PZ called my attention to the fact that former US Army 2nd Lieutenant William Calley has, for the first time, publicly apologized for his conduct at My Lai. Something that Paul wrote got me thinking, particularly while I was running some errands on base this morning:
There is no doubt that Calley was a bad man and a weak man -- he was the lieutenant who led the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese civilians in 1968 -- but at the same time, he was one of the pawns in a game dictated at the highest levels of American policy.
I'm absolutely certain that PZ is at least half right - at a time and in a situation that demanded extraordinary strength and courage, William Calley exhibited neither. He was, at absolute best, weak. But I'm not sure about "bad".
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It's safe to say that 2007 wasn't the best year of US Army 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside's life. She started off the year with a bullet wound to her torso that damaged, among other things, one lung, her liver, and her spleen. She ended her year as an outpatient at Walter Reed, waiting for her superiors to decide whether or not she would have to stand court-martial for inflicting that wound upon herself. In between, she had to recover from her physical wounds, learn to deal with the inner demons that led to them, she had to deal with superior officers who believed that she would be more appropriately handled as a criminal than a patient, and cope with a system that constantly threatened soldiers with mental illness with discharge and no benefits. It's not entirely clear that 2008 is going to be a better year for her. On Tuesday, the Army announced that they were dropping all charges against her. At the time of that announcement, she was in intensive care, recovering from a second failed attempt to take her own life.
In the note that she wrote before swallowing whatever pills she had around her, she said that she was "very disappointed in the Army". It's hard to find any reason for her not to be disappointed. The Army's treatment of her has been absolutely abysmal. Unfortunately, the same can be said for many other soldiers and veterans. Although the Army has been working to improve mental health care, the system is not where it needs to be, and faces no shortage of hurdles along the way.
According to the December 2, 2007 Washington Post article that first presented Lt. Whiteside's case to the public, there were a number of things that happened in Iraq that may have contributed to her mental illness and suicide attempt. I'm not going attempt to discuss that, or, for that matter, the exact actions she took in Iraq that her commanders at Walter Reed felt were so egregious as to warrant criminal prosecution. No matter what happened in Iraq, the things that happened when she returned to Walter Reed very clearly demonstrate some of the problems that the Army is having when it comes to handling mental health issues.
The problem that Lt. Whiteside's case illustrates most clearly involves the attitude that too many career combat arms officers have toward soldiers with mental health issues: they're an excuse, not an illness.
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I am certainly no fan of the Iraq war, but I found it difficult to read the media reports about retired Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez's recent comments on the war without getting angry. Reading the full text of his remarks took me from anger to outrage. As good as it is to hear an unvarnished, blunt assessment of the situation from someone who, as a former commander of the forces in Iraq, is very familiar with what happens there, I'm left wondering where the hell he was before he gave his little talk.
Let's look at some of what the little pissant had to say:
Since 2003, the politics of war have been characterized by partisanship as the Republican and Democratic parties struggled for power in Washington. National efforts to date have been corrupted by partisan politics that have prevented us from devising effective, executable, supportable solutions. At times, these partisan struggles have led to political decisions that endangered the lives of our sons and daughters on the battlefield. The unmistakable message was that political power had greater priority than our national security objectives. Overcoming this strategic failure is the first step toward achieving victory in Iraq - without bipartisan cooperation we are doomed to fail. There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope.
Partisan politics, according to Sanchez, have been endangering the lives of the troops since 2003. It's 2007. Why the hell didn't the man speak up before now? Where the hell has he been for the last several years? I'll tell you where: from the time he left Iraq in 2004 until he retired late last year, he was in Germany, sitting on his worthless ass behind the desk of V Corps - rear, sulking about Abu Ghraib having denied him the opportunity to get that fourth star that he believed was rightfully his. He sat on his ass in a dead-end job for two whole years, hoping that Abu Ghraib would go away and he would get that fourth shiny star, remaining silent about problems in Washington that he now says were endangering the lives of troops on the battlefield.
It's doubtful, of course, that one more voice of reason - even a voice as authoritative as his - would have kept the White House from pursuing the war. But at least he could have tried, instead of sitting there selfishly waiting for the promotion that never came.
Staff Sergeant Yance T. Gray and Sergeant Omar Mora died on Monday in a vehicle crash in Baghdad on Monday, along with six other American soldiers and two "detainees." During their time in Iraq, both Gray and Mora displayed more than just the courage needed to face the enemy. They also displayed the courage needed to stand up, to face the country, and to say that the strategy in Iraq isn't working, and never will. They had the courage to say this, knowing that their opinion would not be well received by many of their superiors. And, ultimately, they had the courage and civic responsibility needed to say that while they did not agree with their mission, as soldiers they would see it through to the end.
Gray and Mora were, along with Specialist Buddhika Jayamaha, Sergeant Wesley Smith, Sergeant Jeremy Roebuck, Sergeant Edward Sandmeier, and Staff Sergeant Jeremy Murphy, authors of the "Sergeants" op-ed that appeared in the New York Times on August 19th.
From the op-ed:
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