Thursday, July 03, 2008

I Started This as a Comment

and it seems to have turned into a post. I'm stuck at the Mazda dealership while the ride gets some nicks in the windshield and a blinking warning light (warning of what has yet to be determined) get tracked down and fixed.

The previous post on torture and SERE training has been provoking some great responses. Thank you for your thoughts. It's good to hear from people like Mike that SERE training has evolved. It's still something that sorrows me when I realize that something that was designed to train people in resisting maltreatment has become the basis for our own behavior.

That goes against the wisdom of men like Pericles, who warned the Athenians at the beginning of the war with Sparta that if they allowed the war to change who they were as a city and a people that the Spartans would be the victors regardless of any outcomes on the battlefield.

It goes against the wisdom and actions of great leaders and generals like Grant (let 'em up easy, was his watchword with the defeated southerners), and Sherman (not many folks know that the legendary "40 acres and a mule" policy was Sherman's. He did not have the supply lines capable of dealing with former slaves, now liberated who wanted to tag along with his army sweeping through the south. Sherman's policy was to first burn the great houses, and then divide the property up among those slaves who had worked it for the profit of others. Rough justice indeed, but very just to my thinking).

Mike: so what really needs to be taught? In a combat situation folks should already be aware that there are people who will fuck with them. It wasn't so much the lessons, but the relish with which the guys in the opfor conducted them. that was the most disgusting part. Also, these lessons were given to prepare us to resist some of the vilest motherfuckers on earth. The men who did these things in Pongyang, Hanoi, Haiphong, Laos and other shitholes of despair were the pure banal face of evil. My outrage also rests with Ranger, in that these assholes are now doing this to others in our name.

Torture and mistreatment produces lies. It hardens the resolve of the enemy and ensures that any of ours who are captured will be treated with all the violence at the command of angry and wronged people. When they know that they will be raped with brooms and plumbing tools in Abu Ghraib or disappeared into a vacuum of offshore dungeons or third world battery shops no soldier with an ounce of will would ever surrender. My main lesson from SERE was that there was no fucking way in the blue eyed world that I would ever allow capture. I would not assume the passive, get along/go along stance that they tried to instill. I would fight with every loose limb, every last tooth, I would make it easier for them to fucking kill me. I would do that fast, hard, and unceasingly. That's where torture took me. Right fucking there.

Washington, by taking his stand, proved that point. During the battle of Long Island and New York, the Hessians especially, were brutal and violent to captured or wounded Continental soldiers. They tormented them with shit like heated bayonets, tying them naked across the barrels of artillery pieces which were then fired, the report of the guns would permantly deafen the unfortunates while they were horribly burned by the brass barrells. Often, a wounded soldier would be hauled to a sitting position and spiked to a tree or a wall with a bayonet and left hanging there to die painfully and slow.

Needless to say, when a Hessian surrendered, the captors often felt like they possessed a justified and reasonable agenda to give back the same treatment.

We were all, as a people and nation, lucky that among Washington's favorite books was Thucyides' The Pelopponneisian War. Washington could cite passages from that work. He could quote Pericles' warning to the Athenian Assembly. He would cite the passages that showed how the Athenians time and again ignored that advice to their own detriment and damage.

Washington issued orders forbidding the torture or mistreatment of prisoners. He established a system for the Hessians which would allow them to lay down arms and move onto the then frontier of Western Pennsylvania where there were already communities of German speaking settlers and farmers.

Word travels fast in war. When it spread among the Hessian rank and file that there was land for the asking, decent treatment and aid in establishing a new life as a property owner from the rebels, the next flogging dealt out by a drumhead court, or the next beating from a Sergeant began to weigh heavy. The Hessian privates began to ask themselves "Why should I endure these hardships for the profit of a Duke I have never met?" Hessian squads and companies began to desert en masse as units, bringing their arms and stores. Their descendants still populate the hills of Western Pennsylvania and the entire Ohio valley.

Think what might happen instead if we were to not just stop the tortures, but repudiate those who did the torturing, those who commanded the tortures be done. These people need to be hauled out of their dungeons into the light of the bar of justice. This needs to be done for all the world to see.

I doubt that it could be something done under the U.S. legal system. That might have been already too degraded and too hopelessly corrupted. Our own system of legal justice might not have any credibility left in the eyes of the world. I would suggest that the torturers and their bosses be arrested and turned over to the World Court of the Hague. Let justice prevail.

That is the only way out of this for our nation. I doubt that any among us have the moral courage, much less the will to do the dirty work of drawing the lines and taking the stands for what used to be simple human decency.

I truly grieve more than I rage. Something that was a thing of beauty and spirit has been discarded.



Blogger seventh sister said...

