The horrors of battle

A couple of nights ago, I watched a Frontline show entitled Bad Voodoo’s War, which followed a platoon of National Guard soldiers who were deployed to Iraq at the beginning of the Surge in 2007.  The show’s editor/producer did not go to war with the men.  Instead, she gave them video cameras, and they recorded their thoughts and activities and mailed the footage to her for editing.

As the narrator acknowledged at the beginning of the show, the unit, which named itself Bad Voodoo, was not the usual National Guard unit of men and women who are mostly civilians but have a military background.  Instead, the men (I didn’t see women) in this unit were already seasoned combat veterans.

In many ways, it was a fine show, since it really did give viewers a day-in-life style view of a National Guard unit.  The two men who got all the camera time were interesting men, who were intelligent, highly motivated, and deeply committed to their team.

One could tell from the way in which the editor tried to build tension that she wanted viewers to see the horrors of the war into which our troops were flung to support Bush’s madcap surge.  The problem was that this wasn’t what happened at all.  Instead, the unit was given the job of escorting convoys through Iraq, and keeping an eye out for IEDs and drive by shooters and crashers.

Theirs was clearly a stressful job, but the men’s main complaint was that they weren’t in battle.  Contrary to the Progressive view of hapless lambs being forced to the slaughter in Iraq by a Halliburton driven government, these men lamented their passive role and wanted to be “boots on the ground.”  They felt wasted as escorts.

During the six months that they filmed themselves for the show (which was the duration of the main part of the Surge), the unit’s convoy managed to run into two IEDs, neither of which even wounded anyone.  Each took out the back of a truck, but the main damage was time, with the men waiting hours on the roadside for the necessary aid.

The supreme irony was that the main type of injury this seasoned unit suffered during the height of the surge was — bladder infections.  Yup, because of the extreme heat, the guys drank and drank and drank.  But the nature of their job meant that they couldn’t always relieve themselves when necessary and they got backed up.

I’m sure the Frontline people were disappointed to lose the dramatic storyline, as well as the properly stereotyped storyline.  As for me, though, if the worst my troops are suffering in a battle torn country is bladder infections, I say Hallelujah!

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  • 11B40

    Greetings:

    Back in the last ’69, I was an infantry squad leader in Viet Nam. One day, while we were being resupplied by helicopter out in the bush, a camera crew arrived along with the things we needed.
    A while later, our Captain came over to me with the crew in tow and asked me if I wanted to take them out on a patrol I was about to leave on. In one of my proudest moments in the war, I replied, in my New York fashion with a question, “Do I have to bring them back?”

    I am profoundly uncomfortable with media involvement in combat operations. It’s one more thing to worry about when everyone is chock full of worries already. Nobody goes into a restaurant through the kitchen. Our combat soldiers deserve similar respect. Let the media build their résumés on someone else’s work.

  • Mike Devx

    Any professional military person knows the numbers. (Rounded a little for comparison)

    USA Military Deaths:
    Vietnam: 60,000
    Iraq: 4,000

    USA Military Total Wounded and Killed:
    Vietnam: 360,000
    Iraq: 36,000

    So, in Vietnam, we had fifteen times the number of soldiers killed, and ten times the number killed and wounded, compared to Iraq. Given any post-WW II conflict, I bet 99 out of 100 of our current soldiers would choose the current war in Iraq to serve in, had they a choice.

    In Iraq, we have a professional military; everyone joined because they wanted to. In Vietnam, we had the draft. The military experience nowadays is simply superior in every way.

    Our military people know all this. Our media refuse to acknowledge it, and our civilian population, for the most part, doesn’t realize it.

  • Danny Lemieux

    To add to Mike Devx’s stats: the Iraq conflict casualties amount to slightly more-than those incurred during the Spanish-American war, which posted 3,500 dead and was dubbed “The Splendid Little War” at the time.

    In addition, the U.S. population around that time was only about 25% of what it is now, so casualties were proportionately much higher then.

    People were made of sterner stuff back then.

  • Ymarsakar

    which posted 3,500 dead and was dubbed “The Splendid Little War” at the time.

