Families, faith, and the military vocation

David French is an Iraq war veteran and Nancy French is his wife. Together they have written Home and Away: A Story of Family in a Time of War

‘Men were coming home on leave to find their wives gone from their houses,” David French writes about the strain of deployment on marriage. “Other men were getting the modern equivalent of the ‘Dear John’ letter via Facebook message or e-mail. Some guys discovered wives or girlfriends were pregnant, and still others were finding that their bank accounts had been looted by the very people they most trusted with their financial affairs. In fact, I would say that the ongoing betrayal of our men and women in uniform by their own family members is perhaps the most underreported scandal and toll of the war. It is an enduring symbol of the depravity of man and the fallen nature of our own culture.”

You should read the whole interview and maybe order the book.  The Frenches are honest and unsparing, and yet they come across as a truly strong and devoted couple, despite or perhaps because of all they have gone through.  What is striking to me is what they say about their faith, both in relation to their marriage and in relation to war and the military vocation:

LOPEZ: Could either of you have done this without faith? What has deployment taught you about faith?

NANCY: When David and I were having the “I want to join the Army” conversation when we lived in Philadelphia, he quoted Stonewall Jackson. He said something like this, “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.” Of course, Stonewall died while recovering from wounds received in battle. “Duty is ours, consequences are God’s,” he is also known to have said. In other words, we threw ourselves on the mercy and sovereignty of God, and put one foot in front of the other until he came home.

DAVID: It’s easy to quote Calvinist generals from the safetyof your own home. It’s another thing entirely to trust God when you’re bumping down a dirt road in a Humvee or saluting at the third memorial in a month for a fallen trooper. My deployment taught me that I am utterly dependent on God for my next breath of life. But in many ways, that thought could be more terrifying than comforting. Men who were better than me in every way were falling to IEDs and ambushes. There is no formula for survival, and God’s ways are mysterious. But we’re not promised understanding, safety, or comfort.
LOPEZ: David, you write about Playboys and Maxims and things. Do men at war have the support they need to be good men, brave in all sorts of ways? Is there any way to help or change that?

DAVID: In the book I describe our armored cavalry squadron as a “rolling, violent fraternity.” In other words, we were a group of guys (guys only; this was a combat arms unit) from all walks of life bonded together by our shared mission and sacrifice. There were devout Christians in the group and guys who couldn’t wait to head to the closest strip club when they landed in America on leave. There were guys who bounced between those extremes. There’s quite a bit of spiritual support available to soldiers, but it’s up to them whether they use it. Mostly, soldiers support each other, and I don’t think that will ever change — nor should it.

 

HT:  Bruce Gee

The drone wars

The world’s military industrial complex–impressed with the USA’s ability to zap enemies from the air with remote-controlled mini-aircraft– is racing headlong into drone technology.  An article about the drones China is developing goes on to tell about the rest of the world’s drone rush.  It makes one suspect that the wars of the future may be waged with robotic aircraft controlled by video-game veterans posted safely at home.

Little is known about the actual abilities of the WJ-600 drone or the more than two dozen other Chinese models that were on display at Zhuhai in November. But the speed at which they have been developed highlights how U.S. military successes with drones have changed strategic thinking worldwide and spurred a global rush for unmanned aircraft.

More than 50 countries have purchased surveillance drones, and many have started in-country development programs for armed versions because no nation is exporting weaponized drones beyond a handful of sales between the United States and its closest allies.

“This is the direction all aviation is going,” said Kenneth Anderson, a professor of law at American University who studies the legal questions surrounding the use of drones in warfare. “Everybody will wind up using this technology because it’s going to become the standard for many, many applications of what are now manned aircraft.”

Military planners worldwide see drones as relatively cheap weapons and highly effective reconnaissance tools. Hand-launched ones used by ground troops can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. Near the top of the line, the Predator B, or MQ9-Reaper, manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, costs about $10.5 million. By comparison, a single F-22 fighter jet costs about $150 million.

Defense spending on drones has become the most dynamic sector of the world’s aerospace industry, according to a report by the Teal Group in Fairfax. The group’s 2011 market study estimated that in the coming decade global spending on drones will double, reaching $94 billion.

via Global race on to match U.S. drone capabilities – The Washington Post.

So is this an ethical advance, with the military making war “safely” (for them), or is it an ethical regression, with warfare becoming even more dehumanized?

The War in Afghanistan

President Obama announced a time table for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.  The Washington Post, no less, which usually supports the president and all things liberal and Democratic raised some questions in an editorial: The president may be sabotaging his own Afghanistan strategy – The Washington Post

So is the president declaring victory and going home?  Are we leaving just as we are making progress?  Is announcing when we’ll be leaving just an incentive for the Taliban to hunker downuntil after we’re gone?  Is this “Mission Accomplished” or helicopters on the roof of the American embassy?

Where does this leave us?

Counterfeit SEALS

Two interesting phenomena:  Men who falsely claim to be ex-SEALS and men who go to great lengths to prove them to be fakes.

In Louisiana, a man duped the governor into believing he was the lone survivor of a Navy SEAL team ambushed in Afghanistan. In California, a jousting promoter said he was a SEAL veteran, not just a veteran of battles at Renaissance fairs. And in Georgia, a televangelist listed a stint with the SEALs in his online bio for years, along with bit parts in the films “Green Lantern” and “Who’s Your Caddy?”

