’s seen the horror also. The issue requires critical thinking skills and the ability to formulate basic questions — what is “winning,” and exactly how will the military achieve the goal of “winning,” whatever it is? Some people can understand that these are the basic questions that need to be answered (and which can’t be answered, IMO), and some just plain can’t.

  20. maha,
    We can’t win this war!
    It’s a Civlil War. There’s no blue and grey, black or white there. They’re all grey and fighting amongst themselves!
    Anyone could have told those in charge. Jesus, even I knew in 2002 that it would be a disaster, and I concentrate on Soviet and Russian politic’s.

    You have been on the right track for years. I thank you for it. I love your site, and I wish I had more time to blog on it!

    Keep it up:-)

  21. If they want to win in Iraq here’s 3 steps of the Alcoholic Anonymous 12 step program that could prove beneficial if they implemented them..

    Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

    Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

    Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

    Actually winning in Iraq is just an illusion because our defeat in Iraq has already occurred. The only chance we had was winning hearts and minds..and that’s been blown

    How does that go?…You can lead a horse to water…

  22. Emptiness in a commercialized world where brand name allegiance [which includes sports allegiance] is fostered as a substitute for character building….where education is now much narrowed to primarily serve the cause of money making in that commercialized world……where philosophy and literature and the arts are relegated to low, even sneered-at status……

    Probably this emptiness has something to do with our young soldiers finding and enjoying a relief of depth in their lives through ‘war’. You can’t get much deeper that fast than ‘living on the edge of death’, with the bonuses of exclusively sharing that edge with buddies and of being able to feel one’s potential rise to the level of heroic.

    I wrote of a fellow last summer who had been in Iraq and was glad to be heading back…..he said, “I have never felt so alive in my life.”

    I believe this dynamic of emptiness-to-depth is an important ingredient in at least some soldiers’ preferential conclusions about the Iraq war, or even in whether some soldiers wish to steer clear of critical thinking about the war.

  23. Marijam

    The young feel invincible and love adventure which is why it’s so easy to send them off to war. It has been suggested that the old may support war, fought by the young, as a way of getting rid of competition. We are, afterall, not that far removed from the jungle.


    A foreign military intervening in another nation’s civil war has got to be the height of absurdity. I mean, what if a foreign military had intervened in our Civil War. To what end?

    The fact is we invaded a country, removed the guy who had merely kept a lid on a boiling pot, the pot boiled over and made one helluva mess.

  24. felicity:


    A foreign military intervening in another nation’s civil war has got to be the height of absurdity. I mean, what if a foreign military had intervened in our Civil War. To what end?

    The fact is we invaded a country, removed the guy who had merely kept a lid on a boiling pot, the pot boiled over and made one helluva mess.

    Of course. I’ve been saying exactly that for going on four years. Just because I didn’t repeat myself in this post doesn’t mean I need it explained to me.

    Update: Sorry, that was snippy. I apologize.

  25. It’s easy to confuse the soldiers’ experience with the marketing of the Iraq War, of military service, and of warfare in general. However, many of the people who fervently consume the latter have no experience whatever of military service.

    It isn’t the soldiers who “buy the war,” in the sense of ignorant consumption of this imagery and ideology, it’s civilians.

  26. Sorry, Maha. Passion often leads to reiteration, sort of like I-have-to-get-it-off-my-chest or I’ll implode kind of thing. Snippy qualifies too.

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