    Except for the fact that had the US kept Cuba instead of giving it its independence, Cuba wouldn’t be suffering right now under Communism.

    And we wouldn’t have had the Cuban Missile Crisis that could have blown our race back to the medieval age. That’s something to be said for imperialism there. It keeps feudalism away.

    People were made of sterner stuff back then.

    That’s actually false. People were not made of sterner stuff. The media and reporters just didn’t have the correct psychological weapons to reach many Americans back in the day when mail was carried by telephone lines and couriers.

    Being ignorant out in the boondocks when news of the war would take days or weeks to arrive gave people a certain immunity that they never really innately had.

    Certain individuals like Theodore Roosevelt were made of sterner stuff. But as a whole, America was pretty much the same back then as it is now. Including racism, just in a different form.

    The difference is leadership and making people do things they didn’t want to do. Like Roosevelt made the Republican party do things it didn’t want to do.

    I’m sure the Frontline people were disappointed to lose the dramatic storyline, as well as the properly stereotyped storyline. As for me, though, if the worst my troops are suffering in a battle torn country is bladder infections, I say Hallelujah!

    I watched Bad Voodoo courtesy of Matt of Blackfive’s post.

    Frontline or the director did try to make things suspenseful and get the biggest bang out of the IED scenarios. They mostly succeeded but that’s not going to do too much to the mental state of people like me. Waiting to be attacked is always more stressful than actually attacking or surprising an enemy yourselves. It’s called psychology.

    Sadr City and Basrah could use a unit like that, if the strategy orders were ever cut for US forces to go in.

    People who are disillusioned by the war and don’t see the benefits and think of it as a waste, as one soldier (Specialist or SFC not sure) should get rotated, as a unit, to an area of operations to conduct counter-insurgency warfare.

    National Guard units sometimes get slotted for rearguard duties cause regular Army units and Marines tend to crowd the active combat slots for both political reasons and other more valid reasons. I don’t know why they were calling for KBR though, since KBR doesn’t have a Blackwater division last time I checked. You should check out that story about the Ranger airborne drop on the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. They were talking about how higher ranking individuals reserved slots for themselves just so they could get their combat jump wings. Some Rangers were rather pissed about that.

    Marines get bored when they don’t see combat, so there’s a lot of competition between who gets which duty slot in the military. How that works is not really something Petraeus is micromanaging, even though it might benefit from some micromanagement.

    For example, if the convoy escorts suspected that an Iraqi checkpoint at a certain date and time had, for one reason or another, implanted an IED in front of a US military convoy, then the obvious solution is to gather intel on the people at that checkpoint. Conduct biometric scans, picture taking, name taking, and the usual things intel gatherers were supposed to be doing. It’s better than waiting for hours while doing nothing. Transmitting the information to the local US unit in charge of that area would be a good thing. And if no local US unt is in charge of that area, contact Army or Marine intel, even you have to run into bureaucracy and there is a good chance the data will sit around collecting dust somewhere.

    This illustrates one point, which is that such dramatic movies as what Frontline has done is not really there to solve problems that they present to us, the American people. They don’t know how to solve those problems and even if they did or they were told how to by the SFC, they couldn’t tell us because of operational security.

    The first casualty of war is truth. If you knew everything, including the solutions and the problems, to Bad Voodoo, so could the enemy. Since you are part of the public and have access to public programs, the same as our enemies. However, if you don’t know everything, which is very likely given the nature of war and movie making, then you are likely to run into problems. Problems like demoralization. Problems like not seeing any worth in the Iraq war. Problems like feeling instant anger and bitterness because you have seen your buddies die for a war, in your view, that is a waste and rather useless.

    This is not a problem that you can solve just by being in combat or in Iraq. It’s a human problem and it doesn’t get solved unless you stop being human: as in dead.

