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No Man Left Behind!

.....and other Bush lies

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, November 01, 2006.

I was never a soldier, 4F from my first draft card at 16, and it would be hard to say who is the most grateful: myself, because I’m most likely a physical coward, or the military, because keeping a soldier in Pampers gets expensive in the field. I did, however, grow up in a family where you served if able, and appreciate many of the attributes of a good soldier. And, as a history enthusiast, I read a lot about various militaries. It’s history, and armies and navies are rarely just walk-ons.

One thing that you encounter early are the boilerplate military mythologies, common to all nations, foremost amongst which is ‘we leave no soldier behind.’ This is the thrilling precept for many good and bad movies, and not a few real life events, but it becomes apparent early in your readings, especially readings of material that coincidently appears about a half century after the event in question, that all militaries leave men behind, including our own. No amount of chest pounding bluster and communication by bumper sticker can erase the evidence. In fact, after the initial declarations, the caveats appear early: ‘whenever possible’ and ‘without undue loss of life.’ After a second’s reflection, we wonder how the word “undue” if defined, and by who, and why so rarely those names appear in the accounts. We left Marines at Wake, and the Army in the Philippines, and during the Indian Wars we left not a few behind to those we then called savages and after which we now name military units.

After the battle of Midway in 1942, the aircraft carrier Yorktown was abandoned, supposedly because of its imminent demise. But……it didn’t sink. Worse, the next day a survivor made it to the deck and fired a machine gun to get attention, and he and one other were rescued, having both been abandoned to die in the hospital with, apparently, some others who didn’t last the night.

It was not callous or cowardly on the part of the Yorktown’s officers. Taking severely wounded people off a severely listing ship requires many totally OK people to be on, and if hit by a torpedo – which in fact did eventually happen, taking down the Yorktown and a destroyer at once – you lose lots of men in an attempt to save few. But if NO attempt is made, the men realize they can’t rely on their buds and their officers for help, and so unit cohesion and morale plummet, and more quickly under pressure. So, it’s always a tough call, and one of many I’m glad never to have been in position to make.

I mention this because in Iraq yesterday, the U.S. Army has, in effect and maybe fact, abandoned one of its own to the Mahdi Army, a religious militia run by the pudgy mullah al-Sadr, who is guilty of at least one assassination of a rival cleric, and pulled back from the blockading of Sadr City, the Baghdad suburb in that mullah’s control. U.S. military police had imposed the blockade after the kidnapping of an American soldier of Iraqi descent, a soldier who had married a local girl despite rules prohibiting that. The soldier's claimed Iraqi in-laws said they believed he had been abducted by the Mahdi Army as he visited his wife at her home.

In a bid to seem capable of doing something, the Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki ordered the blockade of Sadr City lifted. This means that the Mahdi Army could move their hostage, if the tale is true, and avoid punishment. It impressed the Iraqis to see the Americans being ordered about, and obeying. Is that worth the soldier’s life? See, here’s the problem: it might be.

The Army is saying the lifting of the blockade "does not stop our search for the soldier. We're dead serious about getting him back, and that won't stop because of these checkpoints." A spokesman said at least seven U.S. troops had been injured in the search for the missing American. He’s letting us know the math, already.

In utero, this is the exact issue a likely new Congress and existing administration will confront next week. By what criteria do you weigh the likely, or remotely possible result against the cost of the United States pulling up and leaving Iraq? And is it worth leaving soldiers behind, even those who may have violated their own oath and endangered themselves and those they know would die to save them?

This is important because the Bushies have rolled out the ultimate guilt trip: if we leave Iraq, our dead will have died in vain, and as Kevin Tillman wrote last week, somehow we’re to believe the enduring of more dead would justify the initial losses. As typical with the Rovarian Bushies - few of whom served at all, and none in combat - there are only two choices offered. And it is a false selection. And in any case, they apparently are abandoning at least one soldier. Do they excuse it because he's of Iraqi descent?

It’s bad enough the administration lives on bumper sticker phrases to preclude thought; it’s worse that they actually make no attempt to live by them.