Commentary Magazine


Topic: Sergeant

Our Greatest Generation, in Afghanistan

The New York Times has a harrowing if heartening report from the front lines in Afghanistan — specifically from Sangin in Helmand Province, which is the most dangerous district in the entire country. Times reporter Michael Kamber deserves some kind of journalistic medal for going on foot patrol with the Marines in an area where a single false step can lead to the loss of life or limbs. The Marines have been in a hard, costly fight since taking over the area from the British. The insurgents’ IEDS, many of them cunningly camouflaged, have taken a terrible toll. But the Marines have kept pushing back, and they are having an impact. Kamber writes:

Hemmed in at nearby Forward Operating Base Jackson at the beginning of their tour, the Marines of Company I fought fierce, almost daily battles through the months of October and November.

On Dec. 6, they fought their way up Route 611, blowing up scores of I.E.D.’s along the way and taking over an abandoned and booby-trapped British Army base, Patrol Base Bariolai, on a barren hilltop here. …

The Marines can now patrol throughout the surrounding village every day, Sergeant Beckett said. And he has been encouraged by the increasing trust that local villagers are showing, sometimes offering the Marines information that has tipped them off to I.E.D.’s or potential ambushes.

That is the way good counterinsurgency works. It is a slow, agonizing, costly process, but if skillful soldiers or Marines stick to their mission, they will gradually drive the insurgents away, as the Marines are doing in Sangin.

It is impossible to offer enough praise or admiration for the grueling, dangerous patrols that these leathernecks are undertaking day in, day out. The Greatest Generation had nothing on them in terms of heroism — especially when one considers that all the Marines in Sangin are volunteers.

The New York Times has a harrowing if heartening report from the front lines in Afghanistan — specifically from Sangin in Helmand Province, which is the most dangerous district in the entire country. Times reporter Michael Kamber deserves some kind of journalistic medal for going on foot patrol with the Marines in an area where a single false step can lead to the loss of life or limbs. The Marines have been in a hard, costly fight since taking over the area from the British. The insurgents’ IEDS, many of them cunningly camouflaged, have taken a terrible toll. But the Marines have kept pushing back, and they are having an impact. Kamber writes:

Hemmed in at nearby Forward Operating Base Jackson at the beginning of their tour, the Marines of Company I fought fierce, almost daily battles through the months of October and November.

On Dec. 6, they fought their way up Route 611, blowing up scores of I.E.D.’s along the way and taking over an abandoned and booby-trapped British Army base, Patrol Base Bariolai, on a barren hilltop here. …

The Marines can now patrol throughout the surrounding village every day, Sergeant Beckett said. And he has been encouraged by the increasing trust that local villagers are showing, sometimes offering the Marines information that has tipped them off to I.E.D.’s or potential ambushes.

That is the way good counterinsurgency works. It is a slow, agonizing, costly process, but if skillful soldiers or Marines stick to their mission, they will gradually drive the insurgents away, as the Marines are doing in Sangin.

It is impossible to offer enough praise or admiration for the grueling, dangerous patrols that these leathernecks are undertaking day in, day out. The Greatest Generation had nothing on them in terms of heroism — especially when one considers that all the Marines in Sangin are volunteers.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

This is what desperation looks like: “Forget the myth of an Obama recovery. The past week has been disastrous for the White House and America’s increasingly disillusioned Left. No wonder the angry and desperate Vice President Joe Biden is talking about ‘playing hell’ if his party suffers defeat in November.”

This is what old-style politics sounds like: “White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the burden of proving false the charge by Democrats that the business group is funneling foreign money to Republican campaigns. Axelrod was pressed by CBS’ Bob Schieffer on Sunday for evidence that the foreign campaign contributions benefiting the GOP is more than ‘peanuts.’  ‘Do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?’ Axelrod said on ‘Face the Nation.’  Ed Gillespie responded that it “was ‘an unbelievable mentality’ for Axelrod to assert charges about foreign contributions without backing them up.” It’s all too believable, unfortunately.

This is what a wave election looks like: “Democrats are buying advertising in places they hadn’t previously reserved it, a strong indication the battlefield is expanding. That includes New England, which hasn’t a single Republican House member. A new ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began airing this week in the Massachusetts district covering Cape Cod, where Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt is retiring and ex-police sergeant Jeff Perry is posting a strong GOP challenge.”

This is what a lousy TV appearance looks like: “Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois Democrat running for President Obama’s old Senate seat, said Sunday that he wants to “reform” the president’s health care overhaul, and that the $814 billion stimulus was imperfect but that it prevented Americans from standing in soup lines. Giannoulias, who appeared on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ to debate Republican Mark Kirk, was on the defensive throughout the debate regarding Obama’s policies, as well as his past work for his family’s community bank and its ties to mob figures.”

This is what an eloquent first lady’s writing looks like: “Though some Afghan leaders have condemned the violence and defended the rights of women, others maintain a complicit silence in hopes of achieving peace. But peace attained by compromising the rights of half of the population will not last. Offenses against women erode security for all Afghans — men and women. And a culture that tolerates injustice against one group of its people ultimately fails to respect and value all its citizens.” Yeah, I miss her too.

This is what the GOP sounded like in 2006. “The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee brushed off various members’ ads touting opposition to President Obama and Speakers Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying that it simply shows the party is a big tent unlike the right.”

This is what “hope and change” looks like? “President Obama’s new National Security Advisor spent the decade prior to joining the White House as a legal advisor to powerful interests including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, and as a lobbyist for Fannie Mae, where he oversaw the mortgage giant’s aggressive campaign to undermine the credibility of a probe into its accounting irregularities, according to government reports and public disclosure forms. … While housing sales were still booming, internally these were troubled years for the company. In a report first noted by ABC News in 2008, Donilon is described as someone who lobbied for and helped paint a rosy picture of Fannie Mae’s financial health to the company’s board. He did so at a time when Fannie Mae faced accusations that it was misstating its earnings from 1998 to 2004.”

This is what a flaky candidate sounds like: “Jerry Brown: Mammograms not effective.”

This is what desperation looks like: “Forget the myth of an Obama recovery. The past week has been disastrous for the White House and America’s increasingly disillusioned Left. No wonder the angry and desperate Vice President Joe Biden is talking about ‘playing hell’ if his party suffers defeat in November.”

This is what old-style politics sounds like: “White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the burden of proving false the charge by Democrats that the business group is funneling foreign money to Republican campaigns. Axelrod was pressed by CBS’ Bob Schieffer on Sunday for evidence that the foreign campaign contributions benefiting the GOP is more than ‘peanuts.’  ‘Do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?’ Axelrod said on ‘Face the Nation.’  Ed Gillespie responded that it “was ‘an unbelievable mentality’ for Axelrod to assert charges about foreign contributions without backing them up.” It’s all too believable, unfortunately.

