Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Our commenters are way more impressive than us

Well, at least one: Wes Morgan, AKA Tintin, appears today on the New York Times' At War blog.
One day last summer, in the back of a bug-like armored truck in southern Afghanistan, an American infantryman my own age asked me a question, one I’ve heard countless times from countless soldiers when they learn that at home, I study at an Ivy League college: What do they think of all this back there, in your world?

I knew what answer he expected because of the surprise that registers on such soldiers’ faces when I offer a different one. He expected that in my world of left-leaning professors and privileged students, the war he and his unit were waging would be viewed with scorn or disgust, and maybe that he and his profession would be, too.

That wasn’t the case, I told him. From his expression, what I told him was worse: that in my world (if it really is my world, but that’s another question) most students — young people who are his peers, at least in terms of age and video games and music — rarely spare his war more than a passing thought.

Now back in college after spending much of a yearlong hiatus embedded with American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is a reality I’m used to, one that I understand but still find disturbing: For me, it’s easy to forget that there’s a health care debate or an immigration one. But for almost everyone I know at school, even my closest friends, it’s easy to forget there’s a war — let alone two of them.
Yeah, that's the same blog that Ink Spots hero C.J. Chivers writes for. Not that we feel insignificant or anything.


  1. But for almost everyone I know at school, even my closest friends, it’s easy to forget there’s a war — let alone two of them.

    That goes a long way in explaining why repealing DADT is now a priority. Iraq? Afghanistan? Huh? What about that rule that says gays in the military need to keep quiet about their sexual preference? Oh, what an injustice! Hey, let's go run up our parents' credit cards at the bar. Mid-terms are coming up.

  2. Schmedlap:

    As I noted on your blog, this may not be an optimal time to repeal DADT. It may, among other things, be an attempt to revitalize the Democratic base after a demoralizing loss of a filibuster-proof Senate after the loss of a previously-considered "can't lose" Senate seat. Yet your attempt to tack onto the repeal of DADT some hypothetical (perhaps not too hypothetical) stoner-slacker apathetic college kids conflates two very separate issues: the injustice of DADT, and the wrongness of ignorance about the war(s).


  3. I wasn't hinting at a mixing/confusion of two issues. I think there is one issue: ignorance. For all the enlightenment that supposedly exists and is supposedly doled out in academia, there is a shocking ignorance about the world. What follows from that ignorance is an inability to prioritize issues in a rational manner. And that disconnect is exactly why this DADT review can have the revitalizing effect that you point out. The college-aged, head-in-the-clouds base will now be slightly less peeved with the President because they now think that he's got his priorities more in line with theirs. Whether one prefers the repeal of DADT, I don't see how anyone can justify now as the time to address it unless they're oblivious to the issues facing our military at the moment.

  4. Schmedlap -- This is really weak sauce, dude. You're too smart to imagine that the administrative/bureaucratic processes associated with a reconsideration of DADT will impact the war effort in any way, shape, or form.

    I don't even really understand what the hell you're trying to say here, that's how insane it is. Are you implying that if college kids cared about the wars as a political issue, the administration would try harder? You've lost me.

  5. Tintin: you famous! Yeah for Tintin! Also, not new. The early nineties redux: poor job market (was the job market for history majors EVER good?), a war that was just a bunch of blinking lights on CNN for the vast majority of young people. My Gulf War I was watching CNN updates - so sexy and new back then - in my med school frat (coed frat) living room and then vaguely considering protesting the thing, but it ended in like two days. Not to be glib: I'm just describing life for the vast majority of us clueless jerks who didn't pay attention. I really regret that - maybe I'm making up for something now by reading up now? Also, these particular wars are going on and on, so entirely different. Attitudes, though, are not new. Young people in civilian life are protected from the world: that complaint is rampant among the staff of teaching hospitals. That young people come into medical school unprepared for life itself.

    Inkspots crew: not insignificant! This is the new paradigm - disintermediation - articles in the NYT and on-line blogs/Twitter/whatever, and commenters and writers moving between the two. And so it is! Technology rules!

