The tragedy of empire

Some recent readings I’ve done which seem connected in some undefinable way that I’ll leave to you, dear reader, to consider.

Neil Shea has a story up at American Scholar that pulls me equally into despair and anger.  It’s his observations of being embedded with an American unit in ‘central Afghanistan’.  Specifically, he writes about a platoon sergeant and his poisonous impact of the rest of the unit.

Most soldierly stupidity does not amount to crime; most soldiers never commit atrocities… I felt I was watching some of the men unravel toward serious crimes, if, in fact, they had not already committed them elsewhere in Afghanistan or Iraq. Evil or atrocity often explodes from a furnace built by the steady accretion of small, unchallenged wrongs. Some men in Destroyer platoon had been drifting that way for a long time.

were the American soldiers I had come to fear. They were men who enjoyed demolishing Afghan houses, men who shot dogs in the face. The pair who had embraced like lovers, one tenderly drawing the blade of his knife along the pale, smooth skin of his friend’s throat. There was a guy who’d let the others tie his legs open and mock-rape him, and there were several men who had boasted of plans to murder their ex-wives and former girlfriends.

After several days in the field, Shea quotes the platoon sergeant and his assessment of the unit’s mission:

“Yeah, we definitely made some Taliban out here,” he said. “It was like a week-long Taliban recruiting drive. And we had fun doing it. I love recruiting for the Taliban. It’s called job security.”

Why does COIN fail?  Not just because of leaders like this (although that’s a serious problem).  It’s the command climate that averts its eyes to this sort of behavior from its NCO and officer corps.  Either because they don’t understand, care or can’t rouse themselves to do their jobs properly, these soldiers don’t just recruit for the Taliban, they risk the lives of their fellow soldiers and the mission.

As a former senior NCO, this article makes my blood boil.  We’ve seen events like abu Ghraib, the Kill Team, the Haditha killings and, given that these came to light more due to dumb luck than anything else, must assume that there are more we’ll never know about.  If we want to prevent things like that from happening again we need to put a stop to activity like that of ‘Destroyer platoon’ before it spirals out of control.  And if the officers and NCOs aren’t up to that task, they need to be handed their walking papers as the military doesn’t need their type.

In it’s continuing War on Terror, the NYPD apparently decided that, in order to keep the Big Apple safe, it would have to infiltrate and track ‘liberal political’ organizations.  Part of this involved getting the NYPD to pay an officer to go down to New Orleans in 2008 to attend a ‘People’s Summit’ conference (*cough* junket! *cough*).  You can view one of the intelligence reports from this program here.  I’d love to hear some sort of defense of this.  I can see nothing here but  possible (being very generous) activity that might involve routine criminal activity generated from demonstrations which should be well within the capability of a department like NYPD to handle without the Stasi act.

Also interesting to note is the continual backpedaling of the