This is what a wave election looks like: “Democrats are buying advertising in places they hadn’t previously reserved it, a strong indication the battlefield is expanding. That includes New England, which hasn’t a single Republican House member. A new ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began airing this week in the Massachusetts district covering Cape Cod, where Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt is retiring and ex-police sergeant Jeff Perry is posting a strong GOP challenge.”

This is what a lousy TV appearance looks like: “Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois Democrat running for President Obama’s old Senate seat, said Sunday that he wants to “reform” the president’s health care overhaul, and that the $814 billion stimulus was imperfect but that it prevented Americans from standing in soup lines. Giannoulias, who appeared on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ to debate Republican Mark Kirk, was on the defensive throughout the debate regarding Obama’s policies, as well as his past work for his family’s community bank and its ties to mob figures.”

This is what an eloquent first lady’s writing looks like: “Though some Afghan leaders have condemned the violence and defended the rights of women, others maintain a complicit silence in hopes of achieving peace. But peace attained by compromising the rights of half of the population will not last. Offenses against women erode security for all Afghans — men and women. And a culture that tolerates injustice against one group of its people ultimately fails to respect and value all its citizens.” Yeah, I miss her too.

This is what the GOP sounded like in 2006. “The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee brushed off various members’ ads touting opposition to President Obama and Speakers Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying that it simply shows the party is a big tent unlike the right.”

This is what “hope and change” looks like? “President Obama’s new National Security Advisor spent the decade prior to joining the White House as a legal advisor to powerful interests including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, and as a lobbyist for Fannie Mae, where he oversaw the mortgage giant’s aggressive campaign to undermine the credibility of a probe into its accounting irregularities, according to government reports and public disclosure forms. … While housing sales were still booming, internally these were troubled years for the company. In a report first noted by ABC News in 2008, Donilon is described as someone who lobbied for and helped paint a rosy picture of Fannie Mae’s financial health to the company’s board. He did so at a time when Fannie Mae faced accusations that it was misstating its earnings from 1998 to 2004.”

This is what a flaky candidate sounds like: “Jerry Brown: Mammograms not effective.”

Read Less

A Military in Progress in Afghanistan

C.J. “Chris” Chivers, a former Marine officer turned New York Times correspondent, provides an update on how the Afghan National Army is doing in the Marjah offensive. It’s a mixed picture — pretty much what one would have expected. The Afghans are hardly leading and planning the mission, as suggested by some spinners in Kabul. Chivers writes:

In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops. They organized the forces for battle, transported them in American vehicles and helicopters from Western-run bases into Taliban-held ground, and have been the primary fighting force each day.

No surprise there, given how advanced the Marine Corps is and how relatively primitive the ANA remains. But the good news is that the ANA soldiers are not running away, either — as so many Iraqi soldiers did in the early years of the Iraq War. Chivers notes:

At the squad level [the ANA] has been a source of effective, if modestly skilled, manpower. Its soldiers have shown courage and a willingness to fight. Afghan soldiers have also proved, as they have for years, to be more proficient than Americans at searching Afghan homes and identifying potential Taliban members — two tasks difficult for outsiders to perform….

“They are a lot better than the Iraqis,” said the sergeant [Joseph G. Harms], who served a combat tour in Iraq. “They understand all of our formations, they understand how to move. They know how to flank and they can recognize the bad guys a lot better than we can.”

The main problem for the ANA is a lack of effective leadership. Chivers recounts an anecdote of an ANA captain taking away a Red Bull that one of his men had acquired in a trade with a marine; the captain and his officers and NCOs drank the entire beverage and didn’t let the poor soldier have a sip. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the Marine Corps, where officers are drilled to always take care of the men first and foremost. That ethic is alien to the ANA, as it is to most Third World militaries, and it will take time to inculcate it, however imperfectly.

It will take just as long to teach ANA officers to conduct complex operations. The task is actually more difficult than in Iraq because of the lower level of literacy and education in Afghanistan, but it’s not impossible. If the Taliban can field effective leadership, so can the ANA. Just don’t expect results overnight — and don’t write off the ANA as hopeless because they can’t perform up to USMC standards.

C.J. “Chris” Chivers, a former Marine officer turned New York Times correspondent, provides an update on how the Afghan National Army is doing in the Marjah offensive. It’s a mixed picture — pretty much what one would have expected. The Afghans are hardly leading and planning the mission, as suggested by some spinners in Kabul. Chivers writes:

In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops. They organized the forces for battle, transported them in American vehicles and helicopters from Western-run bases into Taliban-held ground, and have been the primary fighting force each day.

No surprise there, given how advanced the Marine Corps is and how relatively primitive the ANA remains. But the good news is that the ANA soldiers are not running away, either — as so many Iraqi soldiers did in the early years of the Iraq War. Chivers notes:

At the squad level [the ANA] has been a source of effective, if modestly skilled, manpower. Its soldiers have shown courage and a willingness to fight. Afghan soldiers have also proved, as they have for years, to be more proficient than Americans at searching Afghan homes and identifying potential Taliban members — two tasks difficult for outsiders to perform….

“They are a lot better than the Iraqis,” said the sergeant [Joseph G. Harms], who served a combat tour in Iraq. “They understand all of our formations, they understand how to move. They know how to flank and they can recognize the bad guys a lot better than we can.”

The main problem for the ANA is a lack of effective leadership. Chivers recounts an anecdote of an ANA captain taking away a Red Bull that one of his men had acquired in a trade with a marine; the captain and his officers and NCOs drank the entire beverage and didn’t let the poor soldier have a sip. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the Marine Corps, where officers are drilled to always take care of the men first and foremost. That ethic is alien to the ANA, as it is to most Third World militaries, and it will take time to inculcate it, however imperfectly.

It will take just as long to teach ANA officers to conduct complex operations. The task is actually more difficult than in Iraq because of the lower level of literacy and education in Afghanistan, but it’s not impossible. If the Taliban can field effective leadership, so can the ANA. Just don’t expect results overnight — and don’t write off the ANA as hopeless because they can’t perform up to USMC standards.

Read Less

The Richard Immerman Watch

We have already noted here and in the Weekly Standard that a fox is guarding the hen house. Richard Immerman, a far-Left professor of history on leave from Temple University who participated there in “teach-ins” against the Iraq war, is working in the heart of U.S. intelligence, serving as the ombudsman for “analytic integrity” in the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

How he is able to perform this job while himself being a partisan in the intelligence wars is a mystery. As recently as this past January, Immerman published an essay lambasting the “Bushites” for manipulating intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They made “every effort to ‘cook the books,’” Immerman wrote, ” they ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and they lied too often to count.”