    Bad Voodoo would benefit from some COIN ops. It’d help morale for them to think about something other than waiting for an enemy to attack. COIN ops, after all, aren’t really just sitting in an area waiting to be attacked. It is pro-actively thinking “if I was a terrorist, how would I cripple my unit, destroy this village, assassinate the allies of Americans here, and infiltrate the checkpoints”. Once you start doing that, talking to the natives and building up a rapport becomes important and actually productive. The SFC seems to already be on this part, except for the fact that he spends days on convoys, which is not really a good thing when it comes to building up any rapport with the Iraqi police you saw him talking to in the beginning.

    Al Anbar is quieting down so there’s not much stuff going on there for combat units to do. The emphasis of High Command seems to be logistics now. Why else would they send a combat blooded unit to do rearguard escort? Unless they were running out of actively engaged hot zones and worrying about their logistics supplying US and Iraqi forces. I hope you know how important logistics are to a war, Book. If the enemy were in anyway on our level strategically, they would be able to raid or destroy entire convoys. If enough of that happens, our entire army crumbles, forget what happens at the home front.

    Yet the inability of the enemy to focus enough resources and manpower on these convoys attests to the lethality of the US military when it comes to being attacked and attacking. Good on defense and good on offense is the ideal. No weaknesses whatsoever, except amongst the civilians.

  • Ymarsakar

    I’d like to bring up an interesting corrollary concerning the psychology of attack as opposed to defense.

    Theirs was clearly a stressful job, but the men’s main complaint was that they weren’t in battle. Contrary to the Progressive view of hapless lambs being forced to the slaughter in Iraq by a Halliburton driven government, these men lamented their passive role and wanted to be “boots on the ground.” They felt wasted as escorts.

    There are many Democrats that would prefer to be helpless and remain helpless in the face of the enemies of humanity instead of risking being hurt by fighting back. I’m sure you have heard the logic argued, that you should run away from anyone that physically attacks you, that you should just give the criminal what he wants, and that if you resist, then it is going to be your fault that you started the cycle of violence, not the criminal’s fault for attempting to commit a crime.

    This creates an intense psychological trauma in an individual if exposed for long periods of time. If you are always on the defensive, waiting to be hit, then you will have trained yourself that “normal” behavior is you getting hit and attacked. When this behavior becomes accepted as normal, civilization does down the tubes. Just like it is going on in Europe.

    Because the Left likes to psychologically torture people by demanding that they refuse to fight back or they taunt them with “you’ll just get yourself hurt if you fight, just look at Vietnam and Iraq”, this causes a great many traumas to members of the Democrat party. That intense mental strain of always waiting to be attacked, instead of planning on how to hurt the enemy, requires intense discipline to control. If you don’t have that discipline, which most Democrats do indeed lack, then you’re going to lash out in violence. Except you’re not going to lash out in violence against your attackers, you’re going to lash out at the police, your family, your friends, etc.

    The people that will not tolerate becoming a slave to the fear that you might get hurt if you attack your attackers, those people prefer offense to defense, Book. Because those people have the self-discipline to divert internal fears and anxieties into concrete and productive action by eliminating the source of their angst. Which would be the enemy.

    It doesn’t take any more courage to defend than to attack. The risk of death is often the same for the individuals that end up buying the farm. What does take more when attacking is discipline. If you don’t want to fight, then you’re not going to want to attack. If you don’t want to fight, it is far easier to stand on defense behind barricades or foritifed walls defending your town.

    When it comes to America’s foreign offensives against our enemies, it often comes down to how much abuse people will tolerate. Many Americans saw all that they wanted to on 9/11, they wanted some of their own back and eventually wanted far more than revenge. Others, however, got hit and then got into their fetal position, Book, and stayed that way. They’re still in that position, Book, waiting for things to become safe. And if you try to help them by reasoning with them about the war or Bush, then they will lash out at you cause… they know you are safe to lash out at, cause you won’t hurt them back.

    That, in itself, isn’t much of a problem. IF people want to opt out of a fight, they can go ahead. Unfortunately, these people in fetal positions waiting to be beat to death oftentimes go up to the fighting men and women at the front and then hamstring them. With the justification being that “you need to stop fighting or else my life will be in danger of the retribution of the thugs”.

    Cowardice is one thing. That is understandable. But not even letting other people fight because of one’s own fear is… something beyond the pale.