A WAR OOPS
For the background story, check out the Los Angeles Times for Sunday, May 30, 2010.
This is an article by David Zucchino, who is reporting from Kandahar, describing what appears to have been a press conference or briefing on the Army’s investigation of an "oops" that occurred last February. The Military High Command basically condemned the incident which costs the lives of Afghanistan civilians and may costs the careers of some high ranking military personnel. I don’t know if the results of the investigation were made public on Memorial Day weekend intentionally or not, but it seems a little bizarre to me.
If you are not familiar with the story, a drone or unmanned aircraft, piloted by Air Force personnel who are literally sitting at a video game like consul in Las Vegas, Nevada, followed three vehicles, as they drove across the Afghanistan desert, for three and a half hours.. That’s interesting in and of itself.
I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence, but just in case you are not familiar with this kind of high tech weaponry, it works like this. An unmanned plane takes off by remote control, and I am assuming it takes off from someplace in the Afghanistan region, and its take off and entire reconnaissance mission is controlled by personnel on the other side of the world, in this case, in Las Vegas, Nevada. The three-person crew consists of a pilot, a camera operator, and an intelligence analyst. The three sit together at what might be described as a video game consul. These distant "warriors" can even fire missiles from the unmanned plane if they choose. It’s all pretty interesting, pretty wild, and pretty detached.
Apparently, there was considerable conversation between the folks in Las Vegas and the folks on the scene whether or not these vehicles were a convoy of insurgents heading for an attack on American ground units. But apparently the conversation was ineffective, so ineffective that one of the Generals investigating the case said that the Drone crew "ignored or downplayed" information that would have made it obvious that the convoy was not a threat. This same General described the Drone’s crew’s report of what they were seeing as "inaccurate and unprofessional."
There are also safeguards and backups to these drone missions, which include other military personnel literally throughout the world, simultaneously observing the video feed from the drone. These folks have expertise in determining who is friend or foe and are expected to give input. But apparently this system also either failed or broke down on this particular mission..
In one way, the Army’s investigation brings me hope. Just the fact that there is an investigation. And, in this case, high ranking officers are being disciplined instead of the soldiers at the bottom of the totem pole taking the fall. Not that I think it is necessary for anyone to take the fall. After all, this is war we are talking about, and to actually think you can have a clean war where everyone who is supposed to be killed gets killed and the folks who are not supposed to get killed don’t, is absurd. That kind of thinking is basically a coverup of what war is. The only time that actually happened is when I was twelve years old, crawling on my stomach across a dirt field with my wooden machine gun, and throwing grenades (dirt clods) at the imaginary enemy who were sometimes "played by" other kids in the neighborhood. It’s what happens in paint ball, but Iraq and Afghanistan are not paint ball, nor has any other war been nor will be.
What remains disturbing about the investigation is the implication that our sophisticated weaponry can somehow change the bottom line. We are plain fooling ourselves if we think our sophisticated weaponry is going to change the bottom line. In war, the bottom line is simple. People, PEOPLE, get killed. You can fool yourself into thinking that collateral damage can be minimized (not eliminated) with advanced weaponry, but PEOPLE still get KILLED. Collateral damage is not simply a house or a school, but the PEOPLE inside those accidental targets.
It is noteworthy that Webster defines civilization as a social organization of higher order. And Order is defined as a state of peace! Now does anyone think that Webster’s Dictionary is unAmerican or one of the few communist books that somehow escaped the McCarthy hearings?
So is it an oxymoron to talk about civilized nations going to war, holy or otherwise?
When we, as a country, set out to KILL the ENEMY, when we decide to cross that line from civilized to uncivilized, from a peaceful country to a waring country, an "oops" is hardly worth a second look in the big scheme of KILLING. Our enemy ALL look alike, for crying out loud. So what does that mean? Simple! They all look like the ENEMY. How do we miss this?
The ENEMY is anyone who is UNFAMILIAR to us or anyone whom we perceive as having the ability to ATTACK US FIRST. Or the enemy is anything or IDEA even, that is again UNFAMILIAR or perceived as attacking what we consider RIGHT! Yikes, that could be me, writing this blog! Check out NO GOOD GUYS OR BAD GUYS, JUST US
Let’s, just for an interesting discussion, look at this scenario from another perspective. Suppose that convoy of three SUV’s crossing the Afghanistan desert turned out to be insurgents, and, in fact, were on their way to assault ground troops, but the pilot, the camera person, and the intelligence analyst decided that they did not have sufficient information to call for a strike.
And what if, when their commanding officer asked them, "Soldiers, why did you not call a strike on this convey?" they responded, "Sir, we were not sure. We were afraid that we might be making a mistake. We couldn’t tell for sure. We thought they just might be civilians out for a ride across the desert."
What do you suppose the commanding officer would have said?
"You don’t have the prerogative to second guess yourselves, soldiers. Your buddies are dead because of your hesitancy, because of your doubt, because of your concern for the enemy and not your fellow soldiers."
Do you think that is what he might have said? Or might that commanding officer have been even politically incorrect and said, "Soldier, what are a few ragheads out for a Sunday drive compared to your buddies on the ground? Who do you want to face, soldier? The wives and children of those ground troops or a bunch of folks yelping and screaming antiAmerican slogans you cannot even understand? The next time, you hesitate to call a strike, soldier, remember who’s first in your book!"
What do YOU, fellow countryperson, think? Obviously, as we pointed out above, there are supposed to be back up systems here which obviously failed. But how much do we care who we kill? Really, how much do we care who we kill?
Do you remember at the beginning of this war, President Busch predicting that we were so far superior to our enemy that our casualty count would be very low? If my memory serves me, they made a bold and shameless prediction that the number would not excede 500 soldiers. So the war was worth some loss of life! Not to mention the loss of life on the ENEMY side including the civilians.
Is this investigation into the incident in February just a big PR campaign? We were generous enough to make cash settlements with the families of the victims and I guess that’s the least we can do. I don’t know.
I’m still left with that lingering question, do we really care who we kill? I mean, if we make a mistake, we just pay off the mistake. Maybe some of you, because of your experience in the military, know the answer to that question. Please share.
My concern is the investigation is one more desperate move to cover up the bottom line to war, so we will all continue to buy into the belief that was is ultimately a necessary evil, and if it’s a war declared by the good ol’ US of A, is absolutely a good cause.
It bothers me that we are becoming increasingly proud of our advanced and strategic weaponry, our ability to kill only the combatants, to spare the lives of civilians and non combatants. WHAT WE FORGET is those who we are able to so strategically target are the husbands and wives, the sons and daughters, the loved ones, the friends, the grandchildren of those we spare. Perhaps, they would just assume we not become so sophisticated as to spare their lives. If their loved ones are going to die, perhaps, they would appreciate going with them! Just a thought!
Unfortunately, our advanced weaponry makes us even more detached from the realities of war. Again, the bottom line. No matter how sophisticated or laser our weapons, we are still KILLING our own kind. YES. Our own kind. What is the sense of that? What is the sense of that? What is the sense of that?