Matters are complicated by an additional wrinkle. While at Temple, Immerman became the target of a lawsuit. The student who filed it, Christian M. DeJohn, was a master’s candidate in history, He also happened to be a decorated tank commander in the Pennsylvania National Guard, who days after September 11, 2001 was called up to serve on a counterterrorism mission in Bosnia.

While at Temple, Sgt. DeJohn had clashed with Immerman about some of the professor’s left-wing views. Then, while he was stationed in Bosnia, the Temple history department began sending him anti-war fliers, inviting him to take part in its teach-ins against Bush’s “imperialist” foreign policy. Sgt. DeJohn objected, and asked to be taken off the list.

When Sgt DeJohn returned to the states in April 2003 and attempted to resume his education at Temple, it seems, according to the complaint, that a campaign of retribution ensued, carried out by Immerman and some of his history department colleagues. Matters became so serious that Sgt. DeJohn filed a lawsuit alleging that his First Amendment right of free speech was being infringed.

In the course of discovery proceedings, email correspondence among history department faculty members came to light in which Sgt. DeJohn was accused of suffering from “paranoid delusions,” being “mentally imbalanced,” “trained to kill by the U.S. Army,” and being “literally obsessed with the idea of liberal bias.”

Among the emails was one from Richard Immerman in which he stated that “Christian is a gnat whom I hope will self-destruct without any help from us.”

This is interesting language for a professor to use about one of his students, especially a student who voluntarily chose to put himself in harm’s way to defend Immerman’s right to spout nonsense.

If dissenting students were treated in this way at Temple, how are dissenting analysts within the intelligence community treated now that Immerman is responsible for investigating their complaints of left-wing and/or any other form of bias?

I would welcome receiving reports from any “gnats” who have had experience dealing with the good professor.

We have already noted here and in the Weekly Standard that a fox is guarding the hen house. Richard Immerman, a far-Left professor of history on leave from Temple University who participated there in “teach-ins” against the Iraq war, is working in the heart of U.S. intelligence, serving as the ombudsman for “analytic integrity” in the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

How he is able to perform this job while himself being a partisan in the intelligence wars is a mystery. As recently as this past January, Immerman published an essay lambasting the “Bushites” for manipulating intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They made “every effort to ‘cook the books,’” Immerman wrote, ” they ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and they lied too often to count.”

Matters are complicated by an additional wrinkle. While at Temple, Immerman became the target of a lawsuit. The student who filed it, Christian M. DeJohn, was a master’s candidate in history, He also happened to be a decorated tank commander in the Pennsylvania National Guard, who days after September 11, 2001 was called up to serve on a counterterrorism mission in Bosnia.

While at Temple, Sgt. DeJohn had clashed with Immerman about some of the professor’s left-wing views. Then, while he was stationed in Bosnia, the Temple history department began sending him anti-war fliers, inviting him to take part in its teach-ins against Bush’s “imperialist” foreign policy. Sgt. DeJohn objected, and asked to be taken off the list.

When Sgt DeJohn returned to the states in April 2003 and attempted to resume his education at Temple, it seems, according to the complaint, that a campaign of retribution ensued, carried out by Immerman and some of his history department colleagues. Matters became so serious that Sgt. DeJohn filed a lawsuit alleging that his First Amendment right of free speech was being infringed.

In the course of discovery proceedings, email correspondence among history department faculty members came to light in which Sgt. DeJohn was accused of suffering from “paranoid delusions,” being “mentally imbalanced,” “trained to kill by the U.S. Army,” and being “literally obsessed with the idea of liberal bias.”

Among the emails was one from Richard Immerman in which he stated that “Christian is a gnat whom I hope will self-destruct without any help from us.”

This is interesting language for a professor to use about one of his students, especially a student who voluntarily chose to put himself in harm’s way to defend Immerman’s right to spout nonsense.

If dissenting students were treated in this way at Temple, how are dissenting analysts within the intelligence community treated now that Immerman is responsible for investigating their complaints of left-wing and/or any other form of bias?

I would welcome receiving reports from any “gnats” who have had experience dealing with the good professor.

Read Less

From Middle East Journal: Builders of Nations

“This is my hardest deployment,” Marine Sergeant Cooley said as he unfastened his helmet and tossed it onto his bed. “We weren’t trained for this kind of thing.” He’s been shot at with bullets and mortars, and he’s endured IED attacks on his Humvee, but post-war Fallujah is more difficult and more stressful than combat. He isn’t unusual for saying so. Many Marines I spoke to in and around the Fallujah area said something similar.

“We’re trained as infantrymen,” Captain Stewart Glenn said. “But here we are doing civil administration and trying to get the milk factory up and running.”

“We make up all this stuff as we go,” Lieutenant Mike Barefoot added.

While most Americans go to school, work traditional day jobs, and raise their families, young American men and women like these are deployed to Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan where they work seven days a week rebuilding societies torn to pieces by fascism, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and war. It is not what they signed up to do. Some may have geeked out on nation-building video games like Civilization, but none of the enlisted men picked up any of these skills in boot camp.

Officers pick up some basic relevant skills, though, as well as a more complete education. Lieutenant Nathan Bibler runs a Joint Security Station in the slums of Fallujah and works with local authorities every day.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. “In a lot of ways it helps me analyze and interpret,” he said. What helps more than anything, though, is a training program Marine officers go through in 29 Palms, California, before they’re deployed.

“We were living in a town they built out in the desert with Iraqis.”

“Really,” I said. “Iraqi-Americans?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know if they were all U.S. citizens, but Iraqis who were already in the U.S. We were living in this town that they built. We lived in the town with the Iraqi Police right next door. Actually they lived with us part of the time.”

Enlisted men don’t go through role playing training in 29 Palms, but every officer who mentioned it to me said those exercises were eerily effective, that actors from Iraq hired to play Iraqis in Iraq during counter-terrorist warfare turned out to be surprisingly like real Iraqis in a real counter-terrorist war.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

“This is my hardest deployment,” Marine Sergeant Cooley said as he unfastened his helmet and tossed it onto his bed. “We weren’t trained for this kind of thing.” He’s been shot at with bullets and mortars, and he’s endured IED attacks on his Humvee, but post-war Fallujah is more difficult and more stressful than combat. He isn’t unusual for saying so. Many Marines I spoke to in and around the Fallujah area said something similar.

“We’re trained as infantrymen,” Captain Stewart Glenn said. “But here we are doing civil administration and trying to get the milk factory up and running.”

“We make up all this stuff as we go,” Lieutenant Mike Barefoot added.

While most Americans go to school, work traditional day jobs, and raise their families, young American men and women like these are deployed to Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan where they work seven days a week rebuilding societies torn to pieces by fascism, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and war. It is not what they signed up to do. Some may have geeked out on nation-building video games like Civilization, but none of the enlisted men picked up any of these skills in boot camp.

