Archive for the ‘Military’ Category
The fight to save the highly effective and relatively inexpensive A-10 Warthog from the enemy: The USAF
The US Air Force really does not like to provide close-air support to ground troops. They do not like the Army, and they would rather spend their combat time in dogfights with inferior forces or in strategic bombing of civilian targets: safer and, in their view, much more fun that simply helping ground troops win the war. So the USAF had to be outmaneuvered even to get the A-10 developed, and once it proved to be a great success—and easy to maintain and cheap to buy (compared to other combat airplanes)—the USAF was stuck with it—at least for a while. But the Air Force now believes that they can kill the plane. They are encouraged in this effort by corporations, which stand to make much more money from new development and expensive planes than by turning out more copies of an aircraft with proven effectiveness: industry cares about profit, not about effectiveness of what they produce. They like the F-35 much better—though it doesn’t work and probably never will—because they make a lot more money from it.
Martha McSally reports in the NY Times:
WHEN American troops find themselves fighting for their lives, there is no better sound than an A-10, a plane officially nicknamed the Thunderbolt II but known affectionately by the troops as the Warthog, firing its enormous 30-millimeter gun at the enemy. It might not be pretty, but the A-10 is our most capable close air-support aircraft, and its arrival on the battlefield signals survival for our troops and annihilation for our enemies.
Yet over the last two years, the Obama administration and the Air Force leadership have been working overtime to mothball our entire A-10 fleet, 13 years ahead of schedule. They claim that other, newer planes can do the same job, that it’s too slow and vulnerable and that it’s too expensive.
I appreciate the budget pressures that the Pentagon faces these days. But those arguments have serious flaws — and if we retire the A-10 before a replacement is developed, American troops will die.
Before running for office, I was an A-10 squadron commander with 325 combat hours. During my time in uniform and since coming to the House and taking up the fight to keep the plane, I have heard countless stories from American soldiers about how the A-10 saved their lives.
In 2008, Marine Master Sgt. Richard Wells and his team were on patrol in Afghanistan when they were ambushed. “It was the first time in my life that I thought to myself, ‘This is it, we’re going to die, we’re not going to make it out of this,’ ” he recalled in a recent interview.
The Marines were severely outnumbered, cornered, and in close combat with dozens of insurgents. Because of the poor weather, fast-moving fighters above the clouds were unable to identify the targets or get close enough to engage. Soon two Marines were seriously wounded, and the enemy was 50 feet away.
Suddenly two A-10s descended below a heavy layer of clouds. The planes are extremely maneuverable and designed to fly close to the ground. Coming within 400 feet of the mountains, they made nearly a dozen gun passes each, giving Sergeant Wells’s team cover to run to safety. Without the A-10 and the exceptional training and bravery of its pilots, six Marines would have died that day.
True, other planes and drones can do close air support. But every close-air-support scenario is different, and every platform brings strengths and weaknesses to the fight. The A-10 has unique strengths for the most complex and dangerous such missions.
It can loiter over the battlefield for long periods without refueling. It can maneuver in difficult terrain at low altitudes, fly slowly enough to visually identify enemy and friendly forces and survive direct hits. And it’s one of our most lethal aircraft, especially against moving targets, with its 1,174 rounds of ammunition, missiles, rockets and bombs. Not only is the A-10 best equipped for close air support, but it is crucial to leading combat search and rescue missions of downed pilots. After the barbaric murder of a captured Jordanian F-16 pilot by ISIS, these capabilities are more important than ever — indeed, A-10s are on round-the-clock alert during American missions against ISIS.
The A-10 was designed as a Cold War tank killer, and its cannon is the only one in the Air Force that can fire armor-piercing depleted-uranium 30-millimeter bullets. In a recent hearing, I asked the general in charge of our forces in South Korea what the loss of the A-10 would mean for our anti-armor capabilities. It would leave a major gap, he conceded.
Critics knock the age of our A-10 fleet; the last one was delivered in 1984. But with maintenance and upgrades — we just spent $1 billion on improvements to the A-10 fleet — age by itself isn’t a reason to retire the plane. And it’s far from the oldest plane in our fleet: Those same critics celebrate the B-52, the youngest of which is almost 53 years old and won’t be retired until 2040.
