Monday, August 07, 2006

POLITICS - View Form a Vet

"Dry-rot-phase U.S. soldiers won’t fight for Iraq" by Gil Mulley, The Coloradoan

(in full)

With more than 2,500 dead in Iraq, thousands wounded and no end to the conflict in sight, I suspect American troops are entering the dry-rot phase. This demoralized state of mind subverts individual initiative and unit cohesion. It’s a result of reality versus preconception: What soldiers or Marines expected to find in their combat experience is not consistent with reality.

Dry rot is insidious. You don’t even realize it’s happening to you. It’s the exhaustion, the heat, the bugs, the noise, the stink, the violence. It’s the stress of being a walking target. It’s being away from your wife, kids, family and friends. It’s also the futility of going through the motions, the lack of a believable cause to keep your belly fire burning.

Boredom’s a big part of dry rot. In Vietnam — my war — there was no movement. Everyone worked out of a base camp or fire base and skirmished with the enemy intermittently. There weren’t any crucial battles that led to victory; the enemy never gave up; there was no glorious flag raising like that on Iwo Jima in WWII. All the promises of glory and patriotic service proved hollow. Each day in Vietnam was just like the day before; combat action was intense, but brief and rare. It’s basically the same situation in Iraq.

The lofty talk by politicians and diplomats doesn’t translate well to GIs. As a dry-rot soldier, you do what you’re told to do but inside all you want is to go home; you have no real interest in fighting for Vietnam or Iraq. This is an ultimate truth that our political leaders don’t seem to understand: American soldiers don’t want to be mercenaries for anyone, but especially not for countries that don’t know about or support our way of life.

Believing that GIs will continue to give their all in these kinds of wars is the mistake previous commanders in chief have made and now President Bush is making. I and every one of my troopers will fight to the death anyone who attacks the United States, but don’t ask us to pretend that we care about Vietnam, Iraq or any other place that is just a piece of a muddled political puzzle.

Ultimately, dry-rot soldiers make decisions that dilute the military effort — usually nothing brazen, just little things, subtle things that a driven and determined enemy won’t do. Our troopers’ willingness to take risks and be the brave soldiers they could be is replaced by dry rot anxieties. The goal for dry-rot soldiers is to live and go home, not to be a martyr or to be the hero they once dreamed they could be.

The war in Iraq has gone beyond any rational justification for its existence. Our only reason for staying there now is to help make up for the mess our leaders created. American troopers know this. Continuing a war because politicians feel guilty about creating the war in the first place is not much of a motivator for a 21-year-old, dry-rot grunt on his third tour in hell. If our leaders had spent some time in hell themselves, they’d already know all of this.

What’s the solution? Be as decisive about getting out of Iraq as we were getting in. Set reasonable timetables (keep them secret, go public … whatever), get the troops out and put the onus on the Iraqis to solve their own problems. Anything else is just more muddling.

Gil Mulley lives in Livermore. He was a 1st lt., U.S. Army, fighting in Cu Chi, South Vietnam in 1969

I'm also a Vietnam Vet and totally agree.

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