Officers pick up some basic relevant skills, though, as well as a more complete education. Lieutenant Nathan Bibler runs a Joint Security Station in the slums of Fallujah and works with local authorities every day.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. “In a lot of ways it helps me analyze and interpret,” he said. What helps more than anything, though, is a training program Marine officers go through in 29 Palms, California, before they’re deployed.

“We were living in a town they built out in the desert with Iraqis.”

“Really,” I said. “Iraqi-Americans?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know if they were all U.S. citizens, but Iraqis who were already in the U.S. We were living in this town that they built. We lived in the town with the Iraqi Police right next door. Actually they lived with us part of the time.”

Enlisted men don’t go through role playing training in 29 Palms, but every officer who mentioned it to me said those exercises were eerily effective, that actors from Iraq hired to play Iraqis in Iraq during counter-terrorist warfare turned out to be surprisingly like real Iraqis in a real counter-terrorist war.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

Read Less

From Middle East Journal: The Liberation of Karmah, Part I

KARMAH, IRAQ – Just beyond the outskirts of Fallujah lies the terror-wracked city of Karmah. While you may not have heard of this small city of 35,000 people, American soldiers and Marines who served in Anbar Province know it as a terrifying place of oppression, death, and destruction. “It was much worse than Fallujah” said more than a dozen Marines who were themselves based in Fallujah.

“Karmah was so important to the insurgency because we’ve got Baghdad right there,” Lieutenant Andrew Macak told me. “This is part of the periphery of Baghdad. At the same time, it is part of the periphery of Fallujah.”

Lieutenant Macak is not a veteran of Karmah, but Sergeant Jason Howell is. He was deployed in the city from March through October in 2006. “People weren’t out in the streets,” he said. “They were very reserved. They were afraid to talk to us. They had the feeling that, especially in the smaller towns, they were constantly being watched. They were in real jeopardy if they interacted with coalition forces and, especially, the Iraqi Police.”

Lieutenant Macak arrived in Karmah in the middle of July 2007 when the city was still a war zone. “It was moving in the right direction, but it was still active,” he said. “2/5 [Second Battalion, Fifth Regiment], who we relieved, was part of the surge effort. Karmah was still a very dangerous place. The lollipop over here was a big deal.”

“You mean the traffic circle?” I said. The Marines refer to a large traffic circle down the street from the police station at the entrance to the market as the “lollipop.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It was basically IED Alley. The whole road out here in front of the station was just covered in IEDs. No one even went down the roads leading to the north of here. It was an insurgent stronghold. Before 2/5 came in there weren’t many patrols. They didn’t do a whole lot. The Iraqi Police didn’t have any confidence. Their numbers weren’t big and there wasn’t a whole lot of organization. 2/5 came in and started patrolling, started doing what Marines do. They identified local leaders and started engaging them. Sheikh Mishan came back at about the same time from Syria.”

Sheikh Mishan Abbas, like many other sheikhs in Anbar Province, fled to Syria shortly after the U.S. invaded.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

KARMAH, IRAQ – Just beyond the outskirts of Fallujah lies the terror-wracked city of Karmah. While you may not have heard of this small city of 35,000 people, American soldiers and Marines who served in Anbar Province know it as a terrifying place of oppression, death, and destruction. “It was much worse than Fallujah” said more than a dozen Marines who were themselves based in Fallujah.

“Karmah was so important to the insurgency because we’ve got Baghdad right there,” Lieutenant Andrew Macak told me. “This is part of the periphery of Baghdad. At the same time, it is part of the periphery of Fallujah.”

Lieutenant Macak is not a veteran of Karmah, but Sergeant Jason Howell is. He was deployed in the city from March through October in 2006. “People weren’t out in the streets,” he said. “They were very reserved. They were afraid to talk to us. They had the feeling that, especially in the smaller towns, they were constantly being watched. They were in real jeopardy if they interacted with coalition forces and, especially, the Iraqi Police.”

Lieutenant Macak arrived in Karmah in the middle of July 2007 when the city was still a war zone. “It was moving in the right direction, but it was still active,” he said. “2/5 [Second Battalion, Fifth Regiment], who we relieved, was part of the surge effort. Karmah was still a very dangerous place. The lollipop over here was a big deal.”

“You mean the traffic circle?” I said. The Marines refer to a large traffic circle down the street from the police station at the entrance to the market as the “lollipop.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It was basically IED Alley. The whole road out here in front of the station was just covered in IEDs. No one even went down the roads leading to the north of here. It was an insurgent stronghold. Before 2/5 came in there weren’t many patrols. They didn’t do a whole lot. The Iraqi Police didn’t have any confidence. Their numbers weren’t big and there wasn’t a whole lot of organization. 2/5 came in and started patrolling, started doing what Marines do. They identified local leaders and started engaging them. Sheikh Mishan came back at about the same time from Syria.”

Sheikh Mishan Abbas, like many other sheikhs in Anbar Province, fled to Syria shortly after the U.S. invaded.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

Read Less

The Reluctant Communist

Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist. This extraordinary book is now available for sale on Amazon and elsewhere. It is one of the most important documents to come out of North Korea ever. I review it in today’s Wall Street Journal.  The review can be found on their site, or you can click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below to read it here.

Read More

Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist. This extraordinary book is now available for sale on Amazon and elsewhere. It is one of the most important documents to come out of North Korea ever. I review it in today’s Wall Street Journal.  The review can be found on their site, or you can click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below to read it here.

The Reluctant Communist

By Charles Robert Jenkins, with Jim Frederick

University of California, 192 pages, $24.95

Can a deserter, a seeming traitor and a star in a propaganda film produced by a Communist dictatorship also be, in the end, an American patriot? That is one of the questions posed by the life of Charles Robert Jenkins, the author of The Reluctant Communist.

Uneducated, dirt poor, from rural North Carolina, Mr. Jenkins joined the U.S. Army in 1958 and rose to the rank of sergeant within three years. He was soon sent to South Korea, where he was assigned to patrols along the demilitarized zone and regularly came under hostile fire. Depressed and drinking heavily, he started searching for a way home. The scheme he cooked up: Cross into North Korea, get handed over to the Russians and then repatriated to the U.S. At most he would face the sanction of a court-martial.

But there was a hitch. “I did not understand,” Mr. Jenkins writes, “that the country I was seeking temporary refuge in was literally a giant, demented prison; once someone goes there, they almost never get out.” Mr. Jenkins was to spend the next four decades in North Korea. His memoir, written with the help of Jim Frederick, a Time magazine senior editor, is the story of his life in that bizarre and barbaric land.