Those trying to retire the A-10 also claim it isn’t “survivable” — an amazing claim, given the long list of stories about the plane’s ability to take fire and still fly. In 2003, Capt. Kim Campbell was flying over Baghdad when her A-10 was hit by a surface-to-air missile, punching a large hole in the plane and knocking out its hydraulics. Most planes would have been destroyed; Captain Campbell switched into a mode only available in the A-10 — manual reversion, where you fly the aircraft by brute force, manually pulling on cables when you move the control stick — and flew home safely.
Last year the Air Force said it needed to close A-10 squadrons to free up maintenance personnel. Arguing to scrap a lifesaving workhorse like the A-10 to solve a staffing challenge, while maintaining 15 different musical bands, makes one question the Air Force’s priorities.
Despite all those changing arguments, Air Force leadership told me during a hearing in March that the A-10 decision is simply about money. [The A-10 does not cost enough to deliver the profits that the military-industrial complex demands: it’s too cheap to make and too cheap to operate. Congress will do what the corporations want. – LG] And yet the A-10 has the lowest per-flight-hour cost of any aircraft.
The A-10 remains in high demand: Warthogs are deployed to the Middle East, where they have been inciting fear in the ranks of Islamist terrorists since their deployment in September, and Romania, where 12 A-10s from the squadron I commanded train with our allies in the face of increased Russian aggression. . .
Also see this post from about a month ago: “The Scandal of the Anti A-10 Campaign.”
The US today reminds me of the first verse of “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Sharon LaFraniere reports in the NY Times:
Lt. Col. Chad Gallagher was T. J. Moore’s squadron leader when the 19-year-old recruit arrived for basic training last spring at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. He was watching at the quarter-mile track nine days later when Mr. Moore, on an easy mile-and-a-half test run, collapsed at the finish line and was rushed to a hospital.
And he was in Indiana shortly afterward to deliver a sorrowful eulogy at Mr. Moore’s funeral. “He had tears in his eyes,” Mr. Moore’s mother, Anita Holmes, said in an interview at her home here. “He said, ‘I didn’t do enough to protect T. J.’ ”
A year later, Ms. Holmes says she still does not know what Colonel Gallagher meant by that.
Outside experts who reviewed her son’s medical records at the request of The New York Times identified a serious medical error at the Lackland clinic: a decision to allow Mr. Moore to make the run even though doctors had pulled him from normal training after he failed the same test just days before. Test results revealing a genetic condition that in rare cases can lead to sudden death during physical exertion were apparently overlooked.
But the official Air Force explanation — in a 15-page report in a white binder, delivered to Ms. Holmes in December after months of inquiries — was that the military had followed proper protocol. No mistakes were identified. No one was faulted.
“I raised T. J. as a single mother on little income for 19 years, and kept him safe. They had him for nine days and sent him home to me in a box,” said Ms. Holmes, who called the report “garbage.”
“No one,” she added, “has really given me good answers about why.”
Tens of thousands of serious medical mistakes happen every year at American hospitals and clinics. While a handful of health care organizations have opted for broad disclosure amid calls for greater openness, most patients and their families still face significant obstacles if they try to find out what went wrong. But as Mr. Moore’s case illustrates, the nation’s 1.3 million active-duty service members are in a special bind, virtually powerless to hold accountable the health care system that treats them.
They are captives of the military medical system, unable, without specific approval, to get care elsewhere if they fear theirs is substandard or dangerous. Yet if they are harmed or die, they or their survivors have no legal right to challenge their care, and seek answers, by filing malpractice suits.
Only 18 months ago did the Pentagon explicitly allow them to file complaints about their treatment, although some had done so earlier. But even then they are barred from learning the results of any inquiry. Under federal law, investigations at military hospitals and clinics are confidential, in part to keep the findings from the roughly two million civilian patients they treat per year — spouses and children of service members, retirees and others, who can and do file malpractice claims.
In scores of interviews, active-duty patients, relatives and military medical workers described how, in that information vacuum, attempts to ferret out the truth about suspected medical mistakes — through freedom-of-information requests, complaints, meetings with military medical officials — produced anodyne letters of condolence, blanket denials of poor care or simply nothing at all.
