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Friday, December 16, 2005

The Cable War

Tuesdays 9 History Channel

Off to War
Saturday 10, Discovery Times

Gunner Palace
Military Channel

From Civilian to Soldier
Military Channel

The Iraq War isn't just a staple of the news, but of basic cable as well. The difference is that you can see a range of documentaries on the war without the politics of right or left.

Shootout is probably the most interesting, because it deals with ground combat. The show, which deals with historical confrontations has done three shows on Iraq. The last one was about Ramadi.

When the chiarborne cowards talk about how easy it is to blow away people, it seems that Marine NCO's and officers disagree. Ground combat engagements are won by the US for one reason: superior training. Time and again, the Iraqi resistance can lay deadly effective ambushes, but cannot finish them off. But the nonsense of them popping up and being blown away is just that.

Even when fighting the Mahdi Army, which was more a mob than anything else, it was a close run thing for a while. The complications of actual combat come through.

Gunner Palace, a documentary film, and Off to War, a documentary series, follows the adventures of an artillery unit and a National Guard Engineering unit.

The conclusion you draw from these series is an increasing dislike of Iraqis and a price paid for serving in such a relentlessly violent environment. Marriages are stressed, families under massive pressure, soldiers trying to keep a link with home while facing nightly patrols, on which they're guaranteed to be shot.

One of the things which isn't usually made clear in news reports is the number of non-11X (0300) soldiers doing infantry work. Artillerymen and engineers do nightly patrols because of the lack of infantry. And nearly every night they take fire, either from mortars or gunfire.

Shootout deals with infantry encounters, and they look really hairy. The Iraqis may lack the professional training of the US, but courage? Willingness to confront Americans? That they have in spades.

In the Ramadi episode, at one point in the ambush of a Marine patrol, people popped out of their houses to join the ambush. Just picked up a rifle and started shooting.

Even the Marine Battalion Commander was shocked at the level of violence he was confronting. As my father said to me once, the man who walks next to God is a Marine battalion commander. There are only 27 slots in the Corps and only the best officers get them. So when the commander looked shaken, I take it that he was.

But once you subtract the politics, the impression of the war is hardly a march to victory. While the US troops have the discipline to survive, even win engagements, the place seems overwhelming, as if they are barely hanging on.

In Off to War, you see two young engineers, goofy kids, come back hardened by war and cynical about Iraq and the Army. Another NCO's who's wife lost it when he was away and couldn't pay the bills.

But the thing which sticks out is how the simplicities fade away, The soldiers leave Iraq with a deep hatred of Iraqis. One senior NG NCO, a policeman home in Arkansas, said he needed to decompress because "if he saw a middle eastern man in a traffic stop, he would have a problem".

These aren't hardened killers or patriotic robots. Most of them are kids, doing the job assigned them, but who have developed a dislike for Iraq and Iraqis not seen on the news. You see flashes of it in the print media, but the frustration you don't see, the anger.

The Chairborne Cowards who insist on good news from Iraq probably pass on these shows. Because you can see all of the good intentions beaten out of decent men, and see it replaced with a survival-based sense of fear.

On the way home to Kuwait, kids are approaching the NG convoy south, one of the privates said "I don't even trust the kids anymore".

There was a report by Elizabeth Vargas which quoted a poll which says most Iraqis are afraid of American soldiers. Given the reactions many of them have towards Iraqis, that's hardly unreasonable. It is important to pretend that US troops are impressed with Iraqi soldiers, because they will be left holding the bag as we flee and their government collapses under the weight of armed factions. But in a memorable segement of Off to War, Iraqi police lead the patrol into an ambush and the commander is so mad, he threatens to kill the Iraqi police, not without some justification. The smiles and good words from Iraqi soldiers tend to seem obsequious, designed to please the listener, but they know many American soldiers hold them in contempt, even racist disdain.

This doesn't mean the US soldiers don't start with good intentions, but they rarely end with them.

posted by Steve @ 1:42:00 AM

1:42:00 AM

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