After his capture, Mr. Jenkins recounts, he was subjected to a none-too-gentle period of interrogation and then brought together with three other Americans who had done the same thing, “all young dumb soldiers from poor backgrounds” like himself whose misbegotten actions turned them into North Korea’s “cold-war trophies.” Their lives were privileged compared with those of ordinary North Koreans, but the physical hardship was extreme: scarce, rotten food, lack of heat and indoor plumbing (not to mention privacy), insect and rat infestation.

But the mental strain was far worse. Complete isolation from the familiar world was a mere backdrop to the ordeal inflicted by an endless procession of Communist Party minders, who monitored Mr. Jenkins’s every move and who strove, by means of compulsory self-criticism sessions and beatings, to inculcate in him the “correct ideology.”

Under threat of transfer to a prison colony and almost certain death, Mr. Jenkins was routinely assigned to socialist toil. Sometimes it was weaving fishing nets, sometimes teaching English to North Korean military personnel. Sometimes it was acting in North Korean films, including one celebrating the North Korean capture of the USS Pueblo in 1968. (Mr. Jenkins played the captain of a U.S. aircraft carrier.) With characteristic inefficiency, the North Koreans shot the scenes in the order in which they would appear in the film, breaking down the sets each time and then rebuilding them when needed.

Thanks to Kim Il Sung’s “glorious benevolence,” as the North Koreans called it, Mr. Jenkins and his American comrades were eventually provided with female personal “cooks.” They were expected to serve the state as another set of watching eyes and, as it happened, as “unofficial wives” — potential consorts. The first words that Mr. Jenkins’s own cook said to him were: “I am not cooking for an American dog.” Relations between them, he observes, “went down from there.”

One of North Korea’s cruelest policies was to intersect bittersweetly with Mr. Jenkins’s life. Beginning sometime in the mid-1970s, the regime began kidnapping young Japanese women, some as young as 13, snatching them off streets near beaches in Japan and conveying them to North Korea to fulfill various tasks for its intelligence service. One such young woman was Hitomi Soga, seized along with her mother, stuffed into a black sack, taken by submarine to North Korea and, after a suitable “adjustment period,” delivered to Mr. Jenkins’s home and made to live with him, presumably to bolster the morale of a cold-war trophy.

Mr. Jenkins’s minders, he says, encouraged him to rape her. Instead he treated her with kindness and respect. Before long, the two fell in love, a bond apparently made all the stronger by the suffering both had endured at the hands of their common tormentors. Marriage followed, along with three children, one of whom died at birth. The whereabouts of Hitomi’s mother remain unknown to this day.

In 2002, North Korea unexpectedly acknowledged its kidnapping program and Hitomi was repatriated to Japan. Mr. Jenkins and the couple’s two daughters followed 18 months later. At that point, he turned himself in to American authorities in Tokyo, becoming the longest-missing U.S. deserter ever to report again for duty. The U.S. Army sentenced him, humanely, to 30 days in the brig. “Going AWOL to avoid combat is a serious crime,” Mr. Jenkins writes, “and abandoning troops under your command is one of the worst things a military man can do. . . . I am sorry for that, and I have spent my life having to live with my conscience and the consequence of my actions on that day.”

However we judge Mr. Jenkins’s actions so many years ago, “The Reluctant Communist” is itself an act of redemption. This extraordinary book opens a window on a world of fathomless evil, and it tells a heartbreaking story — of a life lived in adversity and conducted with a mixture of fortitude, resignation, tenderness and regret. Clearly Charles Robert Jenkins emerged from his years of ordeal with his Americanness intact. True patriotism can come in many forms.

Read Less

From Middle East Journal: In the Villages of Al Anbar

ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The Iraqi town of Al Farris looks like a model Soviet city up close and a rounded square from the sky. Saddam Hussein built it to house workers in the now-defunct weapons factory to the east, and they live in neighborhoods called City 1, City 2, City 3, City 4, and City 5. “Socialist living at its finest,” Sergeant Edward Guerrero said as we rolled through the gates in a Humvee. The place made me think of Libya, where I have been, and North Korea, where I have not.

Al Farris was part of Saddam’s attempt to launch Iraq into the sci-fi future before he ruined his country with four wars, two genocides, and an international sanctions regime. It was a failure. Like all utopian cities, Al Farris is dreary. Every apartment building is nearly identical. There are few stores, restaurants, or other businesses at street level. There certainly is no traditional Arabic souk. If it weren’t for the vaguely Arabesque windows, little would distinguish it from any other drab worker’s paradise.

“It’s like a gulag city,” one Military Police officer said. The grace note, if I could call it that, is the encircling coil or razor wire at the city limits which keeps insurgents from coming in and blowing up buildings and people. Billowing plastic bags have been snagged along the length of the wire.

Sergeant Guerrero had a private meeting scheduled with the local Iraqi Police chief, so I climbed a ladder to the roof where I could get a better view.

An Iraqi Police officer pointed out an American military outpost on top of the water tower. His job entailed sitting in silence in a rooftop bunker with a machine gun in case the station is attacked. I assumed the Americans on the water tower overwatched the city with sniper rifles. I didn’t ask, but if they are it would not be a secret.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The Iraqi town of Al Farris looks like a model Soviet city up close and a rounded square from the sky. Saddam Hussein built it to house workers in the now-defunct weapons factory to the east, and they live in neighborhoods called City 1, City 2, City 3, City 4, and City 5. “Socialist living at its finest,” Sergeant Edward Guerrero said as we rolled through the gates in a Humvee. The place made me think of Libya, where I have been, and North Korea, where I have not.

Al Farris was part of Saddam’s attempt to launch Iraq into the sci-fi future before he ruined his country with four wars, two genocides, and an international sanctions regime. It was a failure. Like all utopian cities, Al Farris is dreary. Every apartment building is nearly identical. There are few stores, restaurants, or other businesses at street level. There certainly is no traditional Arabic souk. If it weren’t for the vaguely Arabesque windows, little would distinguish it from any other drab worker’s paradise.

“It’s like a gulag city,” one Military Police officer said. The grace note, if I could call it that, is the encircling coil or razor wire at the city limits which keeps insurgents from coming in and blowing up buildings and people. Billowing plastic bags have been snagged along the length of the wire.

Sergeant Guerrero had a private meeting scheduled with the local Iraqi Police chief, so I climbed a ladder to the roof where I could get a better view.

An Iraqi Police officer pointed out an American military outpost on top of the water tower. His job entailed sitting in silence in a rooftop bunker with a machine gun in case the station is attacked. I assumed the Americans on the water tower overwatched the city with sniper rifles. I didn’t ask, but if they are it would not be a secret.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

Read Less

Guns in the Desert

ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The Humvee slammed to a halt on the desert road between Fallujah and the town of Al Farris. I peered around the driver’s head from the back seat and tried to figure out what was happening.

“Why are we stopping?” I said.

“IED,” Sergeant Guerrero said.

I swallowed and took the lens cap off my camera.

“Where?” I said.