“There is just no transparency. You can’t sue. You have no insight into the process,” said Cheryl Garner, a military intelligence officer who retired last year. “As active duty, we just don’t have much recourse.”
What’s more, until 2009, clinicians found to have delivered substandard care to active-duty patients in most cases were not reported to a national database that tracks problem medical workers; instead they were reported to an internal database. Even now, those clinicians, typically doctors, are mainly reported only if the service member is disabled or dies, a higher bar than in cases involving civilians.
And comparatively few have been reported, to either database, Pentagon records show. The Army, which runs the bulk of the system’s hospitals, treats four civilian inpatients for every active-duty one. But from 2003 to 2013, it reported nearly 50 times as many medical workers for breaching the standard of care in cases involving civilians.
The experiences of active-duty patients point to broader questions of accountability in a system of 54 hospitals and hundreds of clinics that has recently come under intense scrutiny. As The Times has reported, military hospitals often fail to conduct safety investigations that the Defense Department mandates when patients suffer serious harm or die. Many medical workers report reprisals for speaking out about problems with care. And systemwide efforts to limit errors and bolster quality have often foundered in a convoluted bureaucracy. . .
- Military Hospital Care Is Questioned; Next, Reprisals Dec. 20, 2014
- Smaller Military Hospitals Said to Put Patients at Risk Sept. 1, 2014
- In Military Care, a Pattern of Errors but Not Scrutiny June 28, 2014
Congress talks a lot about respecting and supporting the military, but in fact their interest is in supporting military contractors, whose campaign contributions they crave. They do not care in the least about military personnel, as witness their willingness to send them to fight and die in meaningless wars, like the war in Iraq.
I was just reading (or, more accurately, re-reading) a passage in Timothy Wilson’s Strangers to Ourselves, that gives some insight into the Japanese military bureaucracy’s resistance to accepting a proven solution to a serious problem. Here’s the passage:
The adaptive unconscious is not governed by accuracy and accessibility alone. People’s judgments and interpretations are often guided by a quite different concern, namely the desire to view the world in the way that gives them the most pleasure—what can be called the “feel-good” criterion. Jane Eyre observed this motive in her aunt, Mrs. Reed, when she visited her on her deathbed: “I knew by her stony eye—opaque to tenderness, indissoluble to tears—that she was resolved to consider me bad to the last; because to believe me good would give her no generous pleasure: only a sense of mortification.”
One of the most enduring lessons from social psychology is that like Mrs. Reed, people go to great lengths to view the world in a way that maintains a sense of well-being. We are masterly spin doctors, rationalizers, and justifiers of threatening information. Daniel Gilbert and I have called this ability the “psychological immune system.” Just as we possess a potent physical immune system that protects us from threats to our physical well-being, so do we possess a potent psychological immune system that protects us from threats to our psychological well-being. When it comes to maintaining a sense of well-being, each of us is the ultimate spin doctor.
People who grow up in Western cultures and who have an independent view of the self tend to promote their sense of well-being by exaggerating their superiority over others. People who grow up in East Asian cultures and have a more interdependent sense of self are more likely to exaggerate their commonalities with group members. That is, people who grow up in cultures with an interdependent view of the self may be less likely to engage in tactics that promote a positive self-view, because they have less investment in the self as an entity separate from their social group. Nonetheless, nonconscious spin doctoring occurs in order to maintain a sense of well-being, though the form of the doctoring differs. What makes us feel good depends on our culture and our personalities and our level of self-esteem, but the desire to feel good, and the ability to meet this desire with nonconscious thought, are probably universal.
To what extent is the psychological immune system part of the adaptive unconscious? Sometimes we act on the “feel-good” motive quite consciously and deliberately, such as avoiding an acquaintance who is always criticizing us, or trying to convince ourselves that we failed to get a promotion not because we were unqualified, but because the boss was an insensitive ox. Given that the adaptive unconscious plays a major role in selecting, interpreting, and evaluating incoming information, though, it is no surprise that one of the rules it follows is “Select, interpret, and evaluate information in ways that make me feel good.” Furthermore, there is reason to believe that the adaptive unconscious is a better spin doctor than the conscious mind. As Freud noted, psychological defenses often work best when they operate in the back alleys of our minds, keeping us blind to the fact that any distortion is going on. If people knew that they were changing their beliefs just to make themselves feel better, the change would not be as compelling.
