Democrats & Liberals Archives

Winter Soldiers Ignored

How is the mainstream media dealing with the inconvenient tragedies brought to light by Iraq war veterans who gathered over four days last weekend in Maryland? They are ignoring them. Five years after the invasion of Iraq, and nearly 4000 dead American soldiers later, many brave individuals have brought their poignant testimony to an event that deserves more exposure.

War is hell - always. At rare and tragic times in human history war is surely necessary. But ignoring its tragic reality creates a climate in which war is entered into far too easily.

We honor the dead soldiers as we should. The financial cost of war gets a fair amount of attention. But the tragic results of war are far more numerous than those two awful tally sheets.

Winter Soldier II
, sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), mirrors an earlier event from 1971 at which John Kerry famously testified. War hawks love to mock these events as "far left" gatherings, and consider the testimony of these veterans as treasonous and "un-American". The dozens of veterans who have chosen to speak understand how they will be unjustly vilified because of that choice, and yet their conscience demands no less of them. We can be sure that they are only the tip of the iceberg, among returnees whose humanity has been challenged in ways that it never should.

The "Rules of Engagement" for the Iraq war have been exposed as an ever shifting standard, and the extent to which they have been followed is often in flux, and largely depending on the mindset of the military leaders of individual operations. Soldiers who returned for many tours of duty related the generally declining standards as time wore on, as soldiers and leaders became hardened by their experiences. The nature of the battle, where the enemy was often difficult to identify, made tragic deaths and maiming of innocents more and more commonplace with time.

Democracy Now has been airing this testimony this week, and will continue that tomorrow. IVAW has live blogged the event. I challenge you to listen or read and tell me that these soldiers are lying, or that their experiences do not challenge notions of decency in how this war is being waged.

One sample piece of testimony came from Corporal Washburn of the Marines:

Something else we were actually encouraged to do, almost with a wink and a nudge, was to carry drop weapons or, by my third tour, drop shovels. What that basically is, is we would carry these weapons or shovels with us, because in case we accidentally did shoot a civilian, we could just toss the weapon on the body and make them look like they were an insurgent. Or, you know, like my friend here were saying, we were told by my third tour that if they were carrying a shovel or—you know, and a heavy bag, if they were digging anywhere, especially near roads, that we could shoot them. And so, we actually carried these tools and weapons in our vehicles in case we accidentally shot an innocent civilian, and we could just toss it on them and be like, “Well, he was digging. I was within the rules of engagement.” And this was commonly encouraged, but only behind closed doors. It wasn’t obviously a public announcement that they would make. But, yeah, it was pretty common.
This is nowhere close to the most shocking testimony I've seen, but it is indicative of the layers of disconnect between the reality and the official, and between the official and the "ideal". No one expects that war will not be accompanied by horror, but when the horrible becomes sanctioned to one degree or another by a White House Counsel, or a military directive, or a commander's prerogative, we guarantee that the horror will become pervasive.

It is not easy to pay attention to this tragedy. The mainstream media knows that it is easier to simply ignore Winter Soldier II, and the questions which it raises. They have an election to cover and celebrities' misdeeds to watch. Meanwhile innocent citizens continue to be killed and maimed, our reputation continues to be dragged to greater depths, and soldiers return home with injuries both physical and psychological which will impact them for life, and a training in violence that in many cases will haunt us once again.

We cannot learn if we will not look.

Posted by Walker Willingham at March 18, 2008 10:20 PM
Comment #248431


The trouble is that so much of “Winter Soldiers I” was found to be untrue. Much of Kerry’s own testimony either has not been verified or has been stridently contradicted by veterans who served with him. Whom do we choose to be biased against?

If ten stand with him and 140 against do we assume the 140 are lying through their teeth and should be condemned for their crimes against humanity? If my nephew reports no criminality against the members of his patrol who are daily in harm’s way (He is the point man on a Marine rifle squad.) am I to assume he is lying?

Sorry. The burden of proof rests with the dissenters.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at March 18, 2008 10:48 PM
Comment #248442


Surely you can acknowledge that there is far more incentive to either sweep uncomfortable truths under the rug, or even to deny them, than there is to publicly decry behavior that one was party to, and which will likely draw the wrath of others.

