Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Semper fidelis, pater.

I recently mentioned that fatherhood role models come in all shapes and sizes, including whatever shape and size you become after pitching yourself off the balcony in a spitting contest with your child.

Fortunately, for those of us looking around for role models worth emulating, there are far better examples out there, like this father of a Marine in Iraq, George Somjen, who got to hang out in Gene Simmons' mother's basement, which was filled--of course--with Kiss memorabilia. How cool is that, right?

But, rather than being blinded by celebrity, Somjen keeps things in perspective:

He keeps a file, part dopey celebrity news, part scandal and bad behavior, part painful slices of life from the war.

He pulled out a clip. It was about Britney Spears. “Recently I was sent to this very humbling place called rehab,” she was quoted as saying. “I truly hit rock bottom.” Mr. Somjen rolled his eyes. “You know what, Britney? Iraq’s a humbling place. Why do we hear about these people? Sure, we’ll always have celebrities. Where are the Jimmy Stewarts and the Gary Coopers? Where are the good people?"
And Somjen keeps his eye on his goal, writing to Gene Simmons after seeing him on TV:
“In that show, you cried when speaking with a veteran,” Mr. Somjen wrote. “We cry every day.” . . . He went on. “I beg you, implore you to use your fame, power and presence to help our military. I will do whatever I can to help but can never reach the multitude that you can.”
What is Somjen's goal?
What does he want? He wants to know why military personnel pay for their own uniforms and haircuts and other essentials. Why parents who can afford it have to send boxes and boxes of food and supplies overseas.
Amen, brother.

UPDATE: Wired has been reporting the inability of the Marines' bureaucracy to serve the Marines, like Somjen's son and Mama's cousin, who are in the field, doing the fighting. The series of reports includes this one:
Beginning in 2005, Marine commanders in Al Anbar began begging for thousands of heavily armored trucks, in production at several U.S. firms, to replace Humvees that were being demolished in roadside bombings. Quantico sat on the requests for nearly two years, and during that period around a thousand Americans -- including an estimated 200 Marines -- died in attacks on Humvees.

The Marine Corps did purchase approximately 60 of the 15-ton blast-proof trucks on an experimental basis for around $1 million apiece. Those trucks were hit 300 times without a single fatality.

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  1. I'll note by way of expansion that the U.S. death toll in Iraq is between 3,500 and 4,000 right now, so the 1,000 Americans who died in attacks on unarmored Humvees are more than a quarter of the total number of deaths we've sustained as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

    So, uh, in this case we're provisionally rooting for the Masters of War? Or at least the ones who build all the Humvees and million-dollar trucks, but not the ones who hide behind desks? Or we're rooting for million-dollar trucks as long as we're there in the first place, but we really want to bring the boys back home, except not if it makes things worse over there when we do?

    And by the way, what are our plans for the 14 permanent bases we're building in Iraq after the big troop withdrawal?

    I really gotta get me one a them scorecard thangs. I get so confused who the players are.

  2. I don't think that our armed forces should have ever gone to Iraq. I thought that after 9/11, we'd do whatever it takes to capture the man who attacked us, who we've let go free so that we could pursue peace in the Middle East by invading Iraq.

    War is full of moral dilemmas--were all the lives we lost on D-Day worth the final victory? My feeling about this dilemma is that if Shrub is going to let Osama bin Laden go free, send our troops into a war that will likely end with a sahel, and use the men and women of the armed forces as the most expensive campaign backdrop ever funded by taxpayers, that he should damn well protect them from harm any way that he can.

    At least those families who lost someone on D-Day could point to the eventual positive effects of the war. Those families who have lost someone in Iraq . . . what can they say, other than, if only our troops were better protected, we didn't piss away as much money on Halliburton as we did, and Shrub gave the troops the support they need, my child might be alive. Because they certainly can't say that the world will be improved through this conflict. It would be nice if they could at least hold their child in their arms again after the war is over.

    And yes, ideally, the war would be over sooner than later, but I don't think that will happen as long as Dick Cheney is president.

  3. Speaking of which, I apologize for not mentioning that Kellogg Brown Root, which has the contract ($200 million? $500 million? Multi-billion? Depends who's reporting it) for building those "enduring" bases, only a few months ago spun off from Halliburton.

    It's a tricky business, especially when you consider what gave Osama bin Laden's movement its momentum. He was a nutjob already, but does everyone here remember what his big propaganda point was, the PowerPoint presentation that got the money flowing from rich fundamentalist sheiks, the poke in the eye with a sharp stick that had to be answered, and Osama was the man to do it? Hands up, anyone?

    Yup, it was infidels in the Holy Country: a permanent U.S. base in Saudi Arabia, left over after Gulf War I, a walled compound where it was rumored that women were even allowed to drive automobiles. The Saudi government is entrusted with the sacred duty of keeping the land of Mecca and Medina pure, and they tolerated these infidels with their blasphemers' ways.