A key question concerns how the accuracy and “feel-good” criteria operate together, because they are often incompatible. Consider Jack, who failed to get an anticipated promotion. If accuracy were his only criterion, Jack might well conclude that he did not have the experience or ability to handle the new position. Instead, he uses the “feel-good” rule and concludes that his boss is an idiot. But is it really in his best interests to pat himself on the back and blame his boss? If he does not have the experience or ability to do the job, wouldn’t he be better off to swallow his pride and work harder?
The conflict between the need to be accurate and the desire to feel good about ourselves is one of the major battlegrounds of the self, and how this battle is waged and how it is won are central determinants of who we are and how we feel about ourselves. The best way to “win” this battle, in terms of being a healthy, well-adjusted person, is not always obvious. We must, of course, keep in touch with reality and know our own abilities well enough to engage in self-improvement. But it turns out that a dose of self-deception can be helpful as well, enabling us to maintain a positive view of ourselves and an optimistic view of the future.
You can see, in reading the account of Dr. Takaki’s struggle to get the military to accept an effective treatment for (and preventive of) beriberi, how the military establishment desperately wanted to think of itself as “modern,” being freed from the blind superstition of “folk medicine cures” (even when those cures worked). They wanted labs and microbe-caused diseases.
They show a profound misunderstanding what science is. Science does not necessarily mean laboratories. It means posing questions whose answers are obtained by observing what actually happens. It would have been easy to have one group follow the traditional diet and another a modified diet and see what happens—and that is what Dr. Takaki in fact did. But the military (the Navy, in this case) rejected the finding because the answer was not the sort of answer they wanted.
Voluntary blindness to facts and willful ignorance is always surprising. And it’s not a problem of the 19th century. For a 21st century example, see Oklahoma’s dim-witted approach to their earthquake problem: they refuse to see the answers they don’t want.
Is it possible to escape this idiotic refusal to look at the facts? I don’t think so. Institutions (business corporations, governments, bureaucracies) protect themselves—the institutional immune system—and we give great power to those institutions, so we have to accept that they will go to great lengths to ignore facts that threaten them. Another good example is the refusal to act to mitigate climate change: regardless of the magnitude of the threat, willful ignorance prevails and fights against effective action.
The story of Dr. Takaki, reported by James Simpson at War is Boring, is well worth reading. You can see the exactly analogies between the resistance to Dr. Takaki’s findings and Oklahoma’s resistance to understanding its earthquake problem and the resistance of the GOP to understanding climate change. Dr. Takaki’s story begins:
In August 1882 in Incheon Bay near Seoul, four Japanese warships were locked in a tense stand-off with two Chinese warships that had brought troops to quell a revolt on the Korean peninsula.
On paper, the Japanese flotilla outnumbered the Chinese, but the hulls of the Japanese ships hid a deadly secret. Less than half of their crews could man their stations.
The Korean peninsula erupted into conflict on July 23. A soldiers’ protest against ill treatment, unpaid wages and poor provisions turned into widespread mutiny. Ousted from power, the former regent of the king set the mutineers upon the government—and against the Japanese advisers working to modernize the Korean army.
Korean soldiers cornered the chief military adviser in his quarters and stabbed him to death. Another 3,000 mutineers attacked the Japanese Legation. The ambassador ordered his men to burn down the compound and then led his staff to a nearby harbor where they caught a ferry to Incheon.
In lashing rain, the rebels chased the Japanese all the way to the port, killing six and wounding five. The roughly two dozen survivors boarded a small boat and cast off. The next morning, the British sloop HMS Flying Fishspotted the row boat and carried the refugees to Nagasaki.
It was a humiliating blow, but the Japanese were not gone for long. The ambassador soon returned to Seoul. This time he had backup.