It’s not that I am accusing your nephew or anyone else in particular of lying. Each soldier’s experience is unique. Even the perspective of different soldiers witnessing the same event is unique. That there are instances of gross misbehavior and criminality at places such as Abu Ghraib, Haditha, and Fallujah is not seriously contested. Charges that such behavior is systemically encouraged in some fields of operation are very credible and troubling to this observer.

Why would these soldiers lie? That would clearly be against their better interests. Their testimony has the ring of truth to me. Why should we ignore them?

Posted by: Walker Willingham at March 19, 2008 12:19 AM
Comment #248443

And as to charges that much of the original Winter Soldier testimony from 1971 about the Vietnam War was “found to be untrue”, I seriously doubt that the primary thrust of that testimony was really proven untrue. There may have been some exaggerations or even fabrications for which that is the case, and no doubt every claim is vehemently denied by those who would otherwise lose face. But whomever believes that My Lai was the only instance of gross misbehavior by Americans in that conflict is living in denial about the true nature of war.

War should always be the very last resort. Monsters are always created on both sides of every conflict.

Posted by: Walker Willingham at March 19, 2008 12:35 AM
Comment #248445

Lee Jamison-
Untrue how? The unfortunate game that sometimes gets played is one of generalizations from one soldier being a liar to all the soldier’s stories being lies.

The SwiftVets campaign had serious factual problems. Navy Documents, of which Kerry had plenty, contradicted their story. Their own accounts contradict relevant member’s stories. The book that was written was by one man who helped Nixon astroturf an anti-antiwar organization, who then debated Kerry on Dick Cavett, saying a number of things we know now were not historically accurate. The other Author, Jerome Corsi, was revealed to be a Freeper Non-pareil, whose strong, sometimes racist and sexist comments demonstrated as serious bias against the Democratic candidates. If your aim was to find some people to do a balanced work on Kerry, You would have failed by selecting these two.

Most of the 140 veterans involved never had real contact with Kerry, much less real service by his side. Of those who did, almost everybody sided with Kerry.

Are they liars? Well, the atrocities of Vietnam did occur, and millions of Vietnamese did die in the course of the war.

The real trouble is, these are not going to be the things you just announce to others that you did, especially with a war as fraught with politics, confusion and humiliation as Vietnam.

The real trouble is, war is not so nice or neat as conservatives would have us believe, especially not for the people who have to make these painful and dangerous judgment calls It doesn’t get any better when there’s strategic stupidity at the top and little dialogue with the bottom.

Furthermore, when the President defines loyalty in terms of keeping quiet, many keep their mouths shut. Loyalty, though, is more complex than that, especially with a war so badly mismanaged.

The burden of proof isn’t the concern. The concern is, the politicization of our perceptions of war. The lack of pragmatic critiques from the right on this war, the encouragement of this media myth are part of what has left our soldiers hanging in Iraq.

When folks clamored for armor, the right clamored after the Reporters head. When a general said several hundred thousand troops were needed, his superiors were quick to cut off his balls in public. The pattern has continued. Fallon is the latest casualty.

The truth is, aggressive politics took the place of due diligence. It is of course easier to cover your butt than deal with the real problems. We didn’t lose this war by random misfortune. there was a pattern to what failed.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at March 19, 2008 12:43 AM
Comment #248447

The rules of engagement are so strict that U.S. soldiers and Marines take extra ordinary steps to protect civilians, even at the risk of their own lives. The death of a civilian is taken extraordinarily seriously and it – thankfully – is becoming a much rarer event.

Our military is very careful even with the lives of clearly identified insurgents or terrorists.

Maybe some of the individual testifying – like John Kerry in Vietnam – committed war crimes. If they did, they should be addressed. It looks like they are being addressed, BTW. If anything, we are TOO quick to bring guys up on charges. But these kinds of things are very uncommon in Iraq today, especially now that the actual fighting is so much reduced.


