Friday, May 06, 2011

A Fog Horn Needed In Abbottabad, Stat!

The Great Wikipedia tells us:

The fog of war is a term used to describe the uncertainty in situation awareness experienced by participants in military operations. The term seeks to capture the uncertainty regarding own capability, adversary capability, and adversary intent during an engagement, operation, or campaign. The term is ascribed to the Prussian military analyst Carl von Clausewitz, who wrote:

"The great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not infrequently — like the effect of a fog or moonshine — gives to things exaggerated dimensions and unnatural appearance."

Kudos to Eags for defending the memory of the great Chiricahua Apache warrior — Geronimo — from the military's use of "Geronimo" as a code name for Osama Bin Laden. A better code name for OBL would have been "Scum." If this is (fair & balanced) meteorology, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Let’s Clear The Fog Of War
By Timothy Egan

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Birthed in a big lie about weapons of mass destruction, the war in Iraq was in desperate need of a hero in 2003 when Jessica Lynch wrecked her Humvee and was knocked unconscious in enemy territory. Nine days later, the 19-year-old Army clerk was rescued by American soldiers from an Iraqi hospital.

That much was true. From there — in newspaper articles, countless talk-radio fabrications and a book — Lynch was transformed from a nameless casualty to “the little girl Rambo from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting,” as she said in later testimony.

Give her credit: for her service, and for her fierce honesty in the face of myth-making, official and for-profit. It’s more than the defense brass did in her case, or that of the other poster boy for military mendacity, the Army Ranger Pat Tillman. He was killed by his own troops in Afghanistan — a truth the Pentagon thought we couldn’t handle, so they spun a tale of heroism in the face of hostile fire.

Now, with the extraordinary raid that netted Osama bin Laden, the fog of war makes it tempting to exaggerate. The story of what happened in the darkened residence of a coward who sent others to blow themselves up has changed, understandably, over the last few days. Of late, the White House says it will not give out any more operational details.

But they owe us a complete story, an honest story, one for the record. After debriefing the Navy Seals, the White House should give as full an account as they can without compromising future missions. By any measure, the raid showed audacity, courage, luck — and ended in justice being served. The details on whether Bin Laden was armed or how many shots were fired when and where will not take away from the thrilling narrative: the world’s most-wanted mass killer was captured and killed.

Those who insist on release of the photo of the dead terrorist are missing the point. “That’s not who we are,” said President Obama, in a “60 Minutes” interview that will air Sunday. “We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.” He’s right. Plus, a picture of a bloodied head will not deter conspiracy theorists who live in a world of their dark making. But before closing the book, we do need something more detailed than the contradictions of the last few days.

Why? Because, almost from the beginning, the trillion-plus-dollar “war on terror” has been abused by fabulists. What followed a horrific crime against innocents in New York and elsewhere started with the correct impulse: get the killer. Then, of course, the killer got out of our sights in Tora Bora and President Bush steered the nation into a disastrous and bankrupting war against a country that had nothing to do with the mass homicide on American soil.

The Lynch and Tillman episodes were emblematic of the whole phony campaign at the top. If the White House was willing to go to war on false pretenses, why shouldn’t low-level commanders follow suit on the ground?

“They used me to symbolize all this stuff,” said Private Lynch, in one of many admirable attempts to set the record straight. “It’s wrong.” She never fired her weapon. “I’m not about to take credit for something I never did,” she said. “I’m just a survivor.”

Tillman was heroic by his choice: giving up the millions of a professional football career to fight with the Army Rangers in Afghanistan. He was a searcher — questioning religion, his own values and his country’s reasons for going to war in Iraq — which is why Jon Krakauer was so drawn to him as the subject of his book Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (2009). The coverup of this awful fratricide appeared to involve the highest levels of the Army while Tillman’s parents were looking for answers.

“This lie was to cover their image,” said the soldier’s mother, Mary Tillman, in her congressional testimony. “They blew up their poster boy.”

With the Bin Laden raid, the apologists for torture are trying to institutionalize a story that he never could have been found and killed without the United States taking leave of its professed values in war. This, despite the fact that military officials have said repeatedly that the best information came from detainees who were not tortured.

I don’t expect anything that might emerge from an open airing of the facts on that night in Abbottabad to change the master narrative. Aside from impugning the name of a great American Indian warrior (Geronimo, the code name for Bin Laden), the raid is a triumph of intelligence, logistics and execution, from top to bottom. An overwhelming number of Americans approve of it, all the more reason to get the story straight.

The private in the Humvee, Jessica Lynch, said it better than any man with a row of stars on his lapel. “The truth of war is not always easy to hear,” she told members of Congress, “but it is always more heroic than the hype.” Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company

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