That is no way to win a war, folks. My column in World Politics Review this week looks at the way in which the United States and its allies, while complaining a lot about the government in Afghanistan, have not ourselves been the most dependable partners.
In the Principles of War, the Principle of Mass
calls for the commander to concentrate combat power at the decisive time
and place. Sounds simple enough. Those who allowed themselves to be defeated in detail learned firsthand the price of forgoing this maxim during Napoleonic engagements. The Allied inability to reinforce the advance force at Arnhem in World War II stands as a modern operational example of concentration's importance. But this obscures one problem: while the Principle calls for concentration at the decisive time and place, militaries can concentrate in exclusively spatial or temporal dimensions. A military can certainly concentrate in the decisive time and place, but it can also concentrate either in a defined space or execute a simultaneous concentration in many contigious or noncontigious spaces linked together by an common operational design. For example, a commander could throw his or her combat power in one sector of the enemy's defenses in the hope of effecting a breakthrough or press multiple points at the same time.
There is some controversy in the Civil War historiographical community as to whether or not Archer Jones or James McPherson should be credited with the idea of concentration in time. Either way, as the linked blog makes clear, the notion is somewhat of an anachronism. Civil War operational artists certainly thought in term of simultaneous advances, but the notion of those advances equating to a kind of temporal concentration should not be taken as a given. Whatever the origins of the concept, the idea of concentration in time holds that it is possible to generate a significant concentration of force across an theater of war, or in the case of a multitheater strategic offensive, throughout any and all important areas of military competition. McPherson's argument in Tried by War, to some extent reinforced by James Schneider's idea of a distributed campaign made up of several simultaneous and/or successive operations, is that Lincoln and his generals conceived of later strategic offensives as continent-wide. Operations in one theater reinforced the other in service to one overriding strategic design. Concentration in time generates cumulative rather than wholly sequential pressure on an adversary, leading to a cascading military failure. In an odd way, concentration in time--especially when it pursues a strategic center of gravity--is the real "effects-based operation."
Schneider makes clear that distributed campaignng is not by any means easy. Concentration in time requires continuous logistics to support the complex architecture of a distributed campaign, and instaneous command and control is also needed to deal with the increased tactical and operational opportunities that a distributed force encounters. The obsession with "self-synchronization" in the network-centric literature is one example of an effort by information-age militaries to deal with the problem of command and control in a distributed campaign. As befitting the continental bias of the operational art literature as a whole, concentration in time is obviously dependent on having the resources to mount simultaneous and successive operations. Concentration in time looks more realizable with lesser numbers in a naval context, with a exponentially larger operational space and powerful platforms capable of exerting power over operational distances. Naval power is still governed by Schneider's basic set of requirements despite its general difference from the continental model of military theory the notion of operational art issues from.
The past ten years of operations seem to suggest that Western military forces struggle to meet any of Schneider's basic requirements for distributed campaigning. Logistically, as Jonathan Riley points out, Western forces struggle to supply continuous logistics:
In modern campaigns, static operations in theatres like the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan have brought their own problems in over-stretching military logistic units and military forces that rely on contractors to provide many functions. This situation is almost the reverse of Napoleonic times. Once the line of communication has been established, the use of contracts allied to food technology and other commodity storage have made it far simpler to maintain a static force than a mobile one.
Indeed, contractors have become indispensible to projecting force across strategic distances and for austere militaries it is also financially easier to build supplies off networks of contracts than generate sustainment as a core competency. If Napoleonic armies foraged off the land and industrial logistics created a continuous stream of mobile supply that could follow a campaign, even shattering operational successes like the Gulf War were dependent on prestocked logistics and base infrastructure. My Abu Muquwama blogmate Dan Trombly has also written at his own site about the importance of prestocked equipment in maintaining a capacity for intervening in the Hormuz strait.
Instantenous command and control has also recently eluded Western military forces. Martin van Creveld has written often about the growth in headquarters staffs and the growing complexity of what used to be a simple staff process for generating orders and processing operations. To some extent, this is a result of technological and organizational complexity. Witness the Herculean struggles of an brigade commander in Afghanistan:
Few people would recognize the sheer amount of complex equipment fielded to a brigade today that requires sync. There is much, much more to integrate. We have UAVs employed by every echelon from Company to Theater level, plus helicopters and CAS to manage. The airspace is complex and must be deconflicted. We have signals collection gear that does some amazing stuff. We have ground penetrating radar mine detectors. We have precision guided mortar rounds. We have explosive detection dogs. Electronic jamming gear. We have various MISO/PSYOP assets, such as portable radio stations. We have balloons to integrate into the ISR plans with all kinds of towers. We have a host of interagency and joint embeds. We have ISAF/NATO countries which may or may not speak the language. We have SOF assets playing in our area with their own enablers. The list goes on but you get the idea. None of this can be employed haphazardly or we lose the effect of the system, or worse, the systems "fratricide" each other unless someone is looking holistically at the employment. So mission command has its limits.
