When the famed "Rakkasans" finally made it to the summit of Dong Ap Bia, in 1969, a North Vietnamese Army-infested mountain near the Laotian border, no one anticipated that the carnage of American lives -- and that of the NVA -- and whatever the return on investment there was from that mission's ten-day siege, would become the subject of so much debate for decades to come.
In his book "THE RAKKASANS -- The Combat History of the 187th Airborne Infantry," Lt. General E.M. Flanagan, Jr. USA (Ret.) writes:
While the other battalions were policing the Dong Ap Bia battlefield, one imaginative soldier found a piece of cardboard [from a] C-ration box, wrote on it, "Hamburger Hill," and nailed it to a charred tree trunk. Shortly thereafter, another, perhaps more practical and blunt soldier, had added beneath the sign, "Was it worth it?"
That same question is being debated today, about our situation in Iraq. What was worth so many lives back then? And is it worth so many lives today? As hard as we fought in Viet Nam -- and we clearly had the firepower supremacy and combat superiority -- as more and more men were 'surged' onto the battlefield, the more and more casualties we took. Over 58,000 body bags were flown home to the United States from that jungle land, with many more still unaccounted for. Sure, one can argue that the enemy took more [casualties], but ultimately they won, and now, almost 40 years later, Viet Nam is a complete and Communist state, and thriving capitalistically. Did we not learn a thing from that experience?
Today we fight on a different front. Not in a jungle, but in a desert land, where the tactics are similar in scope: secure that neighborhood; and the enemy is just as fierce, if not more so. And just like many of the battles in Viet Nam, no sooner do we get control over a piece of land -- and get it under control -- the moment we move out, the enemy moves right back in.
I liken the situation to cockroaches. They come out at night, and as soon as someone turns on a light, they all skirmish away. Oh, sure, you can capture one or two, but the majority of the vermin disappear -- literally -- into the woodwork. When the light goes out, they're back again. (And for the record, I DO NOT have cockroaches in my home.) Does that analogy not describe Baghdad today?
I had no problem whatsoever going to war, after all, I am a soldier. I was over there during the first rotation, and I can tell you this with all honesty and sincerity: I loved it! Yes, I did. It was an experience of a lifetime (as many service members, past and present, will tell you). I loved my job; I loved the missions; I loved my team (and we were a TEAM -- we stuck together till the end). I loved making a difference -- or so I thought I was. But the truth of the matter is that none of it really mattered. It never has. We were all just a headcount. No sooner did we accomplish something, it was destroyed. No sooner were people -- soldiers and civilians -- assigned to a task or given a mission, they were pulled or redeployed and the projects were left to flounder. It was all a series of fits and starts; what a legacy to leave behind. And if you watch the news, you'll occasionally find a soldier or Marine blunt enough and prophetic enough to say on camera "We don't know why we are here?" We really don't.
Oh, yes, I forgot, we're there to spread "Democracy!" (That's because we couldn't find the "weapons of mass destruction" that our Iraqi ally and confidant, Ahmed Chalabi, insisted were there.) We're there to force our will on a people who don't want us there, don't understand our Western form of thinking -- or our American work ethic, for that matter -- and really, really don't care for our way of life. Sure, they want all the "stuff" we have, but they want it on their terms. Folks let's face the facts: the United States INVADED a sovereign nation -- albeit a dysfunctional one -- but a sovereign nation just the same.
As I wrote in my post "Why Can't We All Just Get Along, Part I", one of my translators, a former Iraqi Air Force General, and a Shi'a, said to me "When you leave, they'll be blood in the streets. We'll be killing each other." And months before that conversation took place, I predicted to one of my Colonels, " . . . when we [the first rotation] leave, this whole place is going to implode. You just watch." Of course he objected to my prognostication, but as we see today, both my translator and I were right.
Now we watch as more troops are thrown into the fire. Which only means more black rubber bags will be coming home. Sure, if we keep charging, eventually we will gain some ground, or influence, or something -- though I don't know what. But at what price? How many more lives need to be terminated by roadside bombs? (Read my post "Requiem for an Innocent") Or completely destroyed by severe maiming? Brilliant, promising young people, stunted in their prime, and left to live what was once a bright future, now in a deformed state.
How can we allow one man to destroy a society -- both here and there -- because his ego won't accept the truth, or the advice from the very people whom he asked? When did the Office of the President of the United States become and autocratic dictatorship? A nation where the will of the people, and the governance of the representatives they elect to Congress, does not take precedence? Is this a democracy . . . or is this Saddam's Iraq? Is this what we're showing the world how to be?
I used to walk through the Green Zone, watching the hustle and bustle of everything that was going on, thinking "I am just a pawn. Just a little game-piece that the mighty hands in Washington -- where it's safe and secure -- are moving around on a chessboard." To them, I meant nothing, nor does anyone else over there -- Americans or Iraqis. Just keep sending in more and more troops, and maybe, just maybe, after a mighty slaughter of American Forces, we will reach the summit of "Hamburger Hill." And once at the top, we will ask ourselves "Was it worth it?"
Therein lies my post for today. Welcome to my world.