Thursday, March 15, 2012

To the Mountains of Madness

The Germans used to tell a story about the occupation of Alsace, back in the late Eighteen-hundreds.Now the local Alsatians, part-German though they were, liked having a bunch of foreign soldiers living on top of them about as much as you'd think. And the soldiers probably didn't like it any better, being young, bored, and far from home amid a population that didn't much care for them.

And, unfortunately, some of them might not have behaved as they would have back in those homes. So come the day an Alsatian father, bolder or perhaps just more reckless than the rest, drags his shrinking daughter into the German commandant's office to rage about the goddamn soldier who had raped his sweet, demure, virginal little girl.Now I'll bet that Hauptmann probably looked at the bedraggled little Franconian farm wench and thought "Was im ficknamen haben Wir hier jetzt..?" I'll bet he vaguely remembered her hanging around the garrison, possibly even flirting with the junge in their natty uniforms. A trooper with a steady job, even a foreigner, might not have seemed like a bad catch for an ambitious girl from a boring little schei├čloch farm town.

And I'll bet he sighed, thinking that he really needed this like a case of the piles; some goddamn troop that couldn't keep it in his pants until he visited Mdme. Villebois down at the town brothel, and some little local wench who was probably more pissed off about the lack of an engagement ring than the actual ravishing.

And about how impossible it would be to try and figure out which one of his guys had actually done the damn deed.I can picture him drumming his fingers on the desk in irritation before shouting for his Stabsfeldwebel.

And I'll bet the Stabs had his guesses; if he was any good he'd know who had been on the prowl for the farmgirls in town. But he had a couple of hundred men, and the nights were dark, and the lanes were shadowy, and who the hell knew, anyway?

But whatever had happened, the two soldiers knew this; there would be hell to pay if they didn't do something.

The locals were quiet because they knew that to raise their hand against the occupation was to get crushed. And because the troops were usually reasonably polite, and didn't get in people's way without reason.

But...if this got around, and suddenly the local people began to think that their women, or anyone else, might be attacked, well...the officer and the sergeant both knew how many of the locals had been armed by the French government back in the last war...and how many of them probably had a Chassepot shoved up in the eaves somewhere. And they probably grimaced uneasily, remembering the damn franc-tireurs - the "free shooters" - who had made the countryside so unpleasant for them on the way to Paris a couple of years ago.

So the Stabs paraded the garrison, and the Hauptmann addressed them quietly, and the men drew lots out of a helmet. And the unlucky winner was marched out the following morning to the wall outside, neatly shot, and buried in the churchyard that evening. Personally, the Stabs suspected that Kirchen probably hadn't done it - Kirchen was a shy kid, really, and he suspected Knabe, the dirty hound; he'd been sniffing around that girl for the past week.

And with the weary rue old soldiers feel when they think about the things they're told to do or asked to do by the feckless people they work for the first shirt probably regretted having to shoot one of his own for a damn cheap little tart who'd likely be fat and blowsy by forty, married to some local yokel with mud up his backside, who both in five years would have forgotten all about the damn business.

How a good man had been killed because of someone's damn stupidity. About the fucking waste and misery and pointlessness of it all.

And how the Stabs would shoot another man just as quickly if it happened again.

Because the important thing is that the village remained quiet.

One soldier had died as soldiers have always died; to save his friends, and to serve his country's purpose.I have no doubt that the sergeant that killed a slew of Afghans this past week was off his nut. Shell-shocked, battle-fatigued, PTSD'd...call it whatever you want. The man was on his, what, fourth? combat tour in probably six or seven years. That's a hell of a lot of time for a young man to spend doing the dirty work of imperial policing in some of the shittier parts of the world.And, honestly - I don't think that his insane slaughter says anything of any value about the "Afghanistan mission", or whatever the sweet hell the U.S. Army was doing in that town, or the province, or in A-stan, or southwest Asia, for that matter. It's just a tale told by semiautomatic fire, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. To take this tale of one man's journey into the mountains of madness is madness itself, trying to read the scribblings of a soul tormented to insanity by the peering in the abyss for too long.What tells me something very sad and sorry, though, is the general reaction I'm hearing and reading here in the U.S.

Which varies between much speculation about the very things this horror means nothing about - the Great Game that sergeant's country and mine is playing in the Afghan highlands, the "mission" he was supposed to be there for, or anything else having to do with the larger whys and wherefores that the United States has spent more than a decade farkling about doing in the hinterlands of central Asia - and personal hand-wringing about the trooper who seems to have gone bloodily nuts on the night of 11 MAR.

There are troubling, difficult problems there, there are difficult questions to ask about all of those things, but this particular incident touches on none of them.

Instead, what it drives home to me is how utterly, completely cluelessly disengaged the entire U.S. - from the public through the civilians in the federal government to the U.S. Army - is to whatever the fiddle-fuck we're doing there.Because the Hauptmann and the Stabsfeldwebel could tell everyone involved what needs to happen now.

Because if whatever the fiddle-fuck we're doing there means anything that soldier - regardless of how tortured his mind is, regardless of the demands of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, regardless of his rights, or the opinions of the gormless American public - needs to have a quick drumhead court-martial there at his post, be given a kind word and a good meal, and then taken out to the wall outside the FOB and shot.Because the important thing is that the village remained quiet.We just don't seem to get it.

Imperial occupations are damn deadly difficult things. They don't have a fucking thing to do with Goodness, or Rightness, or Freedom, or whatever bullshit pablum gets fed to the ignorant masses. They're about figuring out how to keep the locals quiet and as happy as possible.

Anything that makes that happen is what needs to happen.

And if you can't live with that - you need to get the fuck out of the business of imperial wars.Because we seem to have chosen to treat this like we'd treat a domestic murder rampage. Which makes perfect sense - because it was a murder rampage - except that in the context in which it happened is utterly mad. Other good men will die because of it.

Because people here and our media keep repeating that this man's madness says nothing about the tens of thousands of other GIs in the country that, while perfectly true, is perfectly meaninglessly mad.

Because while talking about combat stress, and giving this trooper his Article 31 rights, and a fair court-martial, and a long sentence in a military prison makes perfect sense to the world of the United States and the people comfortably here, or in their offices in Kabul, or in the quiet briefing rooms alongside the Potomac, in terms of what it will mean in the mountains of Afghanistan... ...is a perfect wilderness of madness.

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