September 10, 2007

Counting Bodies

TomDispatch has a remarkable excerpt from a book he's written on the victory culture which he first wrote in 1995 and recently updated. He notes that the recent military arguments with marking "success" in Iraq are going down the same road as the military measurement of "success" in Vietnam: Tomdipatch's Victory Culture on Body Counts.

For visiting congressional delegations, the commander of U.S. forces, Gen. William Westmoreland, had his "attrition charts," multicolored bar graphs illustrating various "trends" in death and destruction. Commanders in the field had their own sophisticated ways to codify "kill ratios"; while, on the ground, where, in dangerous circumstances, the actual counting had to be done, all of this translated, far more crudely, into the MGR, or, as the grunts sometimes said, the "Mere Gook Rule" -- "If it's dead and it's Vietnamese, it's VC [Vietcong]." In other words, when pressure came down for the "body count," any body would do.

...The body count took on a grim life of its own. Detached from reality, yet producing the most horrific of realities -- and, among increasing numbers of Americans, a sense of shame -- it morphed into something like a never-ending Catch-22 of carnage. In this way, as the bodies piling up looked ever more like so many slaughtered peasants in a "fourth-rate" land, successive American administrations entered the dead zone.

...In a war in which D-Day-like landings were uncontested publicity events and "conquered" territory might be abandoned within days, the killing of the enemy initially seemed nothing to be ashamed of and an obvious indicator of "progress" -- a classic word then and now. (Witness the upcoming Petraeus "progress report" to Congress.) As time went on, however, as success refused to make an appearance despite the claims that it was just around some corner, and as "defeat," a word no one cared to use, crept into consciousness (while American officials like National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger privately fulminated about the impossibility of losing a war to "a little fourth-rate power"), those dead bodies decoupled from the idea of victory. They began to seem like a grim count of something else entirely - of, depending on your position at that moment, frustration, futility, brutality, tragedy, defeat.

Something to consider when we are listening to General Petraeus' testimony this week.

Posted by Mary at September 10, 2007 08:02 AM | War on Terrorism | Technorati links |

This is symptomatic of the way that we handled this conflict. We have had many of the same issues in the US as we're having in Iraq, albeit on a much smaller scale. The sectarian violence we're seeing here is much more akin to gangs or gangsters fighting that it is to organized warfare.

That's the problem. A military, especially a superpower military like ours, is designed to take on other nations, other forces like itself where we kill uniformed foes and destroy war-making industry and infrastructure.

The insurgency is, tactically speaking, much more like a mob war and should be handled by the kind of people that handle such things. This isn't, or rather should not be, a military matter. It should be an investigative and law enforcement matter. We need a surge in police, not soldiers. We need the FBI to be training the new people going into Iraq and not the DoD.

Posted by: Thomas at September 10, 2007 02:14 PM