Just Above Sunset
January 16, 2005 - How to Wage War as a Function of Age

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

"Subtlety chases the obvious in a never-ending spiral and never quite catches it."  - Rex Stout, The Silent Speaker


Dan Baum in The New Yorker has a long piece military training and how the operational leadership on the ground learns to do what works best.  The piece is about the curious tension between going by the book – following orders and established procedures – and taking the initiative and getting the job done better.


You’ll find it here:



What the generals don’t know

Dan Baum, The New Yorker, Issue of 2005-01-17, Posted 2005-01-10


Baum describes an incident in which a small unit of US troops confronts an angry Iraqi mob.  He watches this on television from his Baghdad hotel room as journalists are having a getting out and about these days.


On the morning of April 3rd, as the Army and the Marines were closing in on Baghdad, I happened to look up at what appeared to be a disaster in the making.  A small unit of American soldiers was walking along a street in Najaf when hundreds of Iraqis poured out of the buildings on either side.  Fists waving, throats taut, they pressed in on the Americans, who glanced at one another in terror.  I reached for the remote and turned up the sound.  The Iraqis were shrieking, frantic with rage.  From the way the lens was lurching, the cameraman seemed as frightened as the soldiers.  This is it, I thought.  A shot will come from somewhere, the Americans will open fire, and the world will witness the My Lai massacre of the Iraq war.  At that moment, an American officer stepped through the crowd holding his rifle high over his head with the barrel pointed to the ground.  Against the backdrop of the seething crowd, it was a striking gesture—almost Biblical.  “Take a knee,” the officer said, impassive behind surfer sunglasses.  The soldiers looked at him as if he were crazy.  Then, one after another, swaying in their bulky body armor and gear, they knelt before the boiling crowd and pointed their guns at the ground.  The Iraqis fell silent, and their anger subsided.  The officer ordered his men to withdraw.


Baum had to talk to this guy.  So he got out of his hotel and finally tracked down one Lieutenant Colonel Chris Hughes, and asked him where he had learned to calm a crowd like that.  Hughes replied that no one had prepared him for this situation. "The Iraqis already felt that the Americans were disrespecting their mosque. The obvious solution to Hughes was a gesture of respect."


What a concept!

Baum does not, however, pursue the possibility that this incident might be a parable of how the Iraq war might be ended.  He is more interested in the character of officers like Hughes, where they come from, and what might be learned from them.


Would it then be possible to end this war by showing a little respect?  Well maybe.


But maybe not.  One of the key planners behind our Iraq operations is Lieutenant General William "Jerry" Boykin.  As you recall, a bit back there were calls for his resignation after Boykin told a church congregation in Oregon that the US was at war with Satan, who "wants to destroy us as a Christian army".  (See this or search the archives here for references.)  He’s still on the job, high up in the Pentagon.


The guys on the ground know what works.  But if it’s a religious war – then what?  Will Boykin find out about this incident and track down Lieutenant Colonel Chris Hughes and reprimand him?  I suspect General Boykin doesn’t read the New Yorker.  Hughes is safe for now.


And this is just another case of the young leaders on the ground getting to know what works, and the seasoned, older leaders at the top working out operational plans based on ideology, or on religious convictions about the superiority of Christianity – or at least its militant pro-war American evangelical version – or one big theory or another.  The practical versus the zealous. 


But on another level the conflict is between the “live and let live” mind-set of the younger guys, and the “agree with us or die” mind-set of the older generation of leaders.  Hughes doesn’t seem to have a bug up his ass about the superiority Christian capitalism and the need for everyone to adopt it, or be forced to adopt it.


we are considering recruiting Shiite and Kurdish death squads and assassination teams to get rid of these bad guys, very silently and leaving no blood on our hands.  Some things never go out of style.  According to Newsweek, Donald Rumsfeld is considering the option of counter-terrorist death squads. 


The idea is collective punishment for the general Sunni population for their passive support of the bad guys.  If their women and children die, then they will have paid the price they should pay.  The idea, according to a Newsweek source  - "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists. From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation." 


There’s a problem here.  Collective punishment, especially of the general population, especially of the wives and children of those who do not cooperate, is expressly forbidden by those “quaint” Geneva Conventions.  Alberto Gonzalez did call them that, and he will be our next Attorney General.  Imagine snipers taking out ambulances and children for maximum psychological effect.  Hey, it’s war!


The right for a civilian population to be free from collective punishment is a "fundamental guarantee" according to Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 1949.  Article 75 of Protocol I says "The following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever, whether committed by civilian or by military agents."  "Collective punishments" is letter "d" under that item.  (Full discussion here.)


We signed up.  But we were just kidding.


So Lieutenant Colonel Chris Hughes has one attitude.  Boykin and Rumsfeld have another.


See GIBLETS here for his take on the Boykin-Rumsfeld approach. 


It's been almost two years since we liberated Iraq and all Giblets hears from these new free Iraqis is complaints.  Whine, whine, whine, nag, nag, nag, bombing, bombing, bombing!  Oh, we have no electricity!  Oh, we have no potable water!  Oh, our relatives are being raped and tortured and killed!  To think that this is all the thanks Giblets gets after working and slaving over a hot military-industrial complex to bury your infrastructure!

Well, Giblets "dares to discipline."  Even the most unruly and ungrateful young colony can be knocked back into shape with a little tough love.  The love of a good death squad.

After months of pussyfooting around with indefinite detentions, beatings and sexual humiliation, the US military is considering starting up "Special Forces-led assassination or kidnapping squads" in Iraq, and it's about damn time.  As one military source told Newsweek, "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists.  From their point of view, it is cost-free.  We have to change that equation."

Very true.  Right now the only price Iraqis are paying is a wasted infrastructure, a looming civil war, and a civilian death toll of at least fifteen thousand bodies.  If they're gonna cry over that spilled milk, then let's give 'em something to really cry about!  Giblets bets they'll be just begging to go back to chemically-burnt genitalia once they've had a couple weeks of roving death squads killing their friends and relatives!

The same old liberal pansies are gonna say "oh but I do not like killing lots of people because I am a great big girl."  But if we don't go slaughtering Sunnis en masse in an organized terror campaign, how will they ever learn to respect their boundaries, obey their elders, and become a stable pro-Western democracy?  This is the same lesson America learned from George Washington when he ended the Whiskey Rebellion by crucifying half the state of Pennsylvania on his front lawn.

So don't spare the rod, military! Years from now, when it is all grown up, Iraq will thank us for our loving disciplinarian approach.  Just ask Nicaragua and Iran!


Over the top?  Actually it is quite close to how the administration seems to think, and, by extension, how the majority of Americans think, given the results of the election.  Chris Hughes is the odd man out.


Do we need to dominate, or do we need to get along?  The people have spoken.




Dick in Rochester added a comment about those quaint Geneva Conventions.


When was the last time someone from Geneva voted here?  If I have this right I guess Stalin had pissed off the Pope and the Pope threatened him with something.  Stalin reacted, "How many divisions does the Pope have?"


And who has the power to change how we wage this war, or if we age it, one Lieutenant Colonel on the ground, or the Secretary of Defense and his key planner, General Boykin?  The answer is obvious.


And so it goes.




"Zealous men are ever displaying to you the strength of their belief, while judicious men are shewing [sic] you the grounds of it."  - William Shenstone






Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....