Re armor etc – it is not as simple as you think. Marines have new armor. It protect them against lots of things, but it is so heavy they cannot get around. In combat situation, speed is safety. If you are coming upon an insurgent, it is better if you can be quick enough to shoot him before he can aim at you. The best way not to be hurt by a bullet is not to be hit with one in the first place. You may have perfect ability to stop a bullet with your armor, but if it slows you down so much you cannot properly fight, it may increase the danger. The same goes for MRAPS. They really cannot drive off the road, so they have limited use. They also cannot cross some bridges, because they are too heavy. There is a tradeoff between armor and mobility. People uninvolved in actual events think that they can cocoon our guys up and they will be perfectly safe. This is simplistic.

The other important factor is real world conditions. Many things work well in the laboratory, but less well in the field. You have to try things out and there is always uncertainty.

Posted by: Jack at March 19, 2008 2:36 AM
Comment #248450

A good article: “We honor the dead soldiers as we should. The financial cost of war gets a fair amount of attention. But the tragic results of war are far more numerous than those two awful tally sheets.” how true: let us not forget the 29,000 physical injuries sustained by US forces alone: how many of those injuries will be life-altering? and then add the mental damage, and then add the losses suffered by other countries’ troops, and THEN add in the appalling losses and injuries suffered by the Iraqi civilians, 100,000s.

War should always be the last final resort after every last resort has failed: in this case it was not, it was entered upon when international pressure and international law were ‘in progress’, and when the level of planning and preparation for the after-effects of the initial military strike was totally inadequate.

The policy of pre-emptive action must now be consigned to the recycle bin of history, and maybe the overwhelmingly military basis of so-called ‘national defence’ now needs to be questioned.

Posted by: Roger Lainé at March 19, 2008 9:49 AM
Comment #248464

At least 43 Winter Soldier I stories were investigated by the military according to sworn enemy of the left Scott Swett. On his site he does, however, link scanned copies of the investigative reports performed at the time. It looks like a few of the claims were debunked, one was substantiated at least in part, and for most of the rest the claimants didn’t really want to talk to an actual investigator. You can draw whatever conclusion on those.

Winter Soldier

Posted by: George in SC at March 19, 2008 12:12 PM
Comment #248465

Civilians accused of a crime have the opportunity to cross examine their accusers, under oath, in a court of law. Those in the military should be, and usually are, given the same opportunity.

We have all heard anecdotal evidence for and against various things and people and as rational, thinking, and law-abiding citizens should be reluctant to accept these kinds of accusations until proven true.

Consider for a moment the thorough airing of Obama’s dealings with pastor Wright. In this case we have heard and seen the objectionable words of the pastor and have given Obama the opportunity to tell his side of the story and refute the accusations. It would be prudent to give the same opportunity to our military members accused of atrocities.

Posted by: Jim M at March 19, 2008 12:33 PM
Comment #248470

An enormous amount of campaign funds coming from Iraq soldiers has been received by the Ron Paul and Obama campaigns, committed to ending the Iraq occupation.

Political Punch reports:

In the 4th quarter of 2007, individuals in the Army, Navy and Air Force made those branches of the armed services the No. 13, No. 18 and No. 21, contributing industries, respectively. War opponent Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, received the most from donors in the military, collecting at least $212,000 from them. Another war opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, was second with about $94,000.

Talk is cheap. Money walks. Our Iraq soldiers want to come home and want this occupation to end. Bush of course, won’t address this fact.

Posted by: David R. Remer at March 19, 2008 2:09 PM
Comment #248474

There was an article out recently that said that simply because the MRAPS were manufactured outside the country, soldiers were denied them. The Marines’ own investigation determined that hundreds of soldiers died needlessly as a result of this bureaucratic short-sightedness.

How about casualties in general? To me it was always laughable that supporters of the Bush policy reasoned that sending more soldiers in would be harmful because it would give the appearance of an occupation. That’s like saying that imitating your kid’s styles and tastes will make them see you as cool. The kids know you’re not one of them, and the Iraqis knew from day one we’re occupiers. But just as the failure of a parent to act their age reduces the kids respect for them, the failure to put the necessary soldiers in, to do all the things that could have been more easily done with more soldiers also reduce the Iraqi’s respect for our occupation, and its authority.

