Back in the Day....

Towards the end of my military career, I witnessed some strange doings inside the Pentagon. Fantastically, the whole world now understands a great deal about the ugly transmogrification of American foreign policy in the Middle East.

An anonymous posting of mine on Colonel David Hackworth's site, Soldiers for the Truth seems appropriate now, as we wheeze and choke on our excitement that an "adult" version of a plan for our Iraq mistake is at hand, courtesy the Bush family clean-up crew. Re-reading that 2002 essay, it occurs to me that we should all be ashamed of our democracy, of our political and religious leaders, and of ourselves. Today, the Iraq Study Group belatedly observes that "Time is running out" and "The current approach is not working." While our Great Leader in the White House denies everything, we Americans must indeed sob at the damage we've already done, the lives wasted and destroyed, the hatred fed and the stupidity promoted. Here's how it looked to me four years ago, in November 2002, from inside the Pentagon.

Lord of the Flies Redux

6 November 2002

The young in this country are reported to tend to support war with Iraq and the older generations tend to see the risks involved. The older folks seem hesitant to send their children and grandchildren into a gristmill that may not pass the U.S. security cost-benefit audit.

That doesn't sync with what I see here in the Pentagon. The adolescents driving the little red Iraqi war wagon and banging the Baghdad war drums sport beards, gray hair, and spare tires.

Isn't this really what chickenhawk is all about? Men who missed the opportunity to prove themselves on a battlefield? Missed being tested and hardened, missed the opportunity to wrestle wisdom and courage out of sweat and pain and fear? Missed it because it was inconvenient or scary, and now, too late, want to go back and make up for it?

The juvenile instant gratification crowd is running the five-sided asylum. We are on an island without adult supervision. William Golding wrote about it in 1954 in Lord of the Flies.

The boys on the island in Lord of the Flies had to prioritize... keep the fire for security and civilization burning bright or else hunt incessantly for pigs. The fire went out and they missed being brought back into society. Eventually they killed the mother pig, destroying their primary food source.

But hey, little boys don't think about the future, and that's understandable.

New symbols of evil, new rules and definitions for democracy, liberation, sovereignty, prisoners of war and enemies of the state, and new ideas about what force can and cannot achieve are being played out in a grand Pentagon experiment.

It is a strange New World on our island. We don't paint our faces just yet, but we are developing rituals and nicknames.

Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, is "Sunshine Warrior."

Richard Perle is "Prince of Darkness."

The Secretary of Defense is reported to have a bowl in his office where he tells visitors he places a token every time he says something nice about someone. The punch line occurs when the visitor looks and sees that the bowl is nearly empty.

He's called Rummy, or Duke Nukem, or sometimes just angry and arrogant.

But symbols and nicknames are good. It's the infantile brain processes that worry me.

Just yesterday, one of the anointed, ...er appointed, civilian Ph.D. Iraq war planners held a meeting where the policy desk officers for Middle East countries were invited and consulted for the first time. The question of the day was purported to come from the Secretary, something like "When we do Iraq, what will be the effect on the neighbors?"

There was stunned silence as the desk officers collectively absorbed the shock that such a question might be asked of them so late in planning stage for an Iraq war. If Sunshine, Prince and Duke had had their way last summer, we would be at war by now - and only yesterday the planning team thinks to query the desk officers?

The desk officers dragged their jaws off the floor and, wide-eyed and unbelieving, listened to the ensuing discussion among the anointed. The debate around the fire was about what the war phases might be, whether there were to be two--attack and aftermath, or three--attack, regime change/chaos control, and occupation.

Dry mouths and eye twitches were evident among the innocent military folks who had not previously dealt directly with the civilian war planning team. Which would be most of them up to this point.

Now, when I want to have the holy freaking bejeesus scared out of me, I like to be able to buy popcorn and a big Coke, maybe some sno-caps. Or read a book about boys morphing into beasts on a remote island.

Because when that's over, I can return to a world where we listen to the wise and respect our elders.

William Golding tells a story about an island where aggressively shortsighted and juvenile minds have created a nasty little society based on evil symbols, inadequate information, exclusion and fear and where the good guys get to do the dying. What a coincidence!

This 2002 essay was intended to criticize before the disaster, and in some small way, prevent it. Instead it serves as a shameful history, written a priori.