    DADT: The timing may be political because of the difficulties the President has with his base, but repeal is an eventuality. Because of the demographics. It will eventually happen because larger society views the issue as one of civil rights. I tried to say as much at Abu M, but that was my mistake. The place has exploded - the comments are as horrible the Israel/Palestine comments, which I avoid like the plague. The arguments come from emotion, not reason. They are too emotional! And me saying that: I am 100 percent emotion!

  6. Tintin- Excellent article. Good work.

    DADT- Personally, I don't care how others live their private lives. I want good, trainable soldiers that want to serve the nation. My concern on this issue is not allowing gays to serve openly, but the headaches/litigation that follows for the commander. Take shitbird soldier X. He enlisted for college benefits or to join the ranks of the welfare society. He found out that the Army is difficult- you have to follow orders, get up early, deploy to war for a long time, and generally not get to do what you want to do most of the time. This soldier does poorly at work. His NCOs begin to conduct corrective training and counseling to change his behavior. He wants out of the army. Now, with DADT repealed, he can file a harrassment claim stating that the only reason he was treated poorly was due to his sexual preference (regardless of his actual job performance). That's what worries me. Am I off here?

  7. The early nineties redux: poor job market (was the job market for history majors EVER good?)

    Ahem. I was a history major!

    (But yeah, the answer is probably no. It wasn't in 2001, anyway. And, VOILA! Graduate school!)

  8. Mike -- I understand what you're saying, but I'm not sure that's a counterargument. After all, how many EO suits do you see nowadays in similar circumstances? How many guys are bringing a case that they've been drummed out of the Army because they're black, or Mormon, or Polish, or whatever?

  9. (In case I wasn't being clear, I'm saying that I don't think the number is very high. While in the early stages of "reintegration," gay soldiers might feel more often victimized and might seek redress more frequently, we already live in a pretty litigious world; I think if most minority soldiers are able to serve without blaming anti-minority discrimination for their shitbirdiness, then gay shitbird soldiers will eventually be able to do the same.

  10. No, MikeF, you're not off to worry about these things, even as I favor the repeal of DADT for larger societal regions. Plus, one of my best friends is gay. He's the most honorable person I know. The smartest and most honorable.

    Anyway, the military world is not the civilian world and I think we DO have to pay attention to certain things we might not in larger civilian life. We don't want to drag our civilian dysfunction into that world, and a certain type of bureaucratic political correctness and cluelessness is something I don't want to see repeated. That's why Abu M's plea for actual data is a good, rational, calm one.

  11. Gulliver- that wasn't meant to be a counterargument just a concern.

    As I'm thinking through the broader issues (EO, the PPT slide fiasco, and now DADT), I guess the real questions are:

    -What is good order and discipline?

    -What do we want our Army to look like?

    -How do some of these issues (low-hanging fruit if you will) pertain to us achieving our national security objectives?

    As I'm transistioning from company to field grade, I'm still a mission first guy at heart so it's rather difficult for me to comprehend or tolerate certain issues that do not directly contribute to the fight.

  12. Mike -- As I'm transistioning from company to field grade, I'm still a mission first guy at heart so it's rather difficult for me to comprehend or tolerate certain issues that do not directly contribute to the fight.

    I get you here, and I think it's important that we keep that focus (especially at the company-grade level). But like it or not, things get political when we get up to the service and Departmental level.

    And while we're on the subject, I suppose I should mention that there are people out there on the gay-rights and equal-opportunity side who will say "this move will contribute to operational effectiveness by allowing the services to retain personnel with specific skills [usually they say languages here] who would otherwise be drummed out for something as insignificant and irrelevant to the mission as their personal sexuality." I think the numbers here (of people bounced in this circumstance) are pretty vanishingly small, but we don't have a real huge margin for error when we're talking about things like Pashto speakers, right?

  13. Gulliver- excellent points. My first concern mentioned the oxygen thief that will take advantage of the system. They will always exist.