The cost of this complexity, especially when it comes to even more organizationally tangled Coalition operations, is the ability to exploit local opportunities and respond to local conditions. Granted, commanders in previous wars dealt with an equally complex array of weapons, units, and armies (Alexander, Hannibal, and the Persians had large multinational armies with platforms ranging from horse archers to war elephants) but did so with the benefit of unity of command, more personalized command and control, and smaller operating environments. Moreover, as David Johnson has argued about the 2006 Lebanon War, the languid (compared to mobile campaigns like 1940, 1967, or 1991) pace of guerrilla wars accustoms operational planners to a far different style of operations then would be characteristic either of mobile or static conventional wars. Finally, modern wars has added the legal problems inherent in the modern targeting process and the concept of operational "lawfare" to the already tangled command and control loop.
These complex military organizations are also simply much smaller than they used to be. Technological advances have made individual weapons and units more powerful, but at the price of investing in complex platforms that require a more technically complex support infrastructure. The complexity of qualititvely superior platforms and their attendant personnel costs feeds into the problem of a contractor-augmented "tooth-to-tail" ratio and fuels the growing fiscal crisis of Western democracies. Escalating per-unit costs of technologically complex weapons designed for qualitative superiority fed through a dysfunctional design and acquisition process are responsible not only for problem-plagued aerial dominance fighter aircraft, but also a host of other troubled platforms. Even the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), originally conceptualized as a light craft to extend Western power to littoral regions, has become a financial sinkhole. Cost growth in major weapons platforms and growing personnel costs (which as noted before have a symbiotic relatioship) add to the costs of replacing and/or modernizing aging Cold War platforms.
This "wicked problem" has been dubbed the "defense train wreck." This, as Dakota Wood noted a couple years ago about the threat posed to the Marine Corps's institutional design by the fiscal drain of the F-35B and the Expenditionary Fighting Vehicle, not only complicates employing core platforms but threatens service and theater strategies writ large. It goes without saying that these problems, while toleable in a flush fiscal climate, are deadly in today's atmosphere of fiscal austerity. And at a certain point, quantity has a quality all of its own, particularly when expeditionary forces are far from their strategic base area and are confronted by local forces with an abundance of cheap but deadly weapons. This, without DoD buzzwords, is what "anti-access" amounts to. The United States, after all, relied on anti-access capabilities in the 19th century with its coastal fortress network and defensive naval strategy.
In Afghanistan and Iraq the cost of operations, inflexible logistics easily disrupted by political concerns or enemy action, and small forces spread out over large distances hampers the ability of military forces to gain strategic control. Just as in naval strategy, the cost of gaining control over a large area with small distributed forces is substantial. The cost, on the other hand, to the enemy of disputing control is very small. Joshua Foust has noted in his Afghanistan metrics series that the ability of the Taliban to sustain complex attacks in Kabul over many years has had a significant political cost to Afghan perceptions of safety and security, and Foust has argued elsewhere that military pressure in Helmand came at the expense of security in other equally important regions.
Looking to the future, the growth of urban megacities does not particularly bode well for small expeditionary forces. John Collins argued in his Military Geography that the Schlieffen Plan, if dodgy in 1914, might be impossible today due to the slowing power of extensive urbanization in what used to be terrain fit perfectly for mobile war. It is difficult for even host nations to exercise control over large cities, as anyone familiar with Latin American public security problems may surmise. For a long time, criminals in Rio de Janeiro controlled fortified neighborhood expanses and police, like American troops pre-Surge, engaged mainly in raiding operations. Peace in El Salvador was (albeit perhaps temporarily) granted by a truce between the country's two most powerful gangs, not a government political-military operation.