    I'm not saying we should or shouldn't have put the base there, and I could list for hours the hypocrisies of Osama and the Taliban--I'm not saying they were right or good, not in the least little bit. But even if they were wrong, we gave their little movement a much bigger momentum with our permanent base. They used that to catapult themselves into a trajectory that was supposed to liberate hallowed soil from the tread of the heathen. Something to consider at least, in this Big Ole War on Terror, when we're considering permanent bases. What was the benefit to our country of keeping that base? What did it cost us? If your agenda is putting garrisons in every country around the Persian Gulf, maybe it played to your favor. One wonders what blood cost those garrisons are worth. Which countries don't have a U.S. garrison yet?

    Interesting twitch of American history that makes it so hard to get those hardened vehicles to protect soldiers. Various Buy American legislation dates back to World War II; a rule called the Berry Amendment was passed in the 1950s but has been enforced more universally only in recent years. That amendment specifically says that for most metals (including steel armor plate) that are being procured as any part of U.S. defense contracts, the smelting has to be done in U.S. mills.

    This amendment is already playing havoc with computer supplies, because silicon is also a specialty metal, and computer makers don't want to have to track where every layer of silicon in every IC on the motherboard came from. These are commodity chips.

    I don't know whether the Berry Amendment has been waived for the armored trucks in this case. It can be waived. I think the bureaucratic holdups here were elsewhere and mostly attitudinal. But the company that makes the trucks, which is trying to lurch from producing 12 a year to 12,000 a year, has to locate supplies for everything that goes into the truck--at the same time as the military, now that it's paying attention, wants to reconfigure the innards.

    And to get the armor plate, it has to use U.S. suppliers, and we've got nowhere near as many steel mills today making military-spec steel armor plate as we did in the 1950s. The New World Order broke down trade barriers; we sell our scrap steel to China, which has the latest, greatest, state-of-the-art smelters. Hard enough to go from 12 a year to 12,000 a year--think of the factory space required, the employees, the training, the new rules you have to follow as your business gets big enough to become subject to tighter employment regulations--but then, on top of that, to find a source for all that metal has to be nearly impossible. No steel mill wants to spend a small fortune installing all that extra capacity for a contract that's only good for one or two years.

    Manufacturing capacity in the U.S. has shifted pretty dramatically in 50 years.

    Oh, and by the way--do you want China to be the source of the steel that protects your soldiers as you get involved with messy situations to protect a national energy supply? We already have a huge bonded debt to China; do we want to rely on their manufacturing to protect our interests?

    Yup, it's a pretty complicated world out there. Thank goodness our President and legislators had thought through all this and had good solid answers before they put any troops in harm's way.

  4. Good points all, and more detail that I was aware of about arms procurement. Sometimes our Byzantine laws and regulations and those who write, interpret, and enforce them make me want to tear my teeth out.

    From the DickBush standpoint, our permanent bases in Iraq may be intended as our sharp stick in the eye of Osama. I guess they forgot that one man's sharp stick in the eye is another man's pain in the ass.

    And they seem to have forgotten that the Korean War is still officially ongoing, albeit not actively. Members of the DickBush team are starting to be more vocal about their plans to keep troops in Iraq as we do in Korea. Apparently, what we learned from Korea and Vietnam is that it's not a loss if you don't leave the country.

    If we learned anything at all.

  5. Remember the classic "If you're not with us, you're against us"?

    So, what exactly does the POTUS think "with us" means? Slapping one of those "Support Our Troops" ribbon stickers on the back of the car, while never sacrificing a damn thing for those troops? Giving the troops the thumbs-up at a photo-op?

    Don't even get me started on the "us" part, which in this case goes way back to the Soviet/Afghan war, in which we decided the Taliban must have been "us" because the Soviets were "them". And yet we're still using the same rhetoric that got us here in the first place?

  6. Just found your blog through Hygeine Chronicles.

    There is another part of this story that doesn't make headlines. The services to the families left behind, or rather the lack of.

    My brother in law is in the army and has served two tours. My sister asked for counseling for herself and their two kids. She was told they could only provide counseling in domestic violence.

    While her husband is in harms way she has to not only worry about providing for a family at home, she also has to provide for her husband.

  7. Henitsirk: I can't agree with the premise of your question; POTUS clearly doesn't have the capacity to think.

    Bacchus: I have a brother-in-law who was a career Marine. After marrying him, my sister quickly learned an oft-repeated phrase, which sums up what I've found to be the general attitude of the military establishment toward families: If the Marines wanted you to have a wife, they'd issue you one.

    [substitute the service branch of your choice and the partner term of your choice as needed]