Thursday, November 25, 2004

Home Truths

The most difficult thing about writing this post was to hold myself back from swearing.

It seems that someone is genuinely concerned about the way in which US Marines are treating furniture in people's homes after seeing some photographs of entrenched soldiers.

To wit:

"If soldiers are in need of rest and they have access to a residence, is it appropriate to sleep on a couch as opposed to the floor?

Is it appropriate to sleep on a bed as opposed to a couch?

Is it appropriate to get in the bed, or just sleep on top of it?

Is it appropriate to use the pillows or not?

And, if it's deemed appropriate to use someone's bed, is there any protocol as to whether one should remove one's boots first?"

I'll tell you what's goddamned appropriate. Anything - ANYTHING - that is necessary to win. It's appropriate to blow craters in the city, it's appropriate to reduce walls to cement dust, it's appropriate to storm mosques and schools, hospitals and private homes - in fact, anywhere a murdering group of thugs is hiding - and kill or subdue them, in that order. If the building happens to sustain damage, it's one of the costs of victory.

I sometimes wonder if people forget what the military is, what it creates with the cadets that walk into boot camps by the thousand every year.

Soldiers are trained, honed killers. They are drilled in the use of tactics, equipment and machinery designed to be the most effective means of eliminating the lives of other human beings. That's the hard (and increasingly unpalatable to our neutered populace) truth.

And here's the rub: the better they are, the freer you will be.

The standards of 'better' in this profession are really quite awesome. Here's what these men are capable of (from a letter home by a US soldier):

"I will end with a couple of stories of individual heroism that you may not have heard yet. I was told about both of these incidents shortly after they occurred. No doubt some of the facts will change slightly but I am confident that the meat is correct.

The first is a Marine from 3/5. His name is Corporal Yeager (Chuck Yeager's grandson). As the Marines cleared and apartment building, they got to the top floor and the point man kicked in the door. As he did so, an enemy grenade and a burst of gunfire came out. The explosion and enemy fire took off the point man's leg. He was then immediately shot in the arm as he lay in the doorway. Corporal Yeager tossed a grenade in the room and ran into the doorway and into the enemy fire in order to pull his buddy back to cover. As he was dragging the wounded Marine to cover, his own grenade came back through the doorway. Without pausing, he reached down and threw the grenade back through the door while he heaved his buddy to safety. The grenade went off inside the room and Cpl Yeager threw another in. He immediately entered the room following the second explosion. He gunned down three enemy all within three feet of where he stood and then let fly a third grenade as he backed out of the room to complete the evacuation of the wounded Marine. You have to understand that a grenade goes off within 5 seconds of having the pin pulled. Marines usually let them 'cook off' for a second or two before tossing them in. Therefore, this entire episode took place in less than 30 seconds.

The second example comes from 3/1. Cpl Mitchell is a squad leader. He was wounded as his squad was clearing a house when some enemy threw pineapple grenades down on top of them. As he was getting triaged, the doctor told him that he had been shot through the arm. Cpl Mitchell told the doctor that he had actually been shot 'a couple of days ago' and had given himself self aide on the wound. When the doctor got on him about not coming off the line, he firmly told the doctor that he was a squad leader and did not have time to get treated as his men were still fighting. There are a number of Marines who have been wounded multiple times but refuse to leave their fellow Marines."

They don't have the TIME to think about whether it's 'appropriate' to lie on a couch. They've probably just gone without sleep for days and have been running through swarms of bullets and shrapnel to get to a point where they can rest for a couple of hours. They have their priorities - among them the regeneration of their bodies so that they can continue to fight tomorrow. Consideration for someone's cushions doesn't and SHOULDN'T come into the calculation of whether it's a good time and place to lie down.

Something important to think about here is who these residences belonged to before the soldiers walked in. As I see it, there are likely to be two distinct groups of owners who should take away two distinctly different messages from slightly mussed rugs.

There are the Iraqis who are being saved by these very troops from an intolerable regime. If that's the case, then these men are your liberators. Consider a footprint on the couch to be the price you pay for their services - goodness knows you're fortunate that some American miles away is actually bearing the real hard-dollar costs of this operation.

There are also the Iraqis who were sympathetic to the ousted regime. If it's a residence belonging to an enemy, then I'd say welcome to one facet of having your ass kicked to oblivion. Somehow, I think upholstery is going to be the least of your future worries.

In the end, we have to decide what we want. Do we want effective soldiers - humans who have been honed to kill, to push themselves to limits that most of us can't even fathom and to survive? Or do we want over-cautious, politically correct, neutered men who wouldn't survive a moment of actual wartime soldiering?

These men and women are rare in our society already - they are people of courageous and unfailing action. Every time we impose some arbitrary rule of engagement or criticise them for doing something that is instinctual and right, we instill some degree of hesitation to their actions, not to mention cast doubt as to the honour of what they are doing. I can't imagine a worse disservice to people who are right now - as we sit and read or write blogs - fighting for our freedom.


(Cross posted to A Western Heart)

Update: The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiller gets the point too and posts up a Times Online article lambasting journalists for portraying our troops in such a bad light.

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