    In reality, the communities most effected will probably be translators and the military intelligence crowd. I saw a lot of that at DLI. I guess, in Mike's world, my policy would be "It's okay to be gay, just don't be gay about it." Or, simply put, moderation in all things. I wouldn't let my country boys parade around with the stars and bars around post, I didn't allow the bible thumpers to preach at work, and I wouldn't be okay with a soldier dressing up in drag and marching in San Fran.

    I guess it goes back to reminding the boys who and what they represent when they put on the uniform.

  14. "low-hanging fruit if you will"

    Was the pun intentional?


  15. Right there with you on this last one, Mike. (And -- whatever it says about me -- I laughed out loud at "just don't be gay about it.")

  16. Gulliver,

    I just re-read what I typed. It doesn't sound insane to me (maybe I'm too crazy to judge?). But you seem to react to two issues that I didn't raise.

    First, I didn't type (or mean to suggest) that there would be a significant impact on the wars. I'm just referring to the stress on the force (I suppose that could impact the wars? But that wasn't what I was getting at). This political, polarizing nonsense doesn't really make the current strain on the force all that much more manageable. Do you think this policy will be quietly implemented, with no media circuses and fanfare on bases and no new briefings and initial SNAFUs?

    Second, regarding the President "trying harder" I'm not sure what you mean. This issue is a wild card that he held on to until he needed to revive support among his base. Is that not obvious, or did someone swap out my MuscleTech NaNOX9 pills with crazy pills? [flexes]

    I'll try again in shorter form:
    College kids tend to be clueless and, as a result, do a poor job of discerning what is important and what isn't. Many are more worried about DADT than Iraq/A'Stan (my impression from living among them in DC - heavily reinforced in law school). This DADT review can make them less upset at the Prez and maybe even stop worrying about the size of our presence in IZ/A'Stan because they'll be so "stoked" that DADT was repealed.

    This is really weak sauce, dude.
    My avocado dip makes up for it.

  17. Way to be on the NYT, Tintin. I'm not sure what editing did, of course, but man: isn't it a bit weird to dichotomize between "These Liberal Arts Majors don't care about the war" and "These military folks thing its important to defend their country"?

    Why doesn't the war register? My guess: because it doesn't matter to college kids. Relatively few of them know anyone in Afghanistan (even the ROTC kids I know are doing vauge "intel" work stateside) and nobody has been able to bring up a good answer to "Why the US is in Iraq/Afghanistan" for a few years now that computes with, say, a liberal arts major. Needless to say an engineer or whatever.

    It's not Us v. Them, it's people connected vs. people who aren't.

  18. AJK:

    Are you saying engineers are equally, less or more inclined toward apathy and ignorance regarding the war? I'm confused about the engineer versus liberal arts distinction.


  19. ADTS: I didn't mean anything by it. Just didn't want to turn anything into an attack/defense on the liberal arts, so I just threw another major into the mix. Disregard as necessary.

  20. College students and Americans in general are apathetic towards the wars because the economy sucks, their credit card bills are enormous, and their jobs may be outsourced or eliminated. And the people we are fighting pose little threat to America in general.

    The Times ran a series of articles a couple of years ago about our outposts in Nuristan. The gist of the article was that these Nuristanis deal in illegal lumber ... cutting it down and selling it untaxed across the border in Pakistan. It was also mentioned that they have links to the Taliban and AQ.

    Team America's job was to make them cease and desist along with convincing them to respect Karzai's authority.

    Nobody steps back and thinks that these Nuristanis pose no threat to anyone in Wisconsin? They are fucking smugglers, just like we have in our border states.

    When Americans read about this shit, they realize it's all pointless. Our military is perched on steep cliffs to interdict a bunch of lumberjacks? Then there are stories like Peter Galbraith and his Kurdistani oil bonanza.

    The wars are not "protecting" us, if anything, the wars make things worse. Our presence fuels resentment. If foreign soldiers were patrolling your hometowns, setting roadblocks, searching homes, you'd be pissed.

  21. But that's where 9/11 was plotted!

  22. As a sophomore at Union College who reads this blog frequently but does not comment, I have to say I am more than impressed by Wes. Good stuff.