Thursday, December 09, 2004

Grunts Talk Back

That was a dramatic turning point in our war on Iraq. Our embedded media stood agape, while troops on their way to combat stood up to the Secretary of Defense. The news conference was held in Kuwait, because the next stretch of road to Baghdad was too dangerous. Why, then, they asked, did they have to scrounge for scrap iron and shattered bullet-proof glass to beef up their vehicles? Why did their folks back home have to scrounge for money to buy them the latest body armor? Why was their pay late and why, above all, were they being held over beyond the periods they thought they had signed up for?

Rummy sneered at them as if they were his regular press gang. He said the best stuff had to go to the regular army, and the reserves and Guardsmen just had to wait. As to serving out their time -- read the small print. There is no limit -- they’re in for life and beyond.

Actually, there’s a very good reason for those limits. Research into the history of war has found that a unit under direct fire soon begins to lose its effectiveness, and should be relieved within about 30 days. One name for it is shell shock - men diving into shell holes rather than fighting on. It might be argued that the Bolshevik revolution was a result of shell shock -- the troops couldn’t bear their government’s order to continue the war.

This one is of course endless. There never has been an exit strategy. Our government will continue to pretend that there is one, that things are getting better when evidently they are getting worse. But the troops are talking back. That is something new.