Monday, March 12, 2012

What In The World Is Going On With Our Troops In Afghanistan?!

It’s almost as if nine years of wars, death, terrible injuries, PTSD, and multiple tours of duty have taken their collective toll simultaneously on our troops serving in Afghanistan. A swift and terrible succession of breakdowns in military discipline and unit cohesion on the field lay bare and amplify the tens of thousands of individual tragedies, suicides, personal trauma and psychological crises that afflict our warriors coming home.

The horrific news that a U.S. Army sergeant wandered off-base into an Afghan village and gunned down 16 villagers, nine of them children, comes on the heels of the simmering violence triggered by the "unintentional" burning of Korans at Bagram Air Base which resulted in dozens of Afghan deaths and at least six Americans killed. The notion that military personnel are somehow unaware of the explosive potential of anti-American riots and violence that burning and desecration of the Koran has, is mind-boggling. Wouldn't it be the perfect opportunity for the military command to build bridges and good faith with the local populace by donating Korans to their spiritual leaders rather than consigning them to burning garbage? After nine years in Afghanistan, they couldn't figure this out?! Instead, the death count resulting from a demented soldier's killing rampage is almost certain to spiral, tragically sparking renewed violence following a tense standoff from the Koran burning riots and retaliation, as the Taliban once more vowed revenge.

But these latest tragedies whipping anti-American sentiment in the Afghan people and raising hard questions about our mission there didn't occur in a vacuum. The Koran burning itself followed another disturbing disclosure of a video showing U.S. soldiers urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters. The four men in the video can be "heard joking 'Have a great day, buddy', 'Golden like a shower' and 'Yeahhhh!' as they groan with relief whilst urinating." While this footage, called a "recruitment tool for the Taliban," spawned widespread outrage and  condemnation, within Newt's "elite media" CNN's Dana Loesch made the ignorant and unbelievably irresponsible statement that she'd "drop trou and do it too." Obviously, Loesch doesn't figure to be on the receiving end of Taliban retaliation — as their list of recruitment videos, courtesy of the U.S. military, grows —neither as a soldier nor a war correspondent.

One has to wonder about the wisdom of allowing Rush Limbaugh to be broadcast on Armed Forces Radio, ginning up corrosive anti-Islamic sentiment among our troops with incendiary statements like, “The Koran gets burned all the time when Muslims blow each other up in Mosques.” Not to speak of his daily rants against President Obama and the mission in Afghanistan. Young men and women in the war zone listening to Limbaugh’s daily fulminations against their Commander-in-Chief and the Islamic culture they supposedly are sensitized by Pentagon policy and field commanders to respect and protect, are hardly in a position to distinguish fact from fiction, truth from Limbaugh’s Big Lie. Where Tokyo Rose failed as a crude propagandist broadcasting to the troops from Japan in World War II, Rush Limbaugh, stateside, succeeds in undermining unit morale and cohesion as an American right wing propagandist broadcasting a steady stream of anti-Obama Administration invective. After Limbaugh’s misogynistic assault on law student Sandra Fluke, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan called for his removal from the Armed Services network. In truth, he should have been removed years ago for inciting dangerous (to our troops and personnel on the field) anti-Islamic hatred.

Despite the warnings of General Petraeus of the dangers of anti-Islam incitement and desecration of the Koran, wingnuts stoking the fires of Islamophobic hysteria in this country pushed back against Petraeus's obvious concern for the troops' safety by calling it a "recipe for surrender." But the right’s incendiary rhetoric may be only a surface manifestation of an  anti-Islamic underground culture in the U.S. military that the Pentagon brass, General Petraeus, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta are loath to acknowledge. Only last month, retired Lt. General William G. Boykin, a longtime commander of elite Special Operations forces, was essentially disinvited from giving a talk at West Point’s National Prayer Breakfast after the “liberal veterans’, among other groups, protested his appearance. In a letter to West Point’s superintendent, the group said General Boykin’s “incendiary rhetoric regarding Islam” was “incompatible with Army values” and would “put our troops in danger.” General Boykin has “likened the battle against Islamic militants to a Christian struggle against Satan” — which qualifies him for a high post on any Santorum or, for that matter, Republican administration. Recently, General Boykin told Glenn Beck, “I believe Iran has a nuclear warhead now,” although he is not privy to any classified information which would so indicate.

Indeed, these tragic incidents in Afghanistan didn't happen in a vacuum. Perhaps it's time to take a hard look at the Pentagon's policies and procedures to guard against the right wing radicalization of its troops. Attacks by religious extremists have occurred on both sides. But the military subculture that bred our most notorious domestic terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, could be far from extinguished, when we see photos of a sniper unit posing with the Nazi SS logo, and are presented the incredible explanation that the troops had no knowledge of the significance of the symbol, which "had been adopted and used by the Marines in reference to 'Scout Sniper.'"

That may be. But at the very least it is a disturbing reflection on an elite military culture, the Marines, whose identification with the Nazi SS symbol going back to the 1980s “sporting it like it’s nothing because they have no idea what it means,” begs the critical question: Where is the adult supervision from their chain of command? Or is General Boykin less of an outlier, less "incompatible" with military values than we'd like to think.

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