Rolling Thunder, War and Memorial Day

Originally Posted @TAC

I had always revered Rolling Thunder — the romantic vision of a Band of Brothers, refugees from a South Asian hellhole whose common experience, really, was the only thing separating them from a certain reckless breed of motorcycle gang. Their annual sojourn to the National Mall for Memorial Day, emblazoned in leather with the simple demand, “Never Forget,” insisted we remember the 58,000 who fell in Vietnam, how they got there and the countless others we pushed away from our consciousness when they came home.

This morning, as I hear the distant roar of their convoys traveling up Route 50 toward the nation’s capital, I am not thinking, as I usually do on Memorial Day, of my uncles and friends who fought in Vietnam. I am mulling over instead the scars of our present war in the Middle East and Central Asia, and how Rolling Thunder disappointed me so, when a large swath of their riders became so patently pro-war under the thrall of rightwing provocateurs like Michelle Malkin, who fueled unfounded rumors that war protesters planned to urinate on The Wall, and deface other war memorials during a 2007 rally on Washington. They proceeded to revel in intimidating Americans who came to the Mall that weekend in peaceful resistance, allowing in effect, Bush Apologists and warmongers to interchange today’s critics of the Iraq and Afghanistan operations with Jane Fonda, Cindy Sheehan and all manner of spitting hippies. Many became tools, wittingly or not, shedding the vestiges of their rebellious origins, for the sake of propping up the Republican Party at a time when most Americans had turned against the war. They allowed their honorable name to be dragged through the partisan muck.

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I was at that protest, and watched as these burly guys — and gals — and their friends and followers lined up in menacing gauntlets outside of The Wall to intimidate activists, I was there when they waved the middle finger and screamed f–ck you! at protesters and told me personally, that it was not George W. Bush that got the country into such a mess, but weak-kneed lefties back home, badmouthing the war, not supporting the mission. Just like Vietnam.

Honestly, these guys always blamed Hanoi Jane, but I liked them better when they blamed Johnson and Nixon and McNamara too.

But I knew then, in 2007, that while the anger at hippies wasn’t forgotten, the mistrust of the government was. Probably still is — but I have a feeling, any problems with veterans and soldiers and future war policy, will certainly be blamed on President Barack Obama from now on.

That’s fine, because this weekend is for remembering. And reminding. As for this war:

U.S casualties:

Iraq (since 2003) — 4,300 deaths; 46,132 wounded (medical air transport only, doesn’t include illnesses or minor injuries, that would take the number over 80,000)

Afghanistan (since 2002) — 686 deaths; wounded — not available

Number of men and women who have served in either theater since 2002: over 1.8 million

Number of servicemembers returning with depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: 18.5 percent:

Number of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans seeking care at a VA since 2002: 350,000+

Estimated number of soldiers from Iraq/Afghanistan who have suffered a brain injury :  360,000

Number of U.S soldiers still in Iraq: approximately 134,000

Number of U.S soldiers in Afghanistan: 38,000 and counting

* Above photo provided by the Associated Press

War Criminal or Hero?

Former U.S. soldier Steven Dale Green was just sentenced to life in prison for his war crimes while “serving” in Iraq. It seems that Pfc. Green and three of his soldier friends went to the home of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, killed her family, gang raped her, shot her in the face, and then set her body on fire.

This is absolutely horrible, and I don’t excuse it in any way. I think he should get the death penalty, as do many in Iraq. However, it should be said that if he had dropped a bomb from the stratosphere or launched a missile from afar he would be lauded as a hero. Why is it that, to many Americans, killing from five feet is viewed as an atrocity, but from five thousand feet it is considered to be a heroic act?

Yes, but what about the rape? Well, if torture is okay, then why should anyone have a problem with raping female Iraqis? Aren’t all Muslims terrorists? Hey, if it saves one American life then it must be okay. Right? That, unfortunately, is the attitude of many “conservative” Americans, including too many Christians.

Deadly KBR Showers Came With $80M Bonuses

From Jeremy Scahill at The Nation today, a synopsis of explosive testimony before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee regarding contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root (former Halliburton subsidiary and by far the largest beneficiary of federal wartime funding, ever). According to the story, KBR received more than $80 million in bonuses for installing electrical writing in military facilities in Iraq — $30 million of that was paid after a soldier was killed by faulty wiring in one of the showers on base. According to Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J, 18 soldiers have perished under similar circumstances.

The take-home passage:

James Childs, a master electrician hired by the Army to review electrical work in Iraq during 2008, testified that KBR’s work in Iraq was the “most hazardous, worst quality work” he’d ever seen. He said his investigation found improper wiring in “every” building KBR wired in Iraq (of which there are thousands) and that KBR’s rewiring work in buildings that were previously safely wired resulted in the electrical system becoming unsafe. Childs said that KBR did not do any work “according to code.” He also testified that the same risks exist in Afghanistan, which he recently visited. “While doing inspections in Afghanistan, I found the exact same code violations,” Childs said.

For its part, KBR denies any culpability for the electrocution deaths.

Scahill quotes a former military official once in charge of such contracts, saying the bonuses were paid out of fear KBR would cease work, that they became  “too big to fail.” That’s a big reason why hearings like these — as informative and cathartic they are — never result in any real action. Behemoths like KBR  have too many friends in Washington, and  have become utterly indispensable to Long War operations in the two-front theater.

The corporate war industry — first conceived by Republicans, long acquiesced to by Democrats — now full in its glory. These lawmakers, now twisted in frustration over electrocuted soldiers, have no one to blame but themselves.