Viewpoint: This isn’t your grandpa’s army

“‘If you live to be 100,’ somebody said to me from the darkness, ‘you will never forget you went through this day.’ The prospects of living to be 100 or even of living to be 31 next birthday seemed hardly worth thinking of on the night of June 6, three miles outside Bayeux.”

So the London editor of The Guardian newspaper described a brief conversation on the night of D-Day nearly 60 years ago. That day was the beginning—as Churchill put it—not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.

Author Studs Terkel called it “The Good War,” if such a thing is possible. Now, on the back side of this Memorial Day weekend, we are again looking at the anniversary of that momentous occasion, June 6, 1944.

An official dedication of the new Washington, D.C., memorial to that war was made this week, too. Many thousands of veterans who struggled and bled in that conflict were present. The sentiments of a majority were succinctly stated by one veteran: “A lot of memories, too many memories. Sometimes I get too nervous.”

The mostly young Americans who made up the D-Day invasion force rose to the challenge and displayed the finest qualities of the greatest and most free nation on earth. They had been well trained, and they carried out their assignments with fortitude and determination. We prevailed until the ultimate victory.

Some of those old vets believe today’s military is just like the one they knew back in the ’40s. Sad to say, it is much inferior, despite all its high-tech war toys and gold-braided desk jockey generals.

It ain’t your grandpa’s army, folks. The prison scandals showed that. Sure, atrocities occur in every war, but this was policy, from the top down. In your grandpa’s time, true leaders were examples to us all, like Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, George Marshall, William Halsey and Chester Nimitz, plus others … men who knew what they were doing.

When our troops found the Nazi death camps in Germany and elsewhere, Ike and Patton made the townspeople march past the piles of emaciated corpses and contemplate the handiwork of the “supermen” who had committed genocide only a few meters from their homes.

When Abu Ghraib broke, we saw the sorry spectacle of the Bush administration attempting to blame it on a “few bad apples” and playing a rapid game of “cover your backside.” Worse, nobody from the “pretender-in-chief” on down admits any responsibility. In the Bush administration and its military, nobody is accountable, and nobody admits mistakes ever are made.

The internal Army report, prepared by Gen. Taguba, reveals a depressing picture of incompetence and even lunacy. The Guardian printed some excerpts from that report. The newspaper said the findings read like that novel Catch 22.

Capt. Leo Merck commanded a military police unit at Baghdad. Gen. Taguba said he was informed the captain spent most of his time taking “nude pictures of female soldiers without their knowledge.” His buddy was Capt. Damaris Morales. Taguba cites him for failure to train his men. He said one soldier could not even get out of his vehicle without accidentally discharging his M16 rifle. Taguba noted: “Round went into fuel tank.”

Gen. Taguba further found the various commanders did not get on too well. Gen. Janis Karpinski had been in charge at Abu Ghraib until an intelligence officer, Col. Thomas Pappas, ousted her from control. The two barely spoke. Gen. Taguba commented: “There was clear friction and lack of effective communication. No clear delineation of responsibility between commands, little coordination at the command level.”

The general reported he found Gen. Karpinski “extremely emotional” and unwilling to admit that any problems were the result of poor leadership. Karpinski claimed she visited the prison regularly, but did not.

Battalion commander Jerry Phillabaum, according to the report, was “extremely ineffective.” His battalion had to be run by the major below him, which was confirmed by a number of witnesses, yet Phillabaum remained in his post.

Gen. Karpinski’s two staff officers, Major Hinzman and Major Green, according to Taguba, were “essentially dysfunctional.” There were many complaints, but they continued in their jobs. The legal affairs officer, Judge Advocate Lt. Col. James O’Hare, said Taguba “appears to lack initiative and was unwilling to accept responsibility for any of his actions.”

Wonder where he got that idea?

Taguba also found armed troopers wandered about the prison in civilian clothes, logbooks were filled with “unprofessional entries and flippant comments,” that soldiers “wrote poems and other sayings on their helmets,” the chain of command was not observed, and saluting of officers was “sporadic” at best. In short, military discipline had crumbled. Is it any wonder with this kind of management that we are having grave problems in Iraq?

Can you imagine Gen. Patton or Gen. McAuliffe tolerating this kind of behavior? So far as I know, only one person has been removed, and then the president claimed it was for other reasons. During the investigation, the overall commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, made a scapegoat of one general, contending that lack of clear standards, proficiency and leadership “permeates the brigade.” The evidence, though, shows the incompetence goes right on up the chain of command to the very top.

These troops at Abu Ghraib, and some elsewhere, are former truck drivers and auto mechanics, who had no training in guarding prisoners. Because of their incompetent superiors, there weren’t enough of them to do the job properly. In addition, they had few comforts—they were too hot and under constant mortar bombardment. On top of that, they were bitter at the Pentagon for reneging on their promised rotation back to the States.

One reason for the level of incompetence in this man’s military seems to be that many officers and foot soldiers are not professionals. They are reservists—so-called “weekend warriors,” to be deployed only in emergencies and not as a full complement in an outside invasion.

The 320th Military Police Battalion, at the heart of the Abu Ghraib scandal, was a reserve unit based near Scranton, Pa. Karpinski, who was supposed to be the boss, was a corporate management consultant as a civilian. Phillabaum, the battalion commander, was a reservist, and the company commander, Capt. Donald Reese, accused of failing to properly train his soldiers, was a salesman in civilian life.

Many of these young men and women were from the poorer parts of West Virginia. They signed up as reservists to finance a college education, or to get medical care. The Bush administration, led by Donald Rumsfeld in the Pentagon, is working to exploit these 20,000 reservists. Rummy wants a smaller, lighter, cheaper, full-time army, and he wants to turn over many military jobs to private commercial firms. The Bush buddy policy again.

Reserve commander Lt. Gen. James Helmly says things are much different than they used to be. “The nature of reserve service as a purely one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer, training group of soldiers that never gets mobilized over a 20-30 year period is over,” he said. “That is not the world we live in.”

Helmly added: “The cost for 100 active duty soldiers to maintain readiness for a year is approximately seven times greater than that of 100 Army Reserve soldiers.” That may be, but these are the troops that have brought about the worst military scandal in this country since Vietnam. Onto these people, Bush has partially dumped the complex task of bringing freedom to Iraq.

There’s another concern not mentioned in the media or in the public forums of government…while these under-trained and under-equipped troops are off on the neo-cons’ imperialist adventures, who is guarding this country?

Sources: The Guardian, Intervention Magazine

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