LINCOLN

I had mentioned that there would be popcorn…and there certainly was. But not before several minutes of indignation. That a large popcorn costs $8 struck me as an extravagant indulgence – which it surely is. So what does that say about a medium for $7…or a small (and it really IS small), for $6? I guess that’s marketing and capitalism at work…and after an internal dialogue (and one false entrance:) I decided I don’t need this…and I’m going to have it, anyway. The Large One. After all, that merits free refills. which makes it more acceptable to me as a conscious consumer.

Oh, yes there was also a movie. LINCOLN. It was everything I had wanted it to be, as a film There were moments of tremendous power; because of the images, because of the acting, because of the history. We are blessed with many gifted actors today. The Best Actor is to me just fodder for a good debate…but Daniel Day-Lewis should certainly be in that conversation. I liked that I noticed no effort to modernize or contemporize the production and dialogue. Someone had posted earlier “better bring a pillow”, suggesting its length or subject matter might put people to sleep. I have no doubt that some will doze off….some of us sleepwalk thru life. And finally, LINCOLN reminded me just how unlikely a nation we are, having survived this and countless other hurdles over the past 150 years. Unlikely because we are so passionate and disparate in our desires, our process is unruly and contentious. Yet we’ve somehow managed to muddle thru. Impediments remain…but that we yet endure is cause for hope.

LAWDY, LAWDY

Image

This is an embarrassing story. Such disclosures are invariably healthy and I am not unfamiliar or unwilling to be the butt of any joke…long as it’s funny. Over the years, an occasional yearning arises to reconnect with the fragmented memories of my past…and the internet enables such obsessions.

The CO of my advisory team had arrived in-country two weeks ahead of me, so I became XO (2nd in command) when I joined them. My first nite we were savagely attacked (described in First Nite from my memoir, Return To Eden). He was slightly wounded early by an errant frag during the firefight. Two weeks later, patrolling with a separate element, he took an AK round thru the right buttock. He spent four weeks in-country, left with two Purple Hearts, a CIB and Bronze Star…and I became CO. The five earlier commanders lasted a total of eight months.

I’d remembered his thick drawl and tho there were multiple possible spellings of his last name, I typed into Google “Arkansas…and his name”. I got several hits, found an article that seemed to describe the guy I remembered and wrote to it. One of his friends passed it along for his approval and I received a telephone number. This was big for me, over all those years, I’d had no contact with any member of my team. I was pretty keyed up when I made that call to him.

It’d been 42 years but he remembered me and we slowly exchanged memories and our lives since that time. He’d gone into law enforcement, as had many of our returning vets. He said that I was the first contact he’d had since that time, too.
He seemed pleased to hear from me. Then he recounted his memories of that first nite under fire. It began around 1 AM, pitch black in our bunker and I’d left him searching for his boots as I crawled around to the river façade where Charlie was lobbing mortar rounds and the occasional B-40 rocket, one of which later grazed him and knocked us all off our feet.

Here’s the thing. He began telling me his version of the story and his timing and rhythms suggested this was a story often told, to great effect.

“Our bunker was shaking with concussion and I looked over at you and all I could see was the whites of your eyes, they were so big…” Now, I don’t doubt that my eyes got pretty wide that nite…but he was searching for his boots in darkness. There was no light to reflect anything, I’m certain he couldn’t even see my face. But this was clearly one of his favorite war stories, all about his new black XO, with eyes like saucers in his first action. I suspect this had produced many guffaws over the years from appreciative audiences.

I leaned back for a couple seconds, took a breath and continued our conversation. After all, in my chapter, I’d been pretty critical of his planning, having failed to install a chopper pad inside our perimeter – the absence of which necessitated my doing some fairly scary shit later that nite to evacuate our casualties.

Our conversation ended…we haven’t reconnected since. And after a few days, I e-mailed him the chapter that I’d written about that nite. Hope he took it as well:) I’m not sure what I‘d expected or hoped for…but probably not to discover that I am the butt of a joke for some redneck peace officers in Oklahoma…

11/13/12

FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT

Image

Several years ago I began writing and talking about the need to drastically reduce our troop numbers in Afghanistan and replace them with small teams of highly motivated advisors with cultural and language skills. Such teams had been successful in Vietnam and I felt they offered a better chance for success in this war. Late last year I was one of a team of former advisors scheduled to fly to Alaska for several days to brief their soldiers on the tactics, lessons learned and procedures we had found successful during our tours. Several days before departing, the trip was cancelled…the units to be advised had been suddenly deployed.

I spent five of my first 20 years abroad, traveling thru Europe and the Middle East, living in Greece and Germany. I lived in the mountains of Germany for months, working alongside foresters. I spoke their languages, I learned about their cultures, I appreciated that there were different ways to live and to think. So when I arrived in Vietnam, already possessing strong language skills (it was just a knack I had when younger) I felt reasonably comfortable about my relationships and approach to working with our allies. It didn’t take too long for me to realize that what I knew was Western culture…that these people came from a wholly different spiritual place. Once I fully appreciated that, I became much more effective.

Today, I join many in revulsion and horror at the multiple instances of ‘fraticide’; trainees turning their weapons on those tasked with teaching them how to conduct operations and safeguard civilian populations. It’s something we as Americans have struggled with for many years; our tendency to view others thru the prism of our own culture, giving rise to the term “Ugly American.” Invariably well-intentioned, we’ve alienated societies by ham-fistedly imposing our values, as tho simply by removing a turban and replacing it with a Yankees ball cap, we’ll all soon think alike and value similar things. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

These tribesmen are nothing like us, no matter how much we’d like to wish they were. Their beliefs are entrenched and will endure. I have no solution to our efforts to conduct nation-building in the region…but I do know that I’m unwilling to sacrifice a single additional American life to this effort. You don’t successfully dispense freedom to a population lacking that tradition; it must come from within. It’s how we did it, it’s how others have done it and it’s how Afghanis must do it. I’m grateful we intend to pull out but I’d prefer December 2012 rather than 2014.

Early days with my soldiers