“Soldier of Misfortune”

From Tuesday’s Post:

[Iraq] was a war with its own original sin: the Bush administration’s failure to provide enough troops. To make up the shortfall, the government chose to outsource responsibility for deciding who can kill and die for the United States to for-profit companies that employed tens of thousands of soldiers-for-hire: mercenaries, or private security contractors, as they were known. The mercenaries developed their own language and subculture, and they fought their own secret battles under their own rules — “Big Boy Rules,” as they called their playbook, with more than a hint of condescension, to distinguish it from the constraints of the military’s formal code. They weren’t counted by our government, alive or dead.

Near the end of the excerpt, the author offers a bitingly poignant remark: “The official American death toll in Iraq that day was 4,047. The number did not change when Jon’s body was identified.”

The thought of American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines dying in this war is harrowing enough; that we have suffered the consequences of this war’s “original sin”, as Steve Fainaru aptly dubs it, is, to me, insufferably tragic and inexcusable.



A must read: “The Last Tour”, in The New Yorker, on the psychological horror that is war

William Tecumseh Sherman, one of our most revered criminals of war, remarked, “War is Hell.” I don’t think he quite had this in mind.

From the towed car, park rangers had already deduced who they were. They had called Kellee Twiggs, Travis’s wife, in Virginia. She had missed a call from her husband earlier that afternoon, she said; he had left no message. He and Will had disappeared a few days before. She was stunned to hear that they were in Arizona. She explained about the P.T.S.D. and said that Travis had been “out of his mind” the last time she saw him. He was a highly trained marine—a martial-arts instructor, weapons expert, and skilled combat tracker. “I’m very scared,” she said. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to him or your people.” Anyone who approached him should use his nickname, Tebeaux; it might help him understand that he was in America and that they were not the enemy. She added that her husband’s combat flashbacks were worse if he had been drinking. (In the towed car, the rangers found beer cans and an empty fifth of Jägermeister.) Will, she said, was not a fighter but might “man up to impress his brother.”

Not long thereafter,

they heard shots; some heard one, others heard two; there were actually three. It was later determined that Travis Twiggs had pulled the trigger each time. The first shot was fired at point-blank range through the left temple of Willard Twiggs, and it was fatal. The second was fired from under Travis’s own chin. The bullet came out through his left cheek. It was not fatal. The third shot, fired at point-blank range, went through his right temple—fatal. Will’s head had fallen back against the seat. Travis slumped into his brother’s lap.

May God have mercy on their souls and console their loved ones always. And may those who purport to lead this nation, but who have led her astray, recognize the tremendous errors they have committed and do all that they must to rectify the situation, that we see this no more.

Pearls Before Swine explains: Hagar the Horrible and the Iraq war

This is just too good.

A jarring dose of reality. Or: Why we need to end this senseless war

Before I tell my tale, I’ll offer full disclosure. When the aisle-crossing War Party first began to beat its drums, I straddled the fence, so to speak, unsure of my thoughts on the matter — neglecting questions Constitutional; countering claims that the war wasn’t really in our interest by, naïvely, averring that, having empowered Saddam Hussein in the Nineteen eighties, we had an obligation to remove him from power; attempting to justify the war in conversation with my father; and calling out Peter Quaranto, whom I hadn’t yet met, but whom I’ve since come very much to like and to respect, after he lambasted, in Notre Dame’s Observer, those whose twisted machinations, then, manifested themselves as policy that I thought myself, possibly, able to support — but never really leaping across the fence, as it were, wholly to support the war.

By the fall of 2004, I wrote, as token conservative, an “anybody but anybody but Bush” piece in Notre Dame’s left-wing Common Sense, wherein, exhorting liberals not to cast their votes for John Kerry, I revealed the staunch opposition to the invasion of Iraq that I had come to espouse. To this day, I contend that we ought not to have invaded Iraq; however, despite feeling this way, and despite attempting to maintain always a façade of support for immediate withdrawal, I have, to myself, expressed doubts, along the same lines of naïvety mentioned above. To wit, having turned Mesopotamia into such a clusterfuck, we ought, I have, on occasion, convinced myself, to remain present until we have helped to forge some sort of lasting stability.

No more.