Then they said more soldiers would mean more targets, would get soldiers killed more. By that logic, we should take the Army’s current slogan An Army of One at face value, and just send soldiers into Iraq one at a time. One Army Ranger, one war? No, the truth is, there’s safety in numbers. You’re trying to give somebody the impression that even the notion of starting trouble is a bad idea. That’s how a few thousand police officers can manage cities of millions in our country: implicit authority.

Maybe buzzing around in Humvees might not have been so dangerous if the war had actually been effectively ended, by numbers and the implicit authority they carried.

Armor can slow you down, but an IED will do worse, and the people we’re fighting know it. In the psychological component of a war, early success inspire continuation of the fight. If the fight proves futile early on, and we don’t look like we’re anywhere near exhausted by the time they come to that point, the troublemakers will be much more manageable.

As for Kerry’s point, he was citing generalized practices and doctrines, such as search and destroy missions, free-fire zones, and the issuance of .50 caliber weapons as anti-personnel weapons. In essence, the commanders, he argued, were making whole swaths of soldiers unwitting war criminals by ordering them to do the things they were doing and provisioning them the way they did. This was part of his larger point concerning the way that the Leadership (or lack of same) in Washington and among the brass was bringing dishonor on the soldiers despite the soldier’s best efforts, and for no greater cause than to avoid admitting that our efforts in Vietnam were defeated.

Then as now, the Republicans fed this speech through the gotcha machine to filter out phrases and points objectionable or useful to them to reinterpret as meaning things that Kerry was not saying, in order to refute them in the mind of loyal supporters of theirs. They claim he was making out the soldiers to be villains. He was not. He was claiming bad guidance from the top were leading to such moral problems at the bottom. You selectively point out Kerry’s admission that things he did violated the laws of war, while ignoring his larger point that he and thousands of other soldiers were simply not advised of these rules, and were ordered to do these things by those who should know better.

The selectivity of partisanship is a pernicious thing, and on the right, I would argue that it was a key component of the misjudgments that led us to war, and the misjudgments that have doomed the war to failure, regardless of what time we spend there.

Each time, partisans of escalation and invasion approached the war as something to be desired, something to be provoked and justified. Each time, they overlooked or even actively dismissed signs early on that they were mistaken on the tactical and strategical front. Both times, the partisans insisted continuously that the war was winnable, even as they were forced to escalate (if they were able) in order to avoid a complete breakdown in the war. We spent years fighting to keep the strategic situation merely at stalemate, with no discrete, defined endgame in place to conclude the war once and for all.

In short, we didn’t fight to win, we fought not to lose. Two different things, in strategic terms. If you are a homegrown insurgency, that’s a viable strategy. Keep your insurgency operating, and sooner or later, costs and fatigue will win you the war. The strategy, though, doesn’t work so well for large conventional armies that pay a hefty cost to remain in the field, in an arena that is not necessarily critical to their nation’s interests.

With an insurgency, you have to kill it, and kill it early before it becomes sustainable, before it attains its goals. Otherwise, you lose it. You need to maintain good relationships with the locals, or remove them from the equation (something we’re unlikely to do for the simple reason that it’s morally appalling to us.) You need to make sure that their infrastructure and economy are running, and that they’re not dependent on you to keep running.

We’ve done none of this. The best your side has to offer is that we can say, for the time being that we haven’t lost. But for a country like ours, with military readiness, foreign policy, and economic problems, Iraq’s become a white elephant, a burden yielding few benefits.

It’s good to help others, to prevent humanitarian catastrophes, but the mismanagement of the affair makes our help a double edged swords, and turns the whole affair into a slow-motion disaster, which has only gotten worse as we’ve perseverated in it. As our troop levels decline towards the summer, in no small part because of the surge’s logistical costs, some enemies may test the waters and find the pools fine to jump back in.

The current low levels of violence owe to the cooperation of the Sunni and Shia, cooperation that only persists because they don’t see it currently in their interests to start trouble. Our troop decline being pretty much inevitable, due to the failures of the administration to properly organize this campaign, that point may come as our numbers decline towards the summer.