All five Humvees in our convoy had stopped and pulled to the side of the road. None had been hit.

“We think there’s one buried off the road around here.”

Two soldiers, including Sergeant Guerrero, stepped out of the vehicle. “Can I get out, too?” I said. I had no idea how long we would stop or if they would even let me out of the truck.

“Sure,” Sergeant Guerrero said. “You can get out.”

All IED’s are dangerous no matter how much body armor you’re wearing if you’re standing anywhere nearby when they explode. Some create small explosions that are merely intended to harass convoys. Others are formidable anti-tank mines. A smaller number create explosions as big as air strikes and will absolutely destroy you if you’re not inside a heavily armored vehicle. The term IED, short for improvised explosive device, is used to describe just about any explosive that isn’t discharged from a weapon.

I slowly pushed open the vault-thick up-armored door and stepped out into the desolate countryside of Al Anbar. An Iraqi Police truck was parked in the desert a few hundred feet to our right. I hoped there wasn’t an IED trigger man lurking somewhere who was waiting for all of us to expose ourselves.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com

ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The Humvee slammed to a halt on the desert road between Fallujah and the town of Al Farris. I peered around the driver’s head from the back seat and tried to figure out what was happening.

“Why are we stopping?” I said.

“IED,” Sergeant Guerrero said.

I swallowed and took the lens cap off my camera.

“Where?” I said.

All five Humvees in our convoy had stopped and pulled to the side of the road. None had been hit.

“We think there’s one buried off the road around here.”

Two soldiers, including Sergeant Guerrero, stepped out of the vehicle. “Can I get out, too?” I said. I had no idea how long we would stop or if they would even let me out of the truck.

“Sure,” Sergeant Guerrero said. “You can get out.”

All IED’s are dangerous no matter how much body armor you’re wearing if you’re standing anywhere nearby when they explode. Some create small explosions that are merely intended to harass convoys. Others are formidable anti-tank mines. A smaller number create explosions as big as air strikes and will absolutely destroy you if you’re not inside a heavily armored vehicle. The term IED, short for improvised explosive device, is used to describe just about any explosive that isn’t discharged from a weapon.

I slowly pushed open the vault-thick up-armored door and stepped out into the desolate countryside of Al Anbar. An Iraqi Police truck was parked in the desert a few hundred feet to our right. I hoped there wasn’t an IED trigger man lurking somewhere who was waiting for all of us to expose ourselves.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com

Read Less

The Final Mission, Part II

FALLUJAH – The United States military plans to formally hand over Anbar Province to the Iraqis this spring because the insurgency truly is finished in that part of the country. Most Americans have heard about the success in this province by now, but few seem to be aware that the cities of Anbar were the scenes of the most ferocious fighting: Ramadi, Haditha, and – worst of all – Fallujah.The Americans in Fallujah are focused now on what they expect to be their last mission: the training of the Iraqi Police to replace the Marines.

Optimism and cynicism exist side by side. All the Americans I spoke to said the Iraqi Police are improving. Most are cautiously optimistic about their ability to stand on their own – later. Hope comes naturally in Fallujah right now because even this place, of all places, is peaceful and quiet. But a substantial minority has serious reservations after spending some quality time with Iraqis.

“We should have just left Saddam in power,” said an MP from the Texas National Guard who did not want to be named. “That’s all these people understand.”

Fallujah is the heartland of Baath country. It’s the most aggressively Sunni Arab city in all of Iraq. Residents deny the insurgency once had a popular base of support, possibly to save face, but it did. Some Fallujans are Islamists, some were and still are disgruntled Baathists, and others just needed the money. Even some police officers were insurgents.“Some of them will tell you straight up that the only reason they’re Iraqi Police officers is because it pays better than the insurgency,” Sergeant White said. “I hear that and I want to say Hold this guy while I go get my pistol.”

Read the rest at MichaelTotten.com

FALLUJAH – The United States military plans to formally hand over Anbar Province to the Iraqis this spring because the insurgency truly is finished in that part of the country. Most Americans have heard about the success in this province by now, but few seem to be aware that the cities of Anbar were the scenes of the most ferocious fighting: Ramadi, Haditha, and – worst of all – Fallujah.The Americans in Fallujah are focused now on what they expect to be their last mission: the training of the Iraqi Police to replace the Marines.

Optimism and cynicism exist side by side. All the Americans I spoke to said the Iraqi Police are improving. Most are cautiously optimistic about their ability to stand on their own – later. Hope comes naturally in Fallujah right now because even this place, of all places, is peaceful and quiet. But a substantial minority has serious reservations after spending some quality time with Iraqis.

“We should have just left Saddam in power,” said an MP from the Texas National Guard who did not want to be named. “That’s all these people understand.”

Fallujah is the heartland of Baath country. It’s the most aggressively Sunni Arab city in all of Iraq. Residents deny the insurgency once had a popular base of support, possibly to save face, but it did. Some Fallujans are Islamists, some were and still are disgruntled Baathists, and others just needed the money. Even some police officers were insurgents.“Some of them will tell you straight up that the only reason they’re Iraqi Police officers is because it pays better than the insurgency,” Sergeant White said. “I hear that and I want to say Hold this guy while I go get my pistol.”

Read the rest at MichaelTotten.com

Read Less

Messiaen’s Dark Past

The French composer and organist Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992) is one of modern music’s most prominent figures. Although he died in 1992, Messiaen’s CD’s are sold in the classical music section of most stores, instead of the less commercially viable contemporary music bins. Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, written in 1940-41 for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (and dedicated to the Angel of the Apocalypse) has become particularly popular for its spirituality and accessible tonal style. There are currently seventeen versions of the Quartet in print, of which the most fervent remains the one by pianist Peter Serkin and the chamber group Tashi on RCA Victor. Likewise infused with Messiaen’s ardent Catholic piety, his Twenty Gazes at Baby Jesus (Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus) has been brilliantly recorded by Serkin on RCA and with stark conviction by the gifted Norwegian virtuoso Håkon Austbø on Naxos.

Recently Messiaen has been the subject of a flood of books, including For the End of Time: the Story of the Messiaen Quartet by Rebecca Rischin (Cornell University Press); Messiaen by Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone (Yale University Press); and The Life of Messiaen by Christopher Dingle (Cambridge University Press). These books reveal a long-overlooked shadow on the composer’s history: his ambiguous relationship with the Nazi occupiers of his native country.

Read More

The French composer and organist Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992) is one of modern music’s most prominent figures. Although he died in 1992, Messiaen’s CD’s are sold in the classical music section of most stores, instead of the less commercially viable contemporary music bins. Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, written in 1940-41 for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (and dedicated to the Angel of the Apocalypse) has become particularly popular for its spirituality and accessible tonal style. There are currently seventeen versions of the Quartet in print, of which the most fervent remains the one by pianist Peter Serkin and the chamber group Tashi on RCA Victor. Likewise infused with Messiaen’s ardent Catholic piety, his Twenty Gazes at Baby Jesus (Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus) has been brilliantly recorded by Serkin on RCA and with stark conviction by the gifted Norwegian virtuoso Håkon Austbø on Naxos.