Four warships sailed alongside to ensure the safe arrival of the ambassador’s government schooner. As ground forces led the ambassador back to Seoul,Kongo, Nisshin, Hiei and Seiki anchored in Incheon Bay. Two Chinese ships also sailed into Incheon at the request of the Korean king.
Tensions between Japan, China and Korea were at an all-time high. Japan was East Asia’s first modern imperialist nation and its neighbors felt threatened by its new ways.
Unknown to the Chinese and Koreans, the Japanese ships were running far below fighting strength. Disease struck down 195 of Kongo’s 330 sailors. Similarly Hiei was down to a third of her regular strength, and Nisshin andKiyoteru weren’t faring much better. The sailors were lethargic, sluggish and—at worst—paralyzed.
There was no one to relieve them. The warship Fusou—designated to reinforce the mission—was in terrible shape back in Tokyo. The same disease had debilitated 180 of its 309 crew.
Sixteen per cent of all disease and injury in the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1882 stemmed from this one sickness. Beriberi. It was a great shame on the nation that one young doctor hoped to cure.
A beriberi big problem
Beriberi—kakke in Japanese—affected all levels of Japanese society, but it became especially prevalent among the urban residents of Edo, the classic name for Tokyo. The disease became known as the “Edo sickness.” Art from the period shows men in wheelchairs afflicted with beriberi.
The malady completely immobilizes its victim, as discussed by English explorer Isabella Bird in her 1880 book Unbeaten Tracks in Japan. “Its first symptoms are a loss of strength in the legs, ‘looseness in the knees,’ cramps in the calves, swelling and numbness.”
“The chronic [form] is a slow, numbing and wasting malady,” Bird continued, “which, if unchecked, results in death from paralysis and exhaustion in from six months to three years.”
At the time, the causes of the disease were unknown. It became the subject of great debate among Western medical personnel in Japan. Basil Hall Chamberlain, a preeminent Japanologist, demonstrated the lack of understanding of the disease’s causes in his 1890 Things Japanese: Being Notes on Various Subjects Connected with Japan.
“The disease springs, in the opinion of some medical authorities, not from actual malaria, as was formerly imagined, but from a climatic influence resembling malaria,” Chamberlain wrote. “Others have sought its origin in the national diet—some in rice, some in fish.”
“In favor of this latter view is to be set the consideration that the peasantry, who often cannot afford either rice or fish, and have to eat barley or millet instead, suffer much less than the townsfolk,” Chamberlain continued.
But the disease wasn’t contagious. We now know that beriberi stems from a lack of vitamin B1, which the body requires for metabolizing carbohydrates and maintaining neurological functions. Without it, a person succumbs to nerve damage and eventually death.
The source of the deficiency was the urban diet. . .
Continue reading. Read the whole thing.
But perhaps large-scale killing increases rather than diminishes terrorist activity? The more who are enraged, the more turn to terrorism? It’s hard to know, but think of the US reaction (in terms of anger and violence) after just 3,000 were killed on 9/11, and think what would have been like if 430 times as man—1,300,000—had been killed. Democracy Now! has a video program with transcript. Their blurb:
As the United States begins bombing the Iraqi city of Tikrit and again delays a withdrawal from Afghanistan, a new report has found that the Iraq War has killed about one million people. The Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and other groups examined the toll from the so-called war on terror in three countries — Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The investigators found “the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around one million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan. Not included in this figure are further war zones such as Yemen. The figure is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware. … And this is only a conservative estimate.” The true tally, they add, could be more than two million. We are joined by two guests who worked on the report: Hans von Sponeck, former U.N. assistant secretary-general and U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, who in 2000 resigned his post in protest of the U.S.-led sanctions regime; and Dr. Robert Gould, president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
A headline in the NY Times this morning: 3 Shiite Militias Quit Iraqi Siege of ISIS Over U.S. Air Role
I think we in the US do not fully grasp the impact of our wars on the mood of the people in the country where we fight them and on their feelings toward the US.
And yet no officer will suffer any sort of accountability, I am sure. C.J. Chivers reports in the NY Times:
The under secretary of the Army on Wednesday apologized for the military’s treatment of American service members exposed to chemical weapons in Iraq, and announced new steps to provide medical support to those with lingering health effects and to recognize veterans who had been denied awards.