The steps taken, such as arming the respective sides and organizing the Sunnis into militias set a minefield for further efforts. The lack of political reconciliation is no mere inconvenience, no deprivation of a luxury, when set in these terms. It is a strategic failure that sets us on a precipice. There’s no effective political order to hold back the civil war once one side decides to make trouble. If the order breaks down, we’re not in a position to redeem the situation.

The very real danger is that this persistence in resisting the withdrawal of our forces has reduced the resources with which to withdraw safely and leave Iraq with some provisional stability. If we’re saying we no longer had good options with Iraq, the surge and it’s consequences may have left us with worse options than we had before.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at March 19, 2008 2:53 PM
Comment #248489


Yes, the previous policy of not sending in greater numbers of military proved unsuccessful. Glad you are a surge supporter, as I am now.

Re war crimes etc – I am telling you plainly that this is just not the case. We take potential war crimes very seriously. We take extraordinary steps to protect civilian lives and even those of captured terrorists. This Winter Soldier stuff is just BS. I was not in Vietnam, so maybe Kerry was telling the truth re what he did, although there is plenty of reason to believe otherwise. It is NOT the case in Iraq, however.

Re the insurgency, we HAVE smothered it in most places and should be able to finish it off soon. This doesn’t mean peace will be 100% achieved or that the bad guys will not attempt to provoke troubles again, but this is nothing like Vietnam.

We have a good chance to achieve success in Iraq. It is a risk – like everything in life – but well worth it considering the consequences of failure.

General Petraeus and Amb Crocker will brief Congress next month. Some on the left will try to call them liars before they even talk, but I think most Americans will be convinced by the truth. As you know, already 53% of Americans (according to the latest Pew poll) think we can achieve success in Iraq. This is up from 40% in September. I am not such a big believer in polls on this subject, but I know you are so (since you argued that I should change my postion based on them) are you going to change your mind in the light of these new results?

We are going to deliver a success whether or not some of the left want one. The big Dems know this. They are already shifting rhetoric and talking not about defeat but the cost of victory. It might still cost us the election, but as John McCain said, I would rather lose an election than a war.

Posted by: Jack at March 19, 2008 5:48 PM
Comment #248490

“Talk is cheap. Money walks.”

Actually, it’s money talks, B.S.walks, somewhat more appropriate for a presidential campaign.

This is the actual attitude of the troops towards the locals:

This might be another reason why we’re so popular there:

More US soldiers making friends:

and so on and so forth.

Posted by: ohrealy at March 19, 2008 6:03 PM
Comment #248514

Try reading this soldier’s account.

Hell, try reading their accounts

The vets shouldn’t be defined by your narrow, monolithic definitions of them. There are many soldiers who think very little of the Bush Administration’s leadership, not to mention their families and friends. You folks blew your advantage with them.

Surge supporter? No. You’re conflating a sustainable increase in the number of soldiers in a timely manner early in the war with an unsustainable increase far too late in it.

This slipshod handling of the war has been one of the most offensive and hypocritical things about this war. The consequences for it, for not doing things early not only still wear at our forces, they continue to wear at them. This from the Army Times The grim complexity of this situation should draw your attention. Veterans, particularly officers are voting with their feet. Recruitment is way down. How exactly you expect to keep this war up indefinitely without bringing on the collapse of American military power, I don’t know.

This isn’t hyperbole. This isn’t joint chiefs whining about budgets to the Congress. This is things getting truly nasty and dysfunctional for the military, and war supporters like you just ignoring things, suggesting it’s all just something we’ll walk off.

What is your success? When will it come? Why don’t we have any clearer idea of where we’re going now than we had four years ago?

You can’t simply make up new objectives as you go, or treat the soldiers like mechanical parts that can be counted on to function indefinitely. You’re drawing down forces now not because you’ve been successful, but because the Joint Chiefs believe that if they extend tours, they’re going to lose more people in an environment where recruiters are already accepting drop-outs, low scorers, felons, and other potential discipline and training problems.

That a Republican administration failed to keep these problems from coming to a point like this is one of the shocking things about this presidency. This is the first war I’ve ever advocated against the main policy of, much less advocate that we leave without winning. I’ve never been a dove, and even after this war, I won’t be one. But it’s left me deeply skeptical about whether the Republicans and their allies truly know what they’re doing.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at March 19, 2008 9:32 PM
Comment #248519

Americans and Iraqis soldiering together:
funnily enough, one of the Iraqis answers back in Russian.