None of these men ever served in the elite Navy units that undergo some of the toughest training in the military and undertake some of its most dangerous Special Forces missions. And while there have always been SEAL impostors, their ranks have been reinforced since a SEAL unit based in Little Creek, Va., killed Osama bin Laden six weeks ago.

The elite counter-terrorism unit that took out Osama bin Laden deploys from a tiny military facility in Dam Neck, Va., just outside of Virginia Beach. There are six other groups within special warfare and a total of 2,300 active duty SEAL officers.

“I’ve told four women alone this week to run the other direction,” said Mary Schantag, who, along with her husband, Chuck, a disabled veteran, checks out potential impostors and posts their names on their Web site, the P.O.W. Network.

The claims surface as stray comments in bars, a line in a Facebook profile, or an insignia worn on a cap. The consequences are often nil. Pentagon officials have said they don’t have the resources to fact-check every potential liar.

So the only thing standing between SEAL impostors and the truth is a small band of veterans and civilian volunteers, scattered across the country, who have made it their life’s work to expose phonies in all aspects of military service, including bogus war medal recipients.

“Only 500 [SEALs] served in Vietnam. And we’ve met all 20,000 of them,” said Steve Robinson, a former SEAL in Forsyth, Mo., and author of “No Guts, No Glory: Unmasking Navy SEAL Imposters.”

When news of bin Laden’s death broke, these investigators say, they were soon overwhelmed by reports of suspected SEAL phonies. Robinson, who had hunted fake SEALs for 10 years, was called out of self-imposed retirement to help fellow volunteers track down claims. . . .

Robinson estimates there are only 7,000 living former SEALs and 2,200 on active duty. By his calculations, the odds of running into someone who has played in the NFL are better than the odds of meeting a current or former SEAL.

via Boast-busters: Those who hunt and expose fake Navy SEALS are busier than ever – The Washington Post.

What psychology do we see here?

Congressmen sue President over Libya War

As we’ve blogged about earlier, President Obama, in his participation in the war in Libya, has ignored the 60 day deadline for the engagement of American troops without Congressional approval as stipulated in the War Powers law.  Now ten Congressmen, a coalition of both liberals and conservatives, has filed suit against the President. So the President has finally sent a message to Congress saying why he doesn’t need their approval:

Facing growing opposition on Capitol Hill, the White House insisted Wednesday that it’s within its legal rights to wage war in Libya without explicit authorization from Congress, essentially because no American lives are at risk.

The administration argued that its limited role in the allied air campaign against Libya means it’s not really the kind of escalating war that would require approval from Congress or an end to fighting after 60 days under the War Powers Resolution, passed in 1973 in response to the Vietnam War.

Even before the White House could send its arguments to Capitol Hill, 10 members of the House of Representatives – conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats – filed suit in U.S. District Court Wednesday challenging President Barack Obama’s right to wage the war, even if in a supporting role.

“We believe the law was violated,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, one of the effort’s leaders. “We have asked the courts to protect the American people from the results of these illegal policies.”

In a 32-page report to Congress, the White House laid out its argument.

“U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors,” the White House said.

“We’re now in a position where we’re operating in a support role,” said a senior Obama administration official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity under White House policy.

“We’re not engaged in sustained fighting. There’s been no exchange of fire with hostile forces. We don’t have troops on the ground. We don’t risk casualties to those troops. None of the factors, frankly, speaking more broadly, has risked the sort of escalation that Congress was concerned would impinge on its war-making power,” the official said.

The White House also warned Congress against questioning the U.S. commitment at a time when Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi may be on his way out. “Now is not the time to send mixed messages,” said spokesman Jay Carney.

The White House report also said the U.S. has spent $716 million through June 3 on bombs and other supplies since helping launch the allied air campaign on March 19, a cost expected to rise to $1.1 billion by Sept. 30.

via White House defends U.S. role in Libya after lawmakers sue – Politics Wires – MiamiHerald.com.

So we’ve blown up $716 million worth of bombs, but we’re not fighting?  They aren’t hostilities when the other side can’t hurt our guys though we can just hurt them?  Or when our forces are under NATO and UN command?

Since the Constitution places war-making power in the legislative body and not simply at the sole discretion of the commander-in-chief, I think a Supreme Court ruling would be helpful in clearly defining the parameters.

And now war in Yemen?

Has President Obama, the former peace candidate, now started a 4th war?

The Obama administration has intensified the American covert war in Yemen, exploiting a growing power vacuum in the country to strike at militant suspects with armed drones and fighter jets, according to American officials.

The acceleration of the American campaign in recent weeks comes amid a violent conflict in Yemen that has left the government in Sana, a United States ally, struggling to cling to power. Yemeni troops that had been battling militants linked to Al Qaeda in the south have been pulled back to the capital, and American officials see the strikes as one of the few options to keep the militants from consolidating power.

On Friday, American jets killed Abu Ali al-Harithi, a midlevel Qaeda operative, and several other militant suspects in a strike in southern Yemen. According to witnesses, four civilians were also killed in the airstrike. Weeks earlier, drone aircraft fired missiles aimed at Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric who the United States government has tried to kill for more than a year. Mr. Awlaki survived.

via U.S. Is Intensifying a Secret Campaign of Yemen Airstrikes – NYTimes.com.


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