If concentration in time was really a 19th century innovation borne out by the power of industrial command and control and logistics, the political and military economy of Western defense suggests a potential return to the military methods of an era before the age of mass armies. Armies moved in dense blocks, proficient through rigid command and control at intrabattle maneuver but struggled at intratheater maneuver--to say nothing of strategic power projection. Some accounts of 18th century operations read like modern news clippings. Modern operations, like the 18th century depot system that so frustrated the generals of that period, are increasingly tied to dense stockpiles. Contractors taking over core military competencies is not, as commonly portrayed, really an alarming product of today's politics. Rather, it is a return to what really can be considered a military norm in recent Western history. Finally, brittle platform-intensive Western militaries may not be risked for fear of damage and loss of expensive machines or valuable personnel, just as Frederician militaries were similarly frustrated by the cost of direct battle.
Concentration in space, which assumed paramount importance in the days in which low-ranged and relatively inefficient weapons needed to be massed to achieve tactical effect, may come back to the fore. The primary difference is that the space in which concentration occurs has grown exponentially larger. We aren't going back to Leuthen or Cannae-type engagements. The other crucial difference is that the means by which military power is concentrated also do not have to fit a 19th century continental model of military power.
American power projection has traditionally prized a different form of strategic concentration than either the continental or purely naval schools of strategy. As Dan has pointed out, drones and special forces are simply the latest manifestation of the age-old American design for naval-backed discrete operations:
The broad authorization for use of military force which began the War on Terror and its “undeclared” nature has very little to do with drone technology, and more to do with the fact that the United States has never formally declared war on a non-state actor in its history. Even in areas frequently identified with drone warfare, such as the Horn of Africa, Yemen, and Pakistan, non-drone US interference has occurred at varying levels of frequency during the War on Terror. As I have argued before, drones increase operating tempo more than anything else. ...The tradition of undeclared wars against belligerent irregular foes across poorly defined regions is something very familiar to the Founding Fathers. .... The all-volunteer force, private contractors, and sea-deployed small units conducting raids into sovereign countries are products of the US body politic’s rejection of the heavy costs of mass mobilization, but continued interest in responding to actual or perceived threats and slights to broadly conceived notions of America’s international rights – in many respects, it is a return to the Barbary-style of warfare (the tradition of which is reflected in the “Small Wars” era of USMC operations in the early 20th century), where irregular threats did not merit a formal declaration of war and were dealt with without conscription or mass mobilization of the army.
Dan gets to the heart of where strategy really becomes linked to political economy. Traditional European continental military powers that in earlier eras pioneered the era of mass warfare no longer have the capability to exert power beyond their borders and generally lack threats to justify large mobile combined-arms forces for warfare on the Eurasian landmass. The United States has traditionally rejected the continental model of military power and large standing forces were maintained only after World War II and Korea made clear the necessity of projecting worldwide military power. The Cold War can be seen as an exercise in grand strategic concentration in time. The United States aimed, when possible, to project military and paramilitary force in theaters both crucial (Europe, the Persian Gulf, and Northeast Asia) and peripheral (Southast Asia, most of the Middle East, and Latin America) rather than forfeit any kind of advantage to what was viewed as a monolithic Communist threat.
Such a worldwide threat is a historical aberration. A landscape of discretionary wars and humanitarian interventions with small contractor-supported and paramilitary-intensive military forces is actually truest to American political tradition. The late 1700s to early 1900s yields many examples of interventions waged by flexible naval-enabled forces, from American participation in the crushing of the Boxer Rebellion to the Banana Wars. When Eisenhower attempted to implement the "New Look," it was a attempt to consciously do away with the continental operational model of massive land forces in the hope that nuclear forces could bridge the gap. As Dan notes, the political economy of American strategy and operations is, contrary to dreams of an better past, extremely conducive to undeclared wars and covert operations. Take a look at the Quasi War and the Barbary Wars, waged under extremely questionable legal backing and in the case of the latter supported by foreign militias raised by American operators. And as David Parrot argues in The Business of War, Western militaries as a whole have traditionally preferred flexible forces augmented with contractors and local auxilaries in a "plug-and-play" fashion to large national armies. Such methods, to the extent they are politically viable, constitute the best chance of enabling Western power projection in the new fiscal environment.
Does this mean that these interventions will manifest in strategic effect? Not necessarily. But this is not necessarily a problem with the means provided by American material or the ways dictated by American operational art. Rather, it is a problem of strategic ends. If political economy dictates a certain style of operations for the near term, American strategists ought to take note of what such force can and cannot realize on the world stage. But a reversion back to older ways of using force does not necessarily imply a simultaneous reversion to older political and strategic conceptions of military goals. The challenge for military planners is to reconcile, as always, the means and ways available to a political determination of ends wholly (and rightly) outside their sphere of influence.