More English lessons:—G-RnfJsQ

Same goes for Afghanistan:

Posted by: ohrealy at March 19, 2008 10:19 PM
Comment #248523


I make no assertion that the testimony of THIS YEAR’s Winter Soldiers are 100% accurate. I only say they have the ring of truth to them. You evidently claim to KNOW that it is BS and they are lying. Why are they lying? Why are you so sure?

I DO know that we human beings do not all behave the same way in the same situation. It makes sense to me that the Rules of Engagement get stretched and changed when security goes down, and identification of the enemy becomes difficult. This is explained in detail by the testimonies you can read here, here, and here.

Have you read them? Do you think they are liars? I hear the words of conscience-stricken veterans. Their experiences were their own. Other experiences may vary. I find it incredible that you can so blithely imply that our soldiers in Iraq consistently followed strict rules of engagements throughout the conflict when these testimonies so utterly contradict that and paint a picture where they were frequently encouraged to regard Iraqis as sub-human, designate all taxis as targets, treat prisoners ruthlessly, etc. etc.

The “best” of wars dehumanize. War is never tidy. When the purpose gets obscured or changed midstream, the dehumanization accelerates. When an area is brought under some semblance of control, as has been the case in Anbar recently, then there is a return to more orderly rules of engagement, and we pretend that it has been that way throughout.

I do not believe these soldiers lied. I cannot imagine why they would. I do not believe, Jack, that you have sufficient knowledge to defame them. You were not there with them.

The point of this post is not to condemn our soldiers, but rather to call our media to task for not listening to them when they bear witness to truths that we would rather not face. We should think long and hard before entering military conflict. Then we should think more and probably not do it. This is why war should always be a last resort. This is why goals should be clear and enemies well defined. This is why we should not have legal counsel to the President refer to the Geneva Conventions as quaint, the President tell the enemy to “bring it on”, or the Vice President continue to lie about long since debunked justifications for war.

You say it’s old news. You say that we are where we are and must worry about where to go from here. Sure that’s true, but we also better learn from our mistakes. It’s not old news to the child who will never have a father or the millions of Iraqis who have been permanently displaced. It’s not old news to the victim of a future crime at the hands of a psychologically damaged veteran.

We ignore the truth-tellers at our own peril.

Posted by: Walker Willingham at March 19, 2008 10:27 PM
Comment #248527

If these people are telling the truth and their claims can be supported by evidence, then left-wing anti-war rallies where evidence isn’t required are very poor venues for airing their stories. If there were substance behind their claims, they would not only have the responsibility but the ability to be taken far more seriously if they came out in venues where their stories could be checked for fact. And where they could be brought up on charges of perjury if they’re found to be lying.

The military has already prosecuted a number of people guilty of such abuses. If you’re telling your tale to Cindy Sheehan instead of a judge, then you get no points for being a brave truth-teller. Jesse Macbeth, a former member of this same organization, claimed to have been of part of atrocities in Iraq. His stories were given the same play as these ones by hard-left anti-war activists, but he turned out to have been a total fraud. Nobody denies that there have been crimes committed by a few bad apples—but when alleged, such crimes have to be proven.

Also, don’t claim that you want to hear accounts about Iraq from soldiers who have served there when you totally discount what thousands upon thousands of them who are not anti-war activists are saying. You only want to believe the stories of a few that line up with your own agenda while turning a deaf ear to everybody else. It’s fundamentally dishonest.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at March 19, 2008 10:51 PM
Comment #248528

This is the url for the one where of of the Iraqis answers in Russian:

Posted by: ohrealy at March 19, 2008 10:56 PM
Comment #248584

I have a statistical answer to the claim that “officers are voting with their feet”. It turns out that the attrition among officers is not like that in the Viet Nam experience, nor even close to the attrition during the Clinton presidency.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at March 20, 2008 11:34 AM
Comment #248605

Loyal Op,

I always appreciate your comments. You challenge my assumptions in ways that make me really think about why I believe as I do.

