Jan. 11 — War stories

Finished that book about Pat Tillman, “Where Men Win Glory,” by Jon Krakauer. Reactions:

1. There’s basic incompetence in the ranks, even of our special forces, up through the chain of command to those giving orders. The stories he tells about the start of the Iraq War and the incident in which Jessica Lynch was captured, as well as the details of Tillman’s death, give you a real sense of the absurdity of war. Tanks stuck in sewage, Marines massacred by the Air Force, and trigger-happy kids spraying hillsides with machine gun fire, killing their comrades.

2. The military is a political machine and engages in sometimes sophisticated and sometimes banal propaganda aimed at firing up the American people to support war.

3. The testosterone-driven behaviors of men in uniform can work against them. These guys — Tillman, his brother Kevin, their mates — were itching for combat, which tells me they had to be in denial of death at some level. Thousands of guys hot for battle and realistically assessing the odds of something bad happening? I don’t think so. There’s a reason wars are fought by kids.

4. That denial may in part explain how things can go so wrong. If you’re thinking a firefight is something to look forward to, you’re living in denial of reality at some level. Once the bullets start flying, there’s no predicting the reaction of young men who were thinking they were in for something fun.

5. On the other hand, the odds aren’t bad in war these days, what with the overwhelming firepower of our side, the use of drones, and the acceptance of civilian casualties. In 10 years in Afghanistan, we’ve lost less than 5 percent of the soldiers killed in Vietnam (which was a small fraction of the number of Vietnamese killed). You can have a Humvee full of young soldiers spraying grenades, bullets and bombs in all directions, and in most cases the only ones hurt are the enemies (and civilians).

5. Propaganda, testosterone, and the relative infrequency of American casualties make it easy for politicians to keep sending us to war.

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