Recently Messiaen has been the subject of a flood of books, including For the End of Time: the Story of the Messiaen Quartet by Rebecca Rischin (Cornell University Press); Messiaen by Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone (Yale University Press); and The Life of Messiaen by Christopher Dingle (Cambridge University Press). These books reveal a long-overlooked shadow on the composer’s history: his ambiguous relationship with the Nazi occupiers of his native country.

In 1939, Messiaen was mobilized as a soldier, assigned to carry stretchers. After the French surrender in 1940, Messiaen was imprisoned at Görlitz in Silesia. There, a German sergeant took a liking to Messiaen after learning he was a composer. He gave Messiaen extra rations of bread to eat and allowed him to write undisturbed in the afternoon. The product of these afternoon sessions was the Quartet for the End of Time, which the other prisoners were even commanded to stand and listen to when it was first performed in the camp.

Insofar as Nazi officers made the work materially possible to compose, and incited Messiaen to write it, his Quartet was a Nazi commission. Messiaen himself never explicitly denied this, stating decades later in an interview, “As Germans always admire music, wherever it may be found, not only did they leave me my scores, but an officer gave me pencils, erasers, and music paper.” In the 1960’s, he went so far as to object when an American recording was published with a cover design of a swastika torn into pieces: “This hideous and stupid drawing is the complete opposite of what I intended to do!”

All of the books mentioned above are huge improvements over earlier hagiographies of Messaien. The composer is frankly overdue for a clear-eyed estimation of his co-relationship with the Nazis and his anti-Semitic statements, such as this one, made to the interviewer Claude Samuel in 1987:

What I am going to say is horrible, but the Jews as a people committed a deicide. No doubt they didn’t know what they were doing . . . but finally they did pronounce that terrible sentence “May his blood fall on us and our children.”

Someone close enough to observe at first hand Messiaen’s relations with the Nazis, and a figure generally ignored in Messiaen literature, was his former student and eventual colleague at the Paris Conservatory, Odette Gartenlaub. I interviewed Gartenlaub in the early 90’s about her relationship with the composer and her Vichy-era vicissitudes as part of a research project about French music. So stay tuned for the follow-up to this post, which will be drawn from that interview.

Read Less

Troubles in Tarmiyah

Greg Jaffe, the Wall Street Journal’s ace defense correspondent, had another one of his riveting articles on the front page Thursday: “At Lonely Iraq Outpost, GI’s Stay as Hope Fades.” It tells the story of a small group of soldiers manning a lonely outpost in the town of Tarmiyah in Salahuddin province about 30 miles north of Baghdad.

This town of 30,000 had been relatively stable until last year. But in summer 2006, an Iraqi army battalion stationed there was pulled away to police Baghdad, and the Shiite campaign of ethnic cleansing in the capital pushed some 6,000 to 10,000 angry Sunnis northward. Tarmiyah became an al-Qaeda stronghold, where even the local police chief feared to walk the streets.

The 50 U.S. soldiers stationed there feel under siege, and for good reason. Writes Jaffe: “In mid-February a massive truck bomb sheared off the front of the soldiers’ base in Tarmiyah, sending concrete and glass flying through the air like daggers. The soldiers at the small outpost spent the next four hours fighting for their lives against a force of 70 to 80 insurgents.”

Read More

Greg Jaffe, the Wall Street Journal’s ace defense correspondent, had another one of his riveting articles on the front page Thursday: “At Lonely Iraq Outpost, GI’s Stay as Hope Fades.” It tells the story of a small group of soldiers manning a lonely outpost in the town of Tarmiyah in Salahuddin province about 30 miles north of Baghdad.

This town of 30,000 had been relatively stable until last year. But in summer 2006, an Iraqi army battalion stationed there was pulled away to police Baghdad, and the Shiite campaign of ethnic cleansing in the capital pushed some 6,000 to 10,000 angry Sunnis northward. Tarmiyah became an al-Qaeda stronghold, where even the local police chief feared to walk the streets.

The 50 U.S. soldiers stationed there feel under siege, and for good reason. Writes Jaffe: “In mid-February a massive truck bomb sheared off the front of the soldiers’ base in Tarmiyah, sending concrete and glass flying through the air like daggers. The soldiers at the small outpost spent the next four hours fighting for their lives against a force of 70 to 80 insurgents.”

The story of the attack is as harrowing as its aftermath is inspiring. Most of the soldiers wounded in the attack—including a sergeant whose “back and neck were peppered with glass” and a lieutenant who has become “virtually deaf in one and ear and seems to have limited hearing in the other one”—volunteered to return to Tarmiyah. One sergeant explained his decision as follows: “I have a strong bond with this platoon. I don’t want to leave.” That’s typical of soldiers in this or any other war—they fight for their buddies more than for any lofty ideals.

Yet, while the story provides plenty of cause to celebrate the soldiers’ valor and dedication, it might, on the surface, also provide more fodder for those who question what good our troops are doing in Iraq. Many of the soldiers quoted in the article wonder, understandably, if they’re having any impact. It’s easy to imagine that many readers of Jaffe’s article would also wonder what the point of the Baghdad security plan is if it simply pushes insurgents a few miles away. The experience of Tarmiyah would seem to support Senator Joe Biden’s balloon metaphor: “Essentially, when we squeeze the water balloon in one place, it bulges somewhere else.”

Actually, the right metaphor here is not the bulging balloon but the spreading oil spot. That’s the classic counter-insurgency strategy, invented by French generals in the 19th century, which holds that it is best to expand one’s sphere of control slowly rather than trying to pacify an entire country at once. Concentrate your forces at first in a few areas, clear them out; once they are secure, move on to the surrounding areas. That’s not a strategy we’ve followed in Iraq until now. Instead of trying to achieve critical mass in a few places, we’ve spread an inadequate number of troops thinly across many provinces, making it hard to achieve much stability anywhere.

The new Baghdad security plan represents a change of strategy. Under it, we will put more troops into the capital in the hope of pacifying it. Some of the newly deployed troops are being diverted to the areas around the capital—the “Baghdad belt”—but not in the hope of pacifying them. They are on an “economy of force” mission to disrupt insurgent strongholds and make it more difficult to carry out spectacular terrorist attacks in Baghdad.

That’s what the troops in Tarmiyah are up to. It can be frustrating to the soldiers involved, but it’s the right strategy, given our limited resources. If General David Petraeus and Lieutenant General Ray Odierno send too many reinforcements to places like Tarmiyah, we will have no hope of achieving critical mass where it counts—Baghdad. If we ever succeed in calming the capital, then we can worry about the hinterlands.