I am skeptical that veterans with stories such as those that testified this weekend have the venues available to them which would afford them more legitimacy in your eyes, or the eyes of the media. At the same time I acknowledge that I have not scoured the internet for military opinions in direct contradiction to those which the admittedly left-biased Democracy Now! has called my attention to.

I listen to Democracy Now! fairly regularly, not because I believe that they have a unique corner on the truth, but because it balances the largely corporate perspective of the mainstream press which I also follow closely. I retain a skeptical ear in listening to DN!’s reports as well. For instance this morning’s comments by Ayad Al-Qazzaz, the Iraqi professor of sociology at California State University who they interviewed this morning, which suggested a complete withdrawal of American forces would likely bring Iraqi sects together to work out their differences, I found to be quite incredible.

You called my attention to the case of Jesse Macbeth, who dishonestly took advantage of the antiwar movement’s desire to find support for their cause from military sources. He clearly lied, and is no longer welcome at IVAW events, but there could be others like him out there, whose personal agendas color their stories.

Nonetheless, it is not accurate to suggest that testifying in front of a supportive audience means that these Winter Soldiers are taking no risks. Their names are public, and for many the much easier road would be to remain quiet, or at most confide only in those they are closest to about their experiences. We know of veterans of earlier wars who held their experiences bottled up, and indeed felt that was the right thing to do, rather than trouble their loved ones with their traumas.

My sense is that most veterans are rather taciturn about their experiences, and I cannot blame them for that. Some may seek to justify behaviors that they would ordinarily condemn as simply necessary for self-preservation, others suppress them, and others simply were in different fields of operation where the sorts of extremes we read about here were not on display.

I am open to reading about different experiences, but I am most concerned when there are credible suggestions that our military operations put our soldiers in a position where they must choose between risking their own lives, or their standing among their peers, and sacrificing their humanity by brutalizing those who are defined as the enemy, but may not be.

I do not see this as a black and white situation.

My agenda is to emphasize the importance of seeing war as a last resort.

To help put into context my own reaction to stories, let me relate one from the very early days of the invasion.

I was against the invasion from the outset, and participated in protests in February of 2003 urging our leaders to let the inspections run their course, and to keep the brutal Saddam in check with “No Fly” zones and continue to demand transparency from him.

When we did invade, I hoped and prayed that I would be proven wrong, and that the conflict would be limited, Saddam (who I utterly despised) would fall, and a functioning democracy could take his place. I certainly wasn’t looking for reasons to condemn our military, and on the whole I still do not condemn our military. I paid a lot of attention to a story that I heard early on in which American troops were advancing fully armed within an Iraqi city in the vicinity of a Mosque. A savvy commander picked up on the potential volatility of the situation, noticing extreme discomfort in the body language of citizens in the area, and commanded the troops to lower their arms, fall to one knee, and smile.

This story pleased me. I was relieved to know that at least this commander was sensitive to the awkwardness of our military presence there and the importance of the winning of hearts and minds. I did not jump to the conclusion that the story was just a propaganda piece, as some lefties might have.

Five years of armed conflict are no doubt filled with stories of every description. Many are uplifting. Many are not. I only ask that when we measure the costs of war, that we look at all of the costs - including the impacts on the psyches of the soldiers who are often caught between bad choices and worse ones. It’s not that the good stories are not also important and worthy of notice. They are, and I invite you to call our attention to them. But the disturbing stories are important as well, not so much for the purpose of court-martialing individual offenders, as for identifying decisions which created the context for the offenses.

For me the few bad apples explanation for all instances of military misbehavior just doesn’t pass the smell test. I’m far less worried about a few bad apples in the lower ranks of the military than I am about the bad apples at the top of our government, whether they be named Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, or Addington. I sure wish the Republicans had put up 2008’s candidate back in 2000. We may still have gone into a war that I disagreed with, but I’m confident McCain would not have mismanaged it so egregiously as has our current administration.