I have an op-ed on Bloomberg View on the way in which the profusion of camera phones and other new-ish technology has caught the U.S. military off-guard.
The proliferation of camera phones and social-media networks has caused problems for the U.S. military as an institution. Much of this has to do with the generational divide in understanding technology. Most of the men and women serving in the lower enlisted and company-grade officer ranks are what the defense expert Thomas Rid identifies as digital natives. They grew up with e-mail, Facebook and the Internet playing as much a part in their childhoods as Saturday morning cartoons did.
The senior ranks of the military, on the other hand, are populated by digital immigrants. E-mail is something they can remember using for the first time. As late as 2008, at a conference at the U.S. Army War College, Rid asked a collection of senior officers and civilian defense officials how many of them had a Facebook profile. Only four of about 50 people in the room raised their hands.
He then asked how many people had heard of Twitter, and only two people raised their hands. Today, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff himself has a lively Twitter feed -- but the generational divide remains.
Read the rest here. With respect to this latest incident in Afghanistan, I continue to think this represents a failure of leadership on the part of whichever officers and noncommissioned officers were supposed to be supervising these soldiers. But there is a bigger issue surrounding new technologies that the U.S. military hasn't quite wrapped its head around, and in part I blame the fact that the people setting policy are often those least likely to understand the technology itself.
But if you are looking to give to international charities that actually do something, try the HALO Trust, which has been active in Afghan de-mining efforts since 1988. It employs three expatriates in Afghanistan and thousands of actual Afghans. They do not have any fancy videos of which I am aware. They're too busy digging mines out of the dirt to make such videos.
That is all.
John Tirman has an important if flawed op-ed in today's New York Times. He urges U.S. military and political leaders -- as well as the general public -- to be honest about civilian casualties in war. Tirman argues that U.S. military officers need to be wary of civilian casualties for strategic reasons, and here the two of us are in violent agreement. Tirman also argues that the U.S. public and its leaders need to consider the total human cost associated with war for moral reasons, and here too we are in violent agreement. Whenever I speak about the war in Iraq -- whether it is over dinner with friends last night or on NPR a few weeks ago -- I always make sure I mention the terrible loss of Iraqi lives. We Americans have to be honest about this. Last night, someone asked me if I thought the Iraq War had been worth it, and though I said the Iraq war had accomplished certain things (the fall of Saddam, a nascent democratic system of government), it most certainly had not been worth it. The three pieces of data I went on to cite were a) the $1 trillion spent, b) the 4,484 U.S. military lives lost, and c) the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian lives lost. I could have gone on to cite coalition casualties, the Iraqi refugee crisis, and wounded soldiers and civilians, but you get my drift: I am sympathetic to the aim of Tirman's op-ed.
But then Tirman writes this:
In 2006, two separate household surveys, by the Iraqi Ministry of Health and by researchers from Johns Hopkins University, found between 400,000 and 650,000 “excess deaths” in Iraq as a result of the war. At the time, however, the commanding general in Iraq put the number at 50,000 and President Bush had claimed in late 2005 that it was just 30,000.
As Tirman has to know, that Johns Hopkins / Lancet survey was incredibly controversial when it was released and remains controversial today. It relied on cluster sampling, in Iraq, at the height of that country's civil war. I cannot think of a poorer environment in which one could do that kind of survey. Yes, it was peer-reviewed, but an academically sophisticated methodology cannot compensate for poor data. (Garbage in = garbage out.) Both Gen. Casey and Pres. Bush were likely much closer to the mark, as the iCasualties figures from the very height of the war in Iraq -- 2005-2007 -- are way lower than the figures from either of the studies Tirman cites. (And if Tirman thinks the Iraqi Min. of Health had the capacity, in 2006, to accurately measure the cost of the war on the Iraqi civilian populace, he needs to spend more time in peacetime bureaucracies in the Arabic-speaking world. I apologize for painting with such a broad brush, but those with experience dealing with large state bureaucracies in Egypt or Syria know of what I speak.)
Tirman's op-ed is basically a call for the United States to use violence more selectively, and it's a pity he overstates his case (as tends to happen in New York Times op-eds), because I agree with him. As has been demonstrated time and again, the use of indiscriminate violence in civil war environments confuses the population, scrambles incentive structures for behavior, and tends to inflame the population against the force using the violence. Selective violence is much more effective.