Under Secretary Brad R. Carson acknowledged that the military had not followed its own policies for caring for troops exposed to old and abandoned chemical munitions that had been scattered around Iraq, and vowed improvement. He also said that the Army had reversed a previous decision and approved a Purple Heart medal for a soldier burned by sulfur mustard agent, and that he expected more medals would be issued to other veterans after further review.
“To me the scandal is that we had protocols in place and the medical community knew what they were, and yet we failed in some cases to implement this across the theater,” he said. “That was a mistake, and I apologize for that. I apologize for past actions and am going to fix it going forward.”
Mr. Carson was appointed last fall by Chuck Hagel, then the defense secretary, to lead a Pentagon working group to identify service members who had been exposed to chemical weapons and offer them medical screening and other support. The effort was in response to an investigation in The New York Times that revealed that the American military had secretly recovered thousands of old and often discarded chemical munitions in Iraq.
The report found that insurgents had used some of the weapons in roadside bombs, that most of the episodes had never been publicly acknowledged and that many troops who had been wounded by the blister or nerve agents had received substandard medical care and denied military awards.
Mr. Carson said the working group’s new instructions, which were distributed to the military services in recent days, would ensure that hundreds of veterans identified by the services, or who have called a hotline set up at Mr. Hagel’s order, would be screened and properly treated. The steps, Mr. Carson said, would also cover troops exposed to chlorine, which insurgents repeatedly used as a makeshift chemical weapon.
“My ambition, and what I am committed to, is to make sure that any person who was exposed to a weaponized chemical or a chemical weapon is addressed through this process,” he said. . . .
Bottom line: The Army did everything in its power to cover up the problem and to let the victims simply suffer on their own, offering no help, but when the story began to get out, the Army (VERY belatedly) responded and said it would help. This is what the military means by “honor”: cover up problems and let the troops suffer, but if you’re about to get caught apologize. No one will be punished.
Related coverage, with links in the sidebar of the main article.
The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons OCT. 14, 2014
More Than 600 Reported Chemical Exposure in Iraq, Pentagon Acknowledges NOV. 6, 2014
A Veteran’s Chemical Burns Expanded Military Doctors’ Knowledge, but His Care Faltered DEC. 30, 2014
Thousands of Iraq Chemical Weapons Destroyed in Open Air, Watchdog Says NOV. 22, 2014
Reporters’ Notebook: Examining a Rare Nerve-Agent Shell That Wounded American Troops in Iraq DEC. 4, 2014
C.I.A. Is Said to Have Bought and Destroyed Iraqi Chemical Weapons FEB. 15, 2015
The blundering interference of the US moves closer to home. From TomDistach.com:
One of the mysteries of our era is why there seems to be no learning curve in Washington. Over the last 13 years, American wars and conflicts have repeatedly helped create disaster zones, encouraging the fragmentation of whole countries and societies in the Greater Middle East and Northern Africa. In the process, such American wars, drone assassination campaigns, raids, and conflicts have acted as recruitment posters for and aided and abetted the growth of terror outfits. And here’s where the genuine strangeness begins to enter the picture: after all of this is absorbed and assessed in Washington, the response is regularly more of what hasn’t worked and a clamoring for yet more of it.
It turns out, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon reports today, that the same kind of process has been going on so much closer to home — right across the border in Mexico, in fact, resulting in the kind of blowback that Chalmers Johnson would have appreciated. Yet while hysteria and panic reign over the barbaric acts of the faraway Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, U.S. involvement in the “war on drugs” in a neighboring country gets just passing attention here. Curiouser and curiouser, hysteria and panic over Mexico only seem to rise when ISIS is reputed to be involved (at least in the fantasy worlds of various right-wingers). Consider it all part of the true mysteries of our strange American age of repetitive war. Tom
Can You Say “Blowback” in Spanish?
The Failed War on Drugs in Mexico (and the United States)
By Rebecca Gordon
They behead people by the hundreds. They heap headless, handless bodies along roadsides as warnings to those who would resist their power. They havepenetrated the local, state, and national governments and control entire sections of the country. They provide employment and services to an impoverished public, which distrusts their actual government with its bitter record of corruption, repression, and torture. They seduce young people from several countries, including the United States, into their murderous activities.
