Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The smell of victory in the morning

It was a hell of a speech, wasn't it?

Full of talk about how far we've come and what we've got left to do. About the nobility of the fight and how our lives have been enriched. It gave me goosebumps. The hair, it stood up on the back of my neck.

I got chills.

The kind of creepy spider-feet chills you get when you realize that things are far, far worse than you ever imagined - and you imagined that the situation was dire to begin with. Because, seriously, it was a half hour of naked, shifty-eyed, gibbering, clam-baked, baboon-assed batshit crazy. I kept expecting the guys in white coats and butterfly nets to dart his skinny ass with a syringe of Thorazine and stuff him into a straight jacket.

Oh. You thought I was talking about Barrack Obama's speech, didn't you?

Eh, no. Obama's speech about race in America was a masterwork of inspired oratory and was tinged with greatness. I was talking about the other speech in the news this morning - the one where US President George W. Bush marked the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq.

See, I was there, on that night, five years ago.

The night we received the orders we all knew were coming and had spent months preparing for. The night the war begin.

It was in the Northern Arabian Gulf, a couple of miles off the coast of southern Iraq. I was part of the team that made the very first assault of the invasion, in the off-shore oil terminals, before the Tomahawks launched, and the strike planes catapulted into the night, and the armor surged across the Kuwaiti boarder.

I wrote the plan for a small portion of that assault, for something that had never been done before, using untested methods and untried equipment, and I directed it's execution. My particular role is something that I can't discuss, but I will say our mission was a resounding success. Special operations teams took those facilities without a shot being fired or a life lost on either side, and I had a significant hand in that.

In the hectic weeks that followed we grew weary and tired beyond words, we went without sleep and regular meals, without rest or a break, as our forces pushed deeper and deeper into Iraq. There were a thousand things that happened and I won't even try to describe them here. But through it all, we were proud of what we doing. We believed in the rightness of our actions and those of our nation. I can't tell you the number of times I looked into the faces of weary crewmen, and found them ready, willing and able to go out yet again, without complaint, enthusiastic. And I was still there when the first relief ships sailed up the Shat Al Arab into Umm Qsar bringing food and humanitarian aid, escorted through the dangerous waters by our boat teams.

Months later, Baghdad taken, we sailed for home and despite being more tired than I've ever been, I was incredibly proud of what we had done, and I still am. I was proud to be part of it, proud of those I followed and those I led, proud of the daily courage I saw around me and that I found within myself, the honor and commitment of the men and women I served alongside of, proud that the tactics I designed worked and worked better than anyone had ever imagined - including me. Proud that those tactics would become the basis for a whole new area of combat that could save lives on both sides. I was proud that I had proven myself and had done well and lived to tell the tale. I was proud of the medals and commendations I was awarded.

I remember watching the Statue of Saddam topple, Americans and Iraqis pulling on the ropes together, cheering and crying together, standing proudly together. And I remember feeling hopeful. George W. Bush, in full Navy flightsuit, declared victory there on the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln (ironic that name, isn't it?) as she made her homecoming approach on San Diego after nearly a year at sea - and we cheered him. There were those who said, hey, wait a minute, but we shouted them down. We'd won, the war was over, the President said so and we believed him.

Then came the occupation - and the slow realization that we'd been lied to, deliberately and with malice aforethought, deceived yet again by our leaders - by that self same President. The realization that in the bogyman of WMDs he had found his Gulf of Tonkin Incident and had exploited it for all it was worth. The slow realization that he had no plan for the victory we'd won, that our comrades in arms had given their lives for - and would continue to give their lives for. That he cared nothing for the people we had saved, for the people who's faces had begun to haunt me. That he cared only for his own face, engraved in the granite of history, high on a mountain top somewhere in the Midwest of his mind. We were nothing to him, pawns on the gaming table in his bid for immortality.

And here we are, those five years later. Thousands dead, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. Saddam is gone, the dying remains, but that doesn't matter. That's a good thing, see because it's making us safer and the world a better place. Those deaths and the hatred breeding in the ruins of Iraq and Afghanistan are the cost of our freedom. The secret prisons and the torture and the erosion of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution are the price of our liberty. It's regrettable, says the President, but that is the cost of victory.

Yes, five years later and it's still victory.

But it's a particular kind of victory. The same kind of victory that was the end result of that first Gulf of Tokin incident. The same kind of victory that led to the oil embargo and the economic recession of the 70's. The same kind of victory that led to the post-Vietnam paper military and thousands of homeless veterans. The same kind of victory that led to revolution in Iran and the rise of Islamic extremism and the increasing attacks on Americans abroad and at home. The same kind of victory that led inevitably to September 11th, 2001.

I wonder, will it still be victory when the names of the 5000 fallen, and the thousands yet to come, are etched on black marble slabs somewhere on the Washington DC mall?

Truly, you reap what you sow.


  1. Thank you for your service Jim.

    I can't really talk at all rationally about Iraq, so I'll leave it at that.

  2. I second Michelle. Yes, thank you for your service and your commitment to our country. Hearing your perspective on the war is fascinating.

    On a completely self-pimping tangent, I wrote a post this morning about the Japanese WWII monument on Attu, written up in the ADN yesterday. I'd appreciate hearing a military veteran's perspective on the issue.

  3. Jeri, I posted a reply on your blog.

    Thanks for writing the original post.

  4. Jim,

    We so have to have a beer. Or three. How many does it take to get these stories out of you?

  5. Nathan, I agree.. there are people that have had such totally fascinating lives (you among them) that their supply of interesting experiences seems endless.

    Piloting a desk, by comparison, is so... pedestrian.

    It means I have to make up a whole hell of a lot more when I write adventure fiction than those who actually have HAD adventures. ;)

  6. Well, Nathan, I don't drink all that much these days, one beer, maybe two. Certainly not enough to make me forget my oath. However, should we ever meet face to face there are a few stories I can tell you. Some might even be true :)

  7. Jim, you can just answer as Larry does when asked direct questions: "Stuff". Clearly I have a thing for Navy men who did things they can't talk about. I may be a pacifist and tree-hugging liberal, but I am consistently grateful for and supportive of the people in the US military. Thank you. As for Iraq, I third Michelle -- can't speak rationally about it.

  8. Jim, Thank you for your perspective on the war. I know that most people have opinions, but most of them are all based on 3rd and 4th hand information.

    You, I believe. I don't say that lightly either. Yours is one of the few opinions that I put significant weight on regarding such matters.

    And to say it like my teenage youth group would, "You rock my face off."

    Oh, and that's a good thing I'm told. :)

  9. I had to hunt back through your archives because THIS post and the most recent on on the exit from Afghanistan make such a perfect pair that I want to send them to my son, together, as his weekly reading assignment from Mom. He's almost seventeen and wants a military career, so I'm also hunting for the post I remember is back here, somewhere, in which you discuss the profession of the military and the home found within it.


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