That's the strategic argument. The moral argument is that the U.S. public needs to understand the total human costs associated with its wars. That may lead the United States to be more selective as to when it applies U.S. military power abroad and how it does so. On the other hand, it might also lead the United States to think carefully about how it ends its wars as well. There is a fashionable sign in my neighborhood, for example, that reads "End the War in Afghanistan." I assume this sign is meant to read "End U.S. Involvement in the War in Afghanistan," because I myself am unsure as to whether or not the U.S. withdrawal will ameliorate or worsen the conflict there. Progressives like Tirman should keep that in mind: the U.S. military is only one actor in environments like Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. presence is not the only driver of conflict. It is even possible -- whisper it -- that increased U.S. combat presence and operations might actually serve the interests of the civilian population in some cases. That's certainly the case, at least, in most stabilization operations.
Anyway, my congratulations to John Tirman for this important op-ed.
UPDATED: One of the folks in the comments section points out that Tirman directed the funding for the Lancet/JHU study. Well, that explains it! (I wish he would have disclosed this small but significant point in his op-ed.) Tirman apparently believes between 800,000 and 1.3 million Iraqis were killed in the war, which is a simply incredible claim. No one else puts the number that high. The Associated Press (110,600), the Iraq Body Count Project (103,536 — 113,125), and the Wikileaks logs (109,032) all put the number much, much lower. At what point does someone admit that their numbers just might be off and that their own study had deep flaws? I mean, only 87,000 death certificates were issued in the worst years of the war (2005-2008). Tirman might be the only guy left who references the Lancet/JHU study as having been sound.
LTG Dave Barno, Matt Irvine and I have a new policy paper out at CNAS, which you can read here. This paper is in a lot of ways the logical follow-on to our Responsible Transition report from December of last year, which, looking back, still seems quite relevant. (Check it out if you have the time.)
LTG Barno and I sat down with about a dozen journalists this morning and went over the particulars of new report. Our primary concern -- and the reason why we felt the need to write this report -- is that U.S. and allied commanders in Afghanistan have not yet made the mental leap that, whether they like it or not, the United States and the rest of the NATO coalition are transitioning in Afghanistan. In 2008, the situation in Afghanistan may have required large-scale counterinsurgency operations to buy time and space to build up Afghan security forces. (And I argued, in 2009, that it did.) Some would argue the situation still demands such large-scale operations, but with the transition already under way, the time to make the switch from counterinsurgency to security force assistance is sooner -- while you still have the relevant enablers in the country -- rather than in 2014. If those Afghan units you have been building are lemons, you also want to know that sooner rather than later.
Some U.S. and allied officers might argue the United States and the rest of the coalition are already working by, with and through the Afghans, but the reality on the ground suggests that is the exception, not the rule. In 2009, the NATO/ISAF command in Afghanistan stood up NTM-A to train Afghan soldiers and police, and that effort, while flawed, has been a lot more successful than what came before it. But the old training-and-advisory component of the mission was folded into the combat command in Afghanistan, and that work has since been uneven. "Partnering" -- which Gen. Stan McChrystal felt would allow Afghan units to fight alongside U.S. and allied units and thereby increase the development of the former -- never really materialized. U.S. combat units have been more proficient at finding and killing the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, so they have done the jobs themselves.
But developing security forces is like any other development work. What matters most is not whether or not the school or dam gets built but rather the process through which you take the host nation government to build a school or dam. U.S. commanders in Afghanistan now need to take short-term security risks in order to get Afghan units into the lead. The time to do this is now, not in 2014. Among the forcing mechanisms available to a president are to change the mission, change his commander, or change the resources. President Obama has already done the second and third this year. He should now do the first as well.
Anyway, read the whole report here and sound off in the comments section.
Reading through the 76-point resolution produced by Afghanistan's Loya Jerga, I was struck by how welcome so many of these points will be inside the White House. Afghan leaders, I often think, do not realize how closely Americans pay attention to what they say -- hence the insults Hamid Karzai periodically lobs at his U.S. sponsors, much to the annoyance of U.S. military officers, diplomats and tax-payers. But this administration has been particularly masterful at actually holding Afghan leaders to that which they say they want. That 2014 deadline for transition, for example? The origins of that date were not in President Obama's 1 December 2009 speech to West Point but in President Karzai's second innaugural address earlier that fall. Karzai likely threw that date out there for Afghan consumption -- but it was picked up on by folks in the White House, who essentially held him to it.