Is this a description of the heinous practices of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria? It could be, but as a matter of fact it’s not. These particular thugs exist a lot closer to home. They are part of the multi-billion-dollar industry known as the drug cartels of Mexico. Like the Islamic State, the cartels’ power has increased as the result of disastrous policies born in the U.S.A.
There are other parallels between IS and groups like Mexico’s Zetas and its Sinaloa cartel. Just as the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya fertilizedthe field for IS, another U.S. war, the so-called War on Drugs, opened new horizons for the drug cartels. Just as Washington has worked hand-in-hand with and also behind the backs of corrupt rulers in Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, so it has done with the Mexican government. Both kinds of war have resulted in blowback — violent consequences felt in our own cities, whether at the finish line of the Boston Marathon or in communities of color across the country.
In Mexico, the U.S. military is directly involved in the War on Drugs. In this country, that “war” has provided the pretext for the militarization of local police forces and increased routine surveillance of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.
And just as both the national security state and the right wing have used the specter of IS to create an atmosphere of panic and hysteria in this country, so both have used the drug cartels’ grotesque theater of violence to justify their demonization of immigrants from Latin America and the massive militarization of America’s borderlands.
The War in Mexico
If there was an official beginning to Mexico’s war on drugs, it would have to be considered the election of Felipe Calderón as the country’s president in 2006. The candidate of the right-wing Partido Acción Nacional, the National Action Party (PAN), Calderón was only the second Mexican president in 70 years who did not come from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). His predecessor, Vicente Fox, had been the first.
It was Calderón who, with encouragement and assistance from the United States, changed Mexico’s war on drugs from a metaphor into the real thing, in which guns and grenades would fuel the deaths of more than 60,000 Mexicans through 2012.
The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI, admits that another 27,000 Mexicans were murdered in the first year of his presidency. At least another 25,000 have been disappeared since 2007. It was Calderón who brought the Mexican military fully into the fight against drugs, transforming an ineffective policing policy into a full-scale shooting war with the cartels. At least 50,000 military personnel have been deployed.
In addition to ordinary citizens, journalists and politicians have been particular targets in this war. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that murders of Mexican reporters have increased dramatically since 2006. Among those whose killers have been positively identified, 69% died at the hands of the drug cartels, and at least 22% were killed by government or military personnel.
Wikipedia lists over 100 politicians who have lost their lives in Mexico’s war on drugs. That list does not include a woman named Aide Nava González, whose headless body was dumped this month on a road in Guerrero state. Nava was contending for the Partido Revolución Democrática, the Democratic Revolution Party, slot on the ballot in the town of Ahuacuotzingo. Her husband, the former mayor, had been murdered there last year. A note from Los Rojos, a local drug gang, was left with Nava’s body. “This is what will happen,” it read, “to anyone who does not fall in line, fucking turncoats.”
Guerrero is the home of Ayotzinapa, a town where 43 teachers-in-training once attended a rural teachers college. All 43 “disappeared” last September during a demonstration in the neighboring town of Iguala. Their arrest by police, and apparent subsequent murder at the hands of a local drug gang, Guerreros Unidos, was one of the few stories of Mexican suffering to break into the U.S. mainstream media last year. The mayor of Iguala has since admitted that he instructed the police to hand the students over to the gang and has been arrested, along with his wife. The town’s police chief is still on the run.
Like the “war on terror” globally, Mexico’s war on drugs has created endless new pretexts for government repression, which has its own lengthy history in that country. That history includes the long-remembered police murders of some 300 students, among the thousands protesting in Mexico City’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas a couple of weeks before the Summer Olympics began in 1968. Juan Méndez, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, wrote in his 2014 mission report on Mexico: . . .
Rosa Brooks writes in Foreign Policy:
Most of us view perpetual war as deeply inimical to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
We’re not wrong: Since the 9/11 attacks, two successive U.S. presidential administrations have embraced indefinite detention, massive secret surveillance programs, covert cross-border targeted killings, and a host of other troubling practices. In reaction, those concerned with rights and the rule of law have called for an end to the post-9/11 “war paradigm,” insisting that counterterrorism should not be conceptualized as war and urging a return to a law enforcement framework.