Posted by: Walker Willingham at March 20, 2008 1:18 PM
Comment #248617

Does the right only give soldiers the benefit of the doubt when it seems like they are in trouble damaging to the Republican’s political fortunes? Some guy speaks up about armor, and he’s a dupe of the media. Some soldiers get featured in photos showing torture and prisoner mistreatment, and it gets called “frat party antics” by pundits on the right. Some Veterans create an organization opposing the Bush Policy, and they’re all leftist looneys and phony soldiers.

A veteran runs for Congress on an anti-war platform, and you call him a traitor. Some guy puts a triple amputee decorated war hero in a negative ad that compares him to Bin Laden and Saddam, and you get him elected.

Meanwhile, Soldiers deliberately cover up an incident where a large number of civilians were killed, and you folks accuse the press and the politicians who mention it of considering them guilty before innocence, and yet you let a woman who simply did her job in auditing expenditures to prevent corrupt hang out to dry.

The dissatisfaction in the military crosses party lines. It’s one of the reason that military contributors in this election season overwhelmingly contributed to Barack Obama and Ron Paul.

I guess you folks can continue to persist in denial as long as you care to. You’ve persisted long enough to alienate a major constituency of yours.

Lee Jamison-
The attrition is high among the younger officers, which poses problems for a military that’ll need experienced officers in the field. As for redeployments, you should read about that that actually involves. There’s a lot of very high redeployment bonuses and a browbeating kind of culture to it. Additionally, you should look into what standards we’ve had to drop in order to maintain the recruitment numbers.

But all of that would be unnecessary if we had enough fresh troops to go around. The failure to handle this early, in an attempt to avoid providing optics for the other side to exploit, has left our military in a precarious position, manpower-wise, not just in Iraq, but around the world.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at March 20, 2008 2:20 PM
Comment #248626

Walker, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Stephen, criticisms of the war in Iraq are not the sole province of liberals or anti-war activists. I have (and have numerously voiced) a whole laundry list of complaints about how the war was justified, planned and managed.

Are some of these “damaging” to the Republican’s political fortunes—yes. And the Republicans responsible for them deserve the damage they’ve suffered and may suffer in the future.

Unlike you, however, when presented with stories, rumors, and allegations I’m interested in what truth may be behind them before I’m interested in what how they’ll affect the “political fortunes” of Republicans. If the truth damages Republicans, so be it—let the chips fall where they may. But despite the judicious tone in which you cast your arguments and the lofty conclusions you pretend to draw, you NEVER show the slightest doubt about any unproven rumor, allegation, or event that might cast Republicans in a negative light.

The unexamined assumption that atrocities committed by soldiers in Iraq would cast Republicans or the Iraq war in a bad light is itself a symptom of blind partisanship. If we were to wage a mission that was completely supported by Democrats—such as possibly, an intervention to stop genocide in Darfur—would atrocities committed by our troops there be impossible because of the loftiness of the mission’s goals? If it happened, would it cast Democrats and anybody else who supported the mission in a bad light? Why?

If these “winter soldiers” have anything of substance to offer, let them come forward in court instead of at radical left-wing anti-war rallies. I’ll hear them out. Will you hear out the soldiers who support the mission in Iraq? Even if what you hear doesn’t harm Republicans? I doubt it.

As for that soldier who complained about armor, I know the story you’re talking about. We all know and accept that there were problems with procurement of armor in Iraq—that’s not the issue. The problem in that story—and the one some Republican commentators raised—was that the soldier was fed his question by a reporter and didn’t come up with it himself. Not only that, the guy wasn’t even serving and had never served in Iraq—he was stationed in Kuwait. There was nothing wrong in suggesting that perhaps the troubles with procurement of armor in Kuwait wasn’t a particular commentary on what was going on in Iraq. There was nothing wrong with raising that issue, a valid one. But there was a problem with how it was raised and its applicability to an important issue.

You’d have a lot more credibility if you believed SOME of the negative stories that have come out while expressing even a scintilla of doubt about some others. How it works, however, is that you believe ALL the negative stories and NONE of the positive ones.

I openly acknowledge Republican failings. You only acknowledge Republican failings. I also acknowledge successes. You acknowledge NONE.

Where is that ballyhooed liberal nuance we’ve heard so much about? Drowned in blind bilious partisan rancor is where.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at March 20, 2008 3:35 PM
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