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July 26, 2010

The Fog(ging) of War

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Note: You could summarize my frustration about the visual implications of the leaked Afghan war logs (which I know John shares) by these two tweets I wrote today.

Most surprising thing to me re: war logs leak is that, in the gazillion pages released, there’s not 1 photo (far as I know).

1 lesson of war log leaks: Embedding kills truth telling. If journos weren’t so bound, people wouldn’t be so anesthetized by war propaganda.

In any case, here’s John’s take, as seen through the rotor wash.



The release of the “Afghan War Diaries” has been meet with expressions of outrage from both those who oppose the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan as well as the administration that must now lay claim to the war as its own, but truth to tell, very little has thus far been revealed that we didn’t already know … or at least could have reasonably surmised from the available evidence.

Although it began in the shadow of our occupation in Iraq, our presence in Afghanistan now marks the single longest military expedition in US history—bar none: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam … you name it.  Is it a surprise, in his context, that hundreds (if not thousands) of civilians have been killed or wounded under the sign of “collateral damage”?  Or that “friendly fire” has taken the lives of both US troops and its allies?  Or that there are special black-ops units that operate under “dubious circumstances” with “capture/kill” lists? Or that the microchip technology that was supposed to provide us with a “bloodless victory” has turned out to be less effective than we imagined?  Or that drone missions being executed by private contractors sitting safely before computer monitors in remote locations like Nevada are actually putting troops in the field at greater rather than lesser danger when they fail and have to be retrieved before the enemy finds them? Or that the Afghani military is underpaid and unreliable?  Or—revelation of revelations—the US military has misled the public regarding the sophistication of the weaponry being employed against us by the Taliban, such as the use of heat seeking missiles to bring down helicopters?  Or that Pakistan is not a trustworthy ally?  And on and on and on.

The fact of the matter is that we have been shown evidence of virtually every one of these concerns over the past, long, ten years and we have chosen not to see them.  Or perhaps the problem is that the reports of such incidents have been fragmented and piecemeal, and thus easily mitigated as “accidents” animated by human or technological error (take your choice), or rationalized as the “necessary and tragic” cost of a war fought to preserve our freedom.  Like the soldier in the photograph above, caught in the rotor wash of a MEDEVAC helicopter and thus incapable of seeing the landscape that is directly in front of him, perhaps we have been caught in the swirl of government and mass media reports—too often indistinguishable from one another—to the point of not seeing (or trusting) what is directly before our eyes:  a failed war that is costing us evermore in dollars and human lives every day with no end or reversal of fortune in sight.

Eventually, of course, the dust will settle.  Perhaps this process has begun with the collation of this information in the Afghan War Diaries.  It now remains for us to actually see beyond the fog of war … and to act appropriately.

– John Lucaites

crossposted at No Caption Needed.

  • black dog barking

    The results of seeding the wind, the harvest begins.

    Looks like a screenshot from a video game.

  • lytom

    Another US made disaster.
    Destruction of people, destruction of their land.
    Everything they touch turns to dust.
    No hearts are touched.
    Interesting that when the oil disaster strikes the US shore, the natives seem to be understanding the impact on them, yet when their money supports bringing disasters on Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan…their hearts are cold.

  • Tim Hetherington

    Among other things, WikiLeaks paints a picture of the precarious nature of US bases with the example of how one base called Camp Keating almost got overrun. Surprised? We’re not. We spent nearly a year off and on at a small outpost called Restrepo. The soldiers we were with often talked about the possibility of a catastrophic attack, and I was with US forces when their lines were overrun. The insurgents stripped weapons and ammunition from a dead American soldier and escaped. Two days later they nearly dragged off a wounded soldier alive. If you want another insight into the war which isn’t fragmented by the media or made piecemeal, then watch our movie Restrepo to see for yourself –

    • Michael Shaw

      Tim, thanks for weighing in. I’m sure the Pentagon and the Administration would say that we’ve abandoned “the Keating/Restrepo model” sending undermanned units into the roughest terrain to try and win over the locals but the fact is, we’ve not only burned too much time off the clock (you started shooting in ‘07, no?), but we’ve yet to demonstrate we can win hearts-and-minds (forget, all this Marjah/”government in a box” business) anywhere in the country under any model.

      To the extent Restropo (the movie) made this grindingly obvious, I appreciated seeing it.

  • cmac

    “Although it began in the shadow of our occupation in Iraq, our presence in Afghanistan now marks the single longest military expedition in US history—bar none: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam … you name it.”

    What am I missing? You seem to say that the war in Afghanistan began after the war in Iraq. This is backwards. We attacked Afghanistan in October of 2001. We did not invade Iraq until March of 2003.

    • Lucaites

      Fair enough. My point–admittedly misspoken–was to suggest that for much of the past ten years the war in Afghanistan has been something of a secondary consideration to the war in Iraq. While it preceded it in real time, as you point out, it nevertheless operated in its shadow for much of the time. And the point remains, it is the longest war in US history, without peer and without an end in sight.

  • cmac

    Ah. That’s what I was missing. Yes, I agree. It was the Forgotten War for the longest time – too long, as any chance that it might actually have served to improve the lives of the Afghan people, who have suffered under the intolerant thumb of the Taliban for decades now, seems to have passed us all by.

  • Lucaites

    That it has. But let’s not make the mistake of assuming that we actually got into the war because we were worried about the oppression of the Afghan people. We may or may not have made their lives better–I think that is probably open to question, though I’m in no position to judge one way or the other–but clearly our real motivations were much different.

    • cmac

      Yes, they were. The intention was to drive the Taliban out and thus to deprive Al Qaeda of its safe harbor. The improvement in the lives of the Afghan people was an unintended but welcome side effect. We’ll never know now things might have turned out had we jumped in with reconstruction aid right from the beginning.

      The Taliban really are nothing but arrogant thugs. The Afghan people hate them, but they fear them more.

  • John Lucaites

    Exactly. The point was to drive the Taliban out to undermine Al Quaeda. Any
    effect it had on undermining the oppression of Afghani people was clearly
    a side effect. It was not an intended goal.

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