That’s an understandable impulse. It’s also largely a waste of time and energy. A decade and a half after 9/11, the war on terror continues to open new fronts from Syria to Libya to Nigeria. And it’s hard to see this changing under a Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush administration. Perpetual war is unlikely to end in our lifetimes. Until we accept this, the post-9/11 erosion of human rights is likely to continue.
That’s counterintuitive, but bear with me. Consider, first, the question of whether war and peace have ever been as distinct as we like to imagine and whether war has historically been the exception or the norm. Second, consider the degree to which the protection of human rights and the constraint on untrammeled state power currently depends on our ability to draw sharp lines between war and peace (or, at least, between war and not-war). Much that’s considered unacceptable and unlawful in peacetime becomes permissible in wartime. Third, consider that today it has become virtually impossible to draw a clear distinction between war and not-war — not just because of bad-faith legal and political arguments made by U.S. officials (though we’ve seen plenty of those), but because of genuine and significant changes to the global geopolitical landscape. Finally, think about what we might gain if we abandoned the effort to draw increasingly arbitrary lines between peacetime and wartime and instead focused on developing institutions and norms capable of protecting rights and rule-of-law values at all times.
“I do not believe America’s interests are served by endless war or by remaining on a perpetual war footing,” President Barack Obama said in February. That this statement came as the U.S. president unveiled his request for Congress to authorize military force against yet another enemy — the self-styled Islamic State, this time — was an irony lost on few observers.
No modern politician will praise war. Individual wars, perhaps — but not war as such. American political culture regards war as an occasional but regrettable necessity, at best, and a tragic and wholly avoidable failure, at worst. Either way, we view war as the exception and peace as the norm. As Obama put it in a 2013 speech, “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises.”
On the contrary: For much of human history, war has been the norm and peace has been the exception, though Americans have been largely blind to this reality. Foreign attacks on U.S. soil have been few and far between, and for most of U.S. history, the country’s wars have been fought by a small and highly professionalized military, making them largely invisible to the bulk of the American population.
The American Civil War — one of the few to visit its harms on the nation as a whole — occasioned the first U.S. government effort to codify the laws of armed conflict, a set of 1863 instructions issued to Union Army troops during the Civil War. “Modern times are distinguished from earlier ages by the existence, at one and the same time, of many nations and great governments related to one another in close intercourse,” declared General Orders No. 100, better known as the Lieber Code. “Peace is their normal condition; war is the exception. The ultimate object of all modern war is a renewed state of peace.”
This was an optimistic perspective in 1863, coming, as it did, in the middle of a century kicked off in Europe by the Napoleonic Wars, which lasted for over a decade and killed more than 3 million people, and during a bloody civil war that killed some 2 percent of the U.S. population. The 19th century was racked by conflict, from uprisings in Serbia and Greece to the Crimean War and the wars of Italian unification.
The 18th, 17th, 16th, and 15th centuries were similarly marred by widespread conflict, punctuated less by periods of peace than by periods of smaller-scale conflicts. Look back further, and the same is true. As historian Michael Howard put it in The Invention of Peace, “Archaeological, anthropological, as well as all surviving documentary evidence indicates that war, armed conflict between organized political groups, has been the universal norm in human history.”
And the century that followed the Lieber Code’s historical misremembering was no better: Two world wars wiped out tens of millions, to say nothing of the numerous non-Western conflicts that engulfed parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Even the fortunate United States was in a state of near-constant warfare throughout the 20th century. There were the two world wars, of course, and the wars in Korea and Vietnam. And there were many other conflicts between 1900 and 2000 that Americans have largely edited out of the national narrative. Between 1900 and 2000, the United States has also used military force in China, Cuba, Mexico, Haiti, Panama, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Turkey, Russia, Cambodia, Laos, the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Guatemala, and El Salvador, among other places. Granted, these were mostly “small wars” — but as legal historian Mary Dudziak notes in her fine book War Time, “It is only through forgetting the small wars that so much of American history is remembered as peacetime.”
Why should Americans expect anything different from the 21st century? . . .