Memento mori

This flag was unceremoniously dumped on our walkway as a promotional gimmick by a local real-estate agency with no apparent understanding of the Flag Code.

Remember the war in Afghanistan?

Some folks would prefer that you didn’t. Or at least remained blissfully ignorant about its purpose and progress.

As Tom Udall and Rand Paul noted in an essay for The Atlantic, starting this fall American soldiers will begin deploying to fight in a war “that began before they were born.”

They, along with their friends, family and neighbors, may not understand just what they’re getting into, because the U.S. military command in Afghanistan has gone all tight-lipped on just what — if anything — it is accomplishing there.

This concerns the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, John F. Sopko, who told The New York Times that while he and many members of Congress had access to illuminating classified information, the rest of us were being treated like a cash crop of mushrooms, being kept in the dark and fed a steady diet of bullshit.

“The only people who don’t know what’s going on and how good or bad a job we’re doing are the people paying for it — the American taxpayers,” he said.

The colonel’s final deployment.

The brass hats seem happy to gin up some numbers to keep the easily distracted President Beelzebonespur in the game. In January 2018, according to the Times, the military began announcing Vietnam-style body counts “as part of an apparent strategy to rally White House support for remaining in the conflict.”

The practice ended abruptly when the Times started asking questions about it.

There’s a certain irony in using a dubious metric from a war dodged by the present commander in chief to hold his wavering interest in this one. Especially since shortly after his inauguration, according to the Times, a special-ops unit was told to prepare for a number of missions deemed too risky by the previous administration.

Again, the Times: “The commander of the unit, according to one American commando who was at the briefing, said the operations were meant to show Mr. Trump what they were capable of achieving in Afghanistan.”

This took me back to “Dispatches,” by the late Michael Herr, who recalled an encounter with a publicity-hungry commander when the Esquire correspondent, Sean Flynn and Tim Page choppered into a landing zone in Vietnam.

Wrote Herr: “(H)e wanted to throw a spontaneous operation for us, crank up his whole brigade and get some people killed. We had to get out on the next chopper to keep him from going ahead with it, amazing what some of them would do for a little ink.”

And the sales pitch continues. We still owe on this beat-to-shit 2001 Afghanistan — $45 billion per year, according to the Pentagon — and now they’re trying to get us into a brand-new 2019 Iran. We can give the ’01 to the kids, I guess.

Aw, who are we kidding? The kids will get both of them. And the rest of us will stick plastic flags in our planters, fire up the grill, and wonder idly if there’s anything good on TV. Hey, there’s a 24-hour Memorial Day tribute on TCM! Score!

• Mad Dog Media thinks the best way to honor those who serve is to equip them with top-shelf civilian leadership and bring them home.

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26 Responses to “Memento mori”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    Body counts. William Westmoreland. Pentagon Papers. Being lied to. Good fucking Lord almighty, I knew that was coming.

    If any readers are too young to have seen this unfold in real time, go read “A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam” by Neil Sheehan.

    The more thing change, the more they stay the same.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Hearts and minds, bay-beeee. Another good one: “The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam,” by Barbara W. Tuchman. Here’s a keeper from that one:

      “Ignorance was not a factor in the American endeavor in Vietnam pursued through five successive presidencies, although it was to become an excuse.”

  2. larryatcycleitalia Says:

    “Mad Dog Media thinks the best way to honor those who serve is to equip them with top-shelf civilian leadership and bring them home.” to which I’d add something about taking care of them once they’re home.
    Start with GI-Bill type education opportunities and medical care. Why is there a VA in the first place? Why don’t the military folks just get a credit card that pays for everything they need at any place they want to go to get it? While I’m asking, why doesn’t everyone in the USA get one?
    Finally, ya gotta wonder what might have been if someone else had been in the White House on 9/11/01? Some smart guy who could have urged calm and quietly sent out the CIA black-ops types to find the perps and bring ’em to justice rather than start what seems an endless war. Osama’s gotta be laughing his ass off in his watery grave.

    • Ira Says:

      As for 9/11, none of the perpetrators was from Iraq or Afghanistan. 15 of the 19 were from Saudi Arabia. I don’t recall any retaliation against them.