Read Less

No Taliban Offensive—Yet

The Taliban continue to perpetrate atrocities, the latest being a bombing in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, which is said to have killed nine police officers. This was a bit unusual, insofar as the north is generally pretty peaceful. The Taliban are much stronger in the southern and eastern provinces. But even there their activities have not, so far, lived up to their advance billing.

For months Taliban spokesmen have been bragging about—and coalition soldiers have been dreading—a “spring offensive.” Well, spring began a month ago (March 21 was the vernal equinox), and, though Taliban attacks continue, there has been no substantial spike. So far no offensive has materialized—a fact that has gone largely unreported in the press but that is being commented upon by some NATO ministers and soldiers.

If there had been a Tet-style offensive in Afghanistan it would certainly be big news. But nothing much happening passes without much comment. I was only made aware of the lack of news while chatting with a Special Forces soldier in Iraq who had served not long ago in Afghanistan.

Read More

The Taliban continue to perpetrate atrocities, the latest being a bombing in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, which is said to have killed nine police officers. This was a bit unusual, insofar as the north is generally pretty peaceful. The Taliban are much stronger in the southern and eastern provinces. But even there their activities have not, so far, lived up to their advance billing.

For months Taliban spokesmen have been bragging about—and coalition soldiers have been dreading—a “spring offensive.” Well, spring began a month ago (March 21 was the vernal equinox), and, though Taliban attacks continue, there has been no substantial spike. So far no offensive has materialized—a fact that has gone largely unreported in the press but that is being commented upon by some NATO ministers and soldiers.

If there had been a Tet-style offensive in Afghanistan it would certainly be big news. But nothing much happening passes without much comment. I was only made aware of the lack of news while chatting with a Special Forces soldier in Iraq who had served not long ago in Afghanistan.

This is the point where any commentator who is not an utter nitwit inserts the usual CYA language: just because an offensive hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I don’t mean to discount the possibility of some terrible Taliban atrocity tomorrow. Etc, etc. With that out of the way, it’s worth pondering why an offensive hasn’t happened so far.

Frankly, I have no idea. But I can speculate. Perhaps the Taliban threat has been exaggerated? Not likely. By all accounts the Taliban are indeed getting stronger and more brazen, thanks to the training and support they are now receiving in Pakistan while Pervez Musharraf runs around like Sgt. Schulz proclaiming, “I know nut-zeeng.” A more likely explanation is that the buildup of coalition forces—British and American especially—in the south and east has helped to preempt the offensive. Or at least delay it.

This brings me to Boot’s Law of Disasters: disasters that are widely predicted don’t occur. To cite just two examples: Y2K and the bird flu. Both were expected to be catastrophes, but for this very reason they turned out to be pretty harmless. Their potential victims took the necessary steps to blunt their impact. At this point there may even be a few readers scratching their heads, trying to remember what Y2K was all about. Remember how all the world’s computers were supposed to stop functioning when 1999 ended and 2000 began? Didn’t happen, needless to say. And bird flu mainly has been killing birds. The real nightmares are those, like 9/11 or the Virginia Tech shooting, that no one expects.

It may well be that the spring offensive hasn’t been sprung because it was so widely anticipated. But some other Taliban or al-Qaeda move may well be in the offing. We certainly can’t be complacent. But we can expect that the enemy—like any good guerrilla—will strike where and when least expected.

Read Less

Bookshelf

Inspired by my fellow blogger Terry Teachout, I thought I would post a few remarks about some books I have been reading lately. Unlike Terry’s selections, these aren’t newly released—but they are for the most part new to me.

• Field Marshal Viscount Slim, Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945 (1956): A British officer who rose from the ranks, Slim is practically unknown in the United States, but he was one of the Great Captains of World War II and a far more successful general than his American counterpart in the China-Burma-India theater, “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell. In fact he defeated more Japanese troops than any other ground commander of the war. His memoirs are generally considered, along with Ulysses Grant’s, to be among the best penned by any general since Caesar.

Read More

Inspired by my fellow blogger Terry Teachout, I thought I would post a few remarks about some books I have been reading lately. Unlike Terry’s selections, these aren’t newly released—but they are for the most part new to me.

• Field Marshal Viscount Slim, Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945 (1956): A British officer who rose from the ranks, Slim is practically unknown in the United States, but he was one of the Great Captains of World War II and a far more successful general than his American counterpart in the China-Burma-India theater, “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell. In fact he defeated more Japanese troops than any other ground commander of the war. His memoirs are generally considered, along with Ulysses Grant’s, to be among the best penned by any general since Caesar.

Great though it is, Defeat Into Victory is not quite as scintillating as the accounts of lower-ranking soldiers who were closer to the action. For my money, the best evocation of the Burma campaign remains The Road Past Mandalay, by John Masters, who served in Slim’s 14th Army but never advanced past brigade commander. The runner-up prize goes to Quartered Safe Out Here, by George MacDonald Fraser, a novelist who never advanced past corporal.

That said, Slim’s account is infinitely better than the bombastic, unreflective, self-congratulatory, ghost-written memoirs we have come to expect from our own generals. Slim is not afraid to admit when he was scared under fire—he was not one of those commanders who ostentatiously exposed himself to bullets or insisted on rushing to the front of the advance. Nor is he afraid to admit mistakes. Writing about the British retreat from Burma in 1942, he has no excuses to offer. Instead he bluntly writes: “For myself, I had little to be proud of; I could not rate my generalship high. The only test of generalship is success, and I had succeeded in nothing I had attempted.”

There are also flashes of political incorrectness that, however offensive to a modern sensibilities, add spice to the account—for instance when Slim writes, “The individual Japanese soldier remained, as I had always called him, the most formidable fighting insect in history.”

• Joseph Wambaugh, The Choirboys (1975): Having recently read Wambaugh’s latest novel, Hollywood Station, I went back and reread this earlier work. It has a lot in common with all of his cop books, which aren’t “mystery novels” in the conventional sense, insofar as there is no mystery to be solved. The plot always meanders, but interest never flags because Wambaugh, a former Los Angeles Police Department sergeant, has a great talent for telling vivid anecdotes involving his fellow LAPD cops. These aren’t the plaster saints of Adam 12 and Dragnet; nor are they the monsters of L.A. Confidential. Wambaugh’s cops are deeply flawed human beings—often drunk and lecherous, incorrigibly sexist and hopelessly racist, seldom able to pass up freebies and discounts they more or less extort from local merchants—but they are also intent on doing good to the best of their limited ability. Like soldiers away from home too long, they feel alienated from civilian society but reserve their real scorn for their superior officers, who are inevitably depicted as back-stabbing office politicians.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.