Tonight, I joined my friend Dana in Silver Spring for a couple of rounds of darts at McGinty’s, an “Irish” pub in downtown where we’ve played before. The public house has its dart boards in a room near the back, down a hallway from the bar. The bathrooms are nearby, and an emergency exit leads patrons out of the bar from a corner of the room. Standing in the corner opposite the emergency door, my back turned to the room, which, generally, only those throwing occupy, updating the score, I heard someone address me. Turning, I saw that he wore a Notre Dame t-shirt and ball-cap; having noticed my kelly green number three jersey, he engaged me in some brief small talk about today’s game. (Thank God on high the Irish finally figured out how to play some football!) Two friends accompanied him, one in a wheelchair, both legs amputated at or about the knee. The other friend walked with a crutch; I noticed, eventually, that one of his legs had been severed below the knee. They had come through the room to use the emergency exit; when I realized that the wheelchair-bound friend struggled with the door, I kindly held it for them. Only then dawned on me that the guy who had addressed me also walked on crutches. I had seen one while he spoke to me, but, for whatever reason, this registered not in my mind. As he passed through the door, behind his friends, and thanked me, I noticed that he, too, had lost part of a leg, his left. I closed the door, looked at Dana, and half-spoke, half-mouth, “Vets?!” In reply, she speculated that, perhaps, they’d taken a night out from Walter Reed.

The moment, brief as it was, left me feeling wholly unsettled. I have friends who have served in Iraq; at least one, a J.A.G. attorney, works there now. A high school classmate killed himself a few years ago, while serving. And yet, because the friends returned home alive and well, and Mike’s death arose as much out of personal struggles Stateside as any frustrations in Iraq, the horrors never really materialized for me. Tonight, that all changed, as I talked Notre Dame football, just briefly, with a couple of guys no older than I — no different than I, or my readers: normal people — who returned from Iraq physically incomplete (to put it sufficiently crudely that I beg my readers’ forgiveness) and, doubtless, mentally incomplete, too. It jarred and saddened me. Mayhap, in part, I reacted out of guilt: What alignment of stars, as they say, permitted me the luxury of not enlisting, of earning my degree from Notre Dame, where I had the chance to watch those Notre Dame games, while my new friends battled heat and enemy and depression and God knows what? It’s more than this, though: We ought not to have invaded Iraq in the first place, our “leaders” conniving as they did to convince the three courageous Americans whom I met in McGinty’s tonight that they left all that they knew, and risked their lives, and returned with mangled bodies and souls, for the greater good.

Support our troops: Bring them home. Now. No-one else ought to return to the nation-state for which he risks his life unable to walk with ease, to ascend the steps at Notre Dame Stadium without a struggle. And, damn it, no-one else should return home to Indiana as Sgt. Joe Montgomery did.

Though they’ll never read or hear it, I offer my heartfelt thanks to the three gentleman for whom I had the pleasure simply of holding open a door. God bless them.

Palin’s war prayer

All over the web, Sarah Palin’s already infamous address to ministry students at her former church:

“Our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God,” she said. “That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that plan is God’s plan.”

The first sentence, yes, troubles me immensely. However, the second, which appears to take on a subjunctive tone, seems, to me, partially to retract the Messianism exuding from the first. She suggests, toward the end, not that, as she first remarked, our Middle Eastern debacle is God’s will; rather, she implores her audience to pray that it is, that we have not, as a nation, acted against God. This hardly comforts me, is only trivially better than directly calling it God’s plan, as she first does; nonetheless, I think it leaves open the possibility that the Iraq War, in her eyes, isn’t necessarily God’s plan.

Truth be told, as much as I doubt it, for the sake of the souls of those who have perpetuated the Arabian absurdity, I hope that such prayers, that God might, even partially, approve, are answered on high in the affirmative.

August is the cruelest month

John Zmirak, one of my favorites, offers a thoughtful plaint, recalling dreadful Augusts of the last one hundred years, at InsideCatholic.

“[I]t’s being fought — and not always fought (Mike and his men are engineers) — by men and women who may or may not agree with the war, but who promised to go if their country called, and who are honoring that promise.”

Rod has posted an absolutely heart-warming piece about the return of his brother-in-law’s unit from Iraq. The italicized line in the following block is, save, maybe the line where-with I titled this post, my favorite in Rod’s piece. Do read it.

The image above appears in the Baton Rouge Advocate today. It shows my brother-in-law, Chief Warrant Officer Mike Leming, as he got off the plane in Baton Rouge yesterday and greeted his family. In the photo is my sister Ruthie, their daughters Hannah (the tall blonde) and Claire. Little Rebekah is not in the photo because she’s clinging to her daddy’s leg.

On the subject of Iraq, I want to link to, for the second — if not third — time, this somber piece, “The Things That Carried Him”, from Chris Jones in Esquire. War sucks; this one, particularly. But just as we must always thank those, such as Mike Leming, who return to their families, we must remember all of the brave men and women whom we’re not so fortunate to welcome home with hugs, kisses, and thanks, such as Sgt. Joe Montgomery, an Indiana boy, from this catastrophic foreign intervention.

“It breaks your heart when you drive through and you see people and they’re crying for you,” Vicki said later. She was especially struck by the nameless mechanic in his coveralls, black with oil. He had crawled out from under a car, out of the pit, and he stood in front of the garage, perfectly straight, perfectly still, saluting the hearse, and lines formed under his eyes in the oil on his face.

God bless Mike Leming, Joe Montgomery, and every other American who honors the promises he has made.