Beautifully thought out and stated. I don't cry easily. In fact the last time I cried was when our government invaded Iraq. I couldn't stand the thought that, as you stated, it was being done in our names. I don't agree with this war and consider it a terrorist act and it is being done in my name because I am an American. When I was a child, we traveled to DC and NYC in 1964. We were sometimes reviled because of our Texas plates. I know if I were to travel outside of this country now, I'd be looked at the same way, maybe even more so even though I hate this business just as much as anybody else does.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Sherry said...

you write so well and thoughtfully and with no wasted words yet what you say really packs a punch.

i admire that. outside of my poetry, i tend to ramble.

thanks for putting into words what needed to be said.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Ghost Dansing said...

it's not a happy circumstance when one's commander-in-chief can be legitimately put on trial in Hague

there are many aspects of the war in Iraq that do not reflect wisdom derived from the study of war.

even the conventional planning by General Zinni and his predecessors was pretty much abandoned to provide a propaganda-based illusion of an "easy and cheap" war for public consumption with ends intended to erode public and Congressional resistance.

in order to initiate a legal preemptive military action from both an international and national point of view, the threat from Iraq would have had to be imminent......

Dubya knew he had no such case..... he and his cronies carefully made statements that produced the illusion of imminent threat, but one finds that they were also very careful not to state that case directly, instead suggesting that the criteria itself was not justified....... shouldn't have to wait for the "mushroom cloud" etc.

in proceeding in the way he did, Dubya has set a very dangerous precedent...... one which America will have to deal with for a long long time as the worlds despots imitate our "lead".

the professional military has been honking on the Republican bobo for some time........ it is really time for this supplication to be re-examined, for among the rest of the American People, the Armed Forces too were betrayed by both deliberate deception and the incompetence derived from Republican ideological inbreeding.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Ghost Dansing said...

Hague comment..... missed the link.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Rez Dog said...

We could use a Washington, Grant or Sherman right about now.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

The World Court would seem the proper venue, since Congress seems incapable of bringing charges.

Your feelings are palpable. As a soldier, you will fight and resist to your utmost; as a citizen, your righteous anger over Bush & Co.'s perversion of your country is trumped by the recognition of what's been lost. For that we all grieve, and work towards the reinstitution of justice.

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Rick98c said...

Sad to say this, particularly on the 4th, but I don't think the "American People", and certainly not the national government, have the courage or maturity to admit to crimes of this magnitude. After all, we have been showered from birth with the idea that we are the "good guys" who never do anything wrong, and that anyone who suggests otherwise is an unpatriotic traitor who should leave the country.

About a third of us still cling steadfastly to the belief that attacking Iraq was necessary and just and no amount of information to the contrary has yet to convince them otherwise. It's all based on emotion. Kinda like the way 2-year-olds respond to things.

Nation of demented toddlers with nuclear weapons.

7:36 AM  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


Rocky Versace hung tough in VC captivity and was executed as a result. Possibly a suicide-by-gook. Who knows - but his example is often used as what one should not do in captivity.

He would taunt the guards and generally failed to assume his role as captive. Nick Rowe and Dan Pitzer OTOH survived by pulling in their horns.

Versace is the negative example, yet we turn around and give him an MOH for his actions.

Which lesson will the trainees walk away with?

"Bring it on" is not the mission statement for a captive.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Eric Wilde said...

Completely agree. So is there any action we can take as a general populace to encourage such a Hague trial?

7:40 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

while in most of my life i tend to the more pragmatic and practical, there are some occaissions where the tribal romantic refuses to yield the floor. probably the mix of irish and apache running through my veins gives me a marked fondness for futile resistance in doomed causes. there is also that whole tradition thing. there was never a SEAL captured, or left behind. everybody comes back, or nobody. not a lot of in between action in that poker game. . .

speaking of members of the team, and speaking of pragmatism, eric prince who runs the mercenary empire of blackwater would probably be the likliest mark for the bush/cheney grab. being a merc at heart it would merely be a matter of buying the venal motherfucker off. outbid the bushes, and you'd have your man delivered to the dutch. a new "march of dimes" could be instituted, then a warrant from the hague issued, i'm sure that, for a price, the young mr. prince would be available for duty.

mercenaries have allegience, to gold, and, in their own sweet way they do have an ethic that gravitates to highest bidders.

8:43 PM  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

MB, wasn't John Hancock a navy seal em type? he was held at the H. Hilton and shared a cell w. Denton? my history is weak on this point - this is a question and not a statement of fact as i'm weak on naval background history. jim

11:47 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

i'm not sure. i do know that all during the training i received and the training i delivered the point of there never having been a SEAL captured was always worked into the lesson plan. every action plan has to have extraction as a prime component. on a pragmatic basis it means that for SEALs who often are operating far beyond the ken and publicity that giving the targets such a prime propaganda piece as a live one of us would be damned near unthinkable. most of the time, we would scrub rather than risk failure or capture. the SEALs at the airport during the Grenada clusterfuck were a prime example of this attitude. they were hopelessly outnumbered, they had nowhere to run, they had wounded that they flat refused to leave to the mercy of the cubanos, so they dug in and fought, and fought, and fought. finally somebody noticed their stubborn resistence.

i will make some calls as to the status of mr. hancock. it might be that i was taught and then teaching legend. one of our most prized missions to receive was to be dropped on top of a downed pilot to bring them out. that had a huge risk of capture, so it wouldn't surprise me at all for somebody on that gig to be captured. the northerners always turned out in eager force to find pilots.

12:03 PM  

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