    • Steve O Says:

      Shutting down the VA is a tricky one. You can definitely argue that it would be cheaper. The VA is without a doubt bloated, to put it kindly. And there’s an inherent problem with accepting recruits from all corners of the country but then only servicing vets who happen to live near a clinic. The new $7B Denver VA Medical Center is nice, but not a lot of help if you live in West Buttlique, Montana

      Two concerns. One, the VA is always uniquely situated to assess theater-specific illnesses and injuries … largely cuz they know the people who caused them. You can say that the VA totally fucked up its treatment of Agent Orange-related problems, but at least they were there collecting the data. Without a VA, you got a million vets all seeing their local PCM, and the dots never get connected. More recently, the VA has been a catalyst for improvements in treating TBIs and in the development of higher tech prosthetics. Personally, I find this argument to be a little on the weak side. It’s 2019, and Big Data is everywhere. It’s not that hard to tag vets on the credit card you’re suggesting, and anonymously track their appointments. Maybe you morph the VA from being a service provider into a research lab.

      Second, you know what happens to that free VA credit card, once the VA doors are shuttered? The same thing that happened to my free TriCare. Free became “still pretty good, but not free,” and my copays keep going up and up. (50% increase in PMC visits and all my meds since you-know-who got elected.)

      It’s funny not funny that the Dems could have invested in a VA-alternate when these wars were getting started, built a viable single payer model, and then exported it into universal health care. Play the long game instead of hoping for a grand slam. But no one looks past their next election.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        VA as research lab? That sounds interesting. But I’d be worried about them hiring Drs. Strangelove and Moreau, then going all Captain America/Iron Man on us.

        But that’s probably happening anyway. Stan Lee wasn’t the onliest dude with ideas.

        That’s some bullshit about TriCare. That’s like billing you for the bottle of Jäger the bouncer used to clock you in the barfight you were trying to break up. And at by-the-shot prices, too, not the bottle’s retail value.

  3. mike w. Says:

    Well said. Thank you.

  4. khal spencer Says:

    When I was in High School, for some reason the school brought in an alumnus who had gotten his legs blown off in Vietnam. I don’t know why they thought his visit would stir up patriotism, but just the opposite. Everyone left looking really glum. Of course, by then Mr. Creighton and Mr. Hillburger were teaching American Studies out of books like Fanshen and current issues of Foreign Affairs, and we were pretty skeptical that the whole SE Asia scene made a lot of sense. We wanted to do a silent protest for Kent State and were told we would be sent home if we did. Pretty conservative community it was.

    • mike w. Says:

      The government summer jobs programme i was in in high school took our group on a tour of a Borg Warner factory- i guess the intention was to inspire a career track in us city kids, It was the summer of 1970. The factory was producing 3 major commodities: Artillery shells, hospital beds, and disc harrows…

      i remember making the remark to the guide that apparently the market was good for bombs, rehabilitation, & farm programmes for the survivors.

      He was not amused.

  5. Shawn in the Gorge Says:

    I began to help out my WWII vet Uncle when his diminishing mental capacity due to Alzheimers was making logic difficult for him. What was surprising was that he had medical debt. Our closest VA hospital was about 90 miles (common for most vets), and my Uncle visited there on a regular health check basis. But he had an accident and required ER treatment at his area hospital. His visit there along with an evening stay to enjoy their cuisine, totaled an amount that required him to carry the debt. When he passed on, I contacted the hospital and settled the debt for a lesser amount. I’d blame the hospital but it wasn’t their fault (they have costs of their own to pay), but it’s our government and the people that live in this country who created this dilemma. We parade around supporting our troops and then most of us turn around and ignore the long term costs of war and aggression – The real care of those who have committed themselves to militant folly. Yep, war is hell and so is living in the aftermath for the rest of your life.

    By the way, my flag is out in memory of my Father and my Uncle.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Long-term thinking is not our strong suit. When my old man wound up in a civilian ER close to his house, the tab was staggering. CHAMPUS picked up some of it, but not all, as I recollect. Seemed like every medico in the joint popped round to say hi to Hank and climb aboard that old gravy train.

      Now, I suppose you could blame the old man for drinking himself into the ER. But would he have been a boozehound if he hadn’t been where he’d been and done what he’d done during World War II?

      Family legend was that he had hoped to become a veterinarian. He was always good with animals. The ones he wasn’t related to, anyway. In his defense, some of us were simply untrainable, prone to bite the hand that fed them.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Good friend of mine from my college days came back from Vietnam with a massive drinking habit. He tried to finish college, having dropped out and joined the Air Force, but spent more time at the campus bar. He eventually realized he was on a fast ride to the undertaker, packed his motorcycle, and rode cross country to Tucson for a reboot.