In the same way, Afghan leaders have now, in this 76-point resolution, pretty clearly demanded a rapid "Afghanization" of the conflict in Afghanistan. They want Afghans in the lead, now, and U.S. and coalition units subordinate to those Afghans. LTG Dave Barno, Matt Irvine and I are about to argue in a new paper for CNAS that it is wise for the United States and its coalition allies to make the switch from counterinsurgency to security force assistance in 2012 -- while the United States and its allies still have a lot of resources on the ground -- rather than later on, closer to the 2014 transition. So I agree with many of the Loya Jerga's points on merit. Many of the points in the resolution, though, provide the United States and other reluctant coalition allies with a great excuse to precipitously reduce their presence and operations in Afghanistan.
There is a lot of other stuff in this resolution that provides U.S. diplomats with plenty of ammunition in negotiations toward something that looks like a Status of Forces Agreement. The Afghans ask for a lot from the United States -- more military equipment and training, financial and monetary assistance, scholarships, etc. That gives the United States room to ask for a lot in return. Otherwise, the United States can rapidly modify its combat operations against the enemies of the government of Afghanistan -- and can claim it is just carrying out the will of the Afghan people in doing so.
For a man to charge into fire once requires grit that is instinctive in few men; to do so a second time, now knowing what awaits you, requires inner resolve beyond instinct; to repeat a third time is courage above and beyond any call of duty; to go in a fourth time is to know you will die; to go in a fifth time is beyond comprehension.
Meyer's performance was the greatest act of courage in the war, because he repeated it, and repeated it, and repeated it.
As either Reinhold Niebuhr or Brother Mouzone once said, "The game is the game."
Ahmed Wali Karzai, long a case study for how U.S. government agencies and departments pull in different directions in Afghanistan, was killed today in Afghanistan.
I am neither the pro's pro on Ahmed Wali Karzai or southern Afghanistan, but let me direct you to Mattieu Aikins' excellent recent profile of AWK and also to Matt's Twitter feed, which I will be watching today for further news and cogent analysis.
Finally, you will note that our tech-support team at CNAS has added CAPTCHAs to the comments section in order to combat the spam. Fans of cut-price NFL jerseys may be upset, but I hope this makes the blog more reader-friendly for the rest of you.
1. This nonsense about adding new medals to recognize service in Iraq and Afghanistan is just as ridiculous as people have been saying, and for even more reasons. The way the U.S. military has divided up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into arbitrary phases is unnecessary and confusing. Ask a soldier if they have served in either country, and they will likely say, "Yes, two deployments to Iraq and three to Afghanistan" or something similar. They do not say, "Well, let's see, I had one deployment as part of the Liberation, one as part of the Transition, one deployment that overlapped between the Surge and Iraqi Sovereignty ... and then I deployed to Afghanistan as part of the Consolidation." That's silly. Just award one medal for service in each combat theater, and if you want to keep score beyond that, well, that's why God invented service stripes and valor awards.
2. I have mixed feelings about the news that the White House will now issue condolence letters to the families of soldiers who have committed suicide. First off, I care a lot less about condolence letters than I do about investing in psychological screening and counseling to reduce the number of suicides in the first place. Second, not all suicides are the result of combat stress. (One study demonstrated that "79 percent of army suicides occurred within the first three years of service, whether soldiers were deployed or not.") I have known soldiers who have died in Afghanistan in helicopter accidents and soldiers who have died in stateside helicopter crashes. Although neither crash was directly caused by enemy action, the families of the former received condolence letters. The families of the latter did not. If you're going to start writing letters to the families of all soldiers who commit suicide (where indirect cause of death cannot be clearly determined), should you not also start writing condolence letters to the families of all servicemen who die while serving on active duty? And what about the soldier who returns home from war, horrified by what he has seen, gets really drunk and dies (and maybe kills a few others) while driving under the influence? Does that guy's family get a letter? I mean, where do you draw the line between those who receive condolence letters and those who do not? My man Yochi Dreazen gets deeper into these questions in this National Journal article.
3. Speaking of PTSD, if a U.S. soldier wrote a difficult, painful-to-read, searingly honest essay on his or her struggle with PTSD, no one would tell that soldier that he or she does not have the right to write such an essay because they failed to also consider the effect of the war on innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. People would just accept that everyone has the right to share his or her own personal narrative, and that when people are brave enough to open up about their personal experiences, we should all give them the space to do so. Which is just one of the reasons why the outrage over Mac McLelland's essay annoys me.