        It was 1977 when I last saw him as he packed up his Gold Wing and headed West. Then we re-connected about four years ago and he was cleaned up, lost all the beer weight, and looked happy. Sadly, fast growth prostate cancer got him.

  6. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Flags are advertising gimmicks these days. Home Depot used to stick them in potted plants and then spray them with water that then splattered them with potting soil mud.

    A conservative estimate of the life cycle costs to the US of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is $3 Trillion and growing, all on the credit card. Eighteen years and only short term gains that will disappear shortly after we leave. Same in Iraq. As we used to say, same shit, different day. Or, like my Zippo lighter that had an engraved picture of Snoopy on his dog house with the caption, “Fuck it, don’t mean nothin” Soldiers mostly fight for each other when the cause is bullshit.

    Concerning that chicken hawk currently in the people’s house, there is no honor in him. None. Never was. Makes me want to puke any time he is around a uniform other than a door man.

  7. JD Dallager Says:

    I’d like to add a different perspective on the “longest war Americans have engaged in” (sorry about ending that with a preposition!): It’s not Afghanistan. It’s the so-called “War on Drugs” — 50-plus years, trillions of dollars — and what are the results?

    Don Winslow has a series of best-selling and award-winning fiction books on this (The Power of the Dog, The Cartel, and The Border (wonder what that last title is about?). His background and credentials are impeccable… is his research. His insights into the history, culture, beneficiaries, incompetence, corruption, et al of this “war” are profound, heart-wrenching, and very disturbing. Read at your own risk.

    Re the repetition of lunacy in many of these conflicts, try Presidents of War by Michael Beschloss. “Presidents of War is a landmark book about power, leadership and human nature itself.” —Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of America.

    As Mark Twain put it so well: “History doesn’t repeat itself; but it often rhymes”.

    • Ira Says:

      Any country that wants to put a dent in the drug problem should look at the Portuguese model. It seems to be simple, cost effective, and more importantly, working.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I was a foot soldier on the other side in the War on Drugs. It was a miracle that I was not taken prisoner, because I was one dumb grunt. Eventually I laid down my arms and conducted a separate peace, proclaiming that I would dope no more forever.

  8. Tony Geller Says:

    • Mad Dog Media thinks the best way to honor those who serve is to equip them with top-shelf civilian leadership and bring them home.

    From The Johnny Cash Show, 1970.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      O, man, Pedro knew his bidness, din’t he? I always loved listening to him and the old Wobbly Utah Philiips. Never saw Pete up close and personal, but I enjoyed the mortal shit out of a Utah show in Oregon in the early Eighties.

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        How ’bout a little Lightnin?

        • Hurben Says:

          An Australian perspective on Viet Nam, (Kiwis were there too)

          In South Africa, we had our own fuck up in the 23 year bush war in Namibia & Angola, did 3 tours

        • Pat O'Brien Says:

          Soviets, Chinese, Cubans and Americans can sure ruin a nice place playing their world chess match. Seems Venezuela is the newest piece of ground they want to piss on. Lyndsey Graham thinks it a fine idea. Another chicken hawk asshole. At least I know the difference between a grunt and a support troop. Some of these “veterans” think it’s all the same. It isn’t. When you watch the guys come out of the field and into a fire base and think they are close to heaven, then you know.

          • Hurben Says:

            Yep, that’s when it really went to shit in Namibia, shitloads of Cuban troops & Russian advisors pouring in. Mig Jets & Hind gunships, state of the art Soviet weaponry, it was only a matter of time before we got our arses kicked.

  9. Patrick O'Grady Says:

    I’ve talked to a lot of active-duty and vets over the years, from WWII through Iraq-Afghanistan. Two of the latter got stuck in my head.

    One was a young Marine I sat next to on a flight to SoCal. He was really gung ho, thought he and his people were doing good work over there, getting some shit accomplished.

    The other was a little older, Army, out of Fort Carson. He had done a few tours already and was getting ready for another. Didn’t quite have the thousand-yard stare, but it was a steady gaze that seemed to take in everything. He spoke in measured tones, no chest-thumping, it is what it is, that sort of thing. I felt like I was about 12 years old talking to him, though I was his senior by more than a few summers.

    I wish I’d gotten some contact info from them, but it seemed presumptuous, intrusive. “Hey, I’d just like to check in on you from time to time between bike rides and combo platters, make sure nothing horrible’s happened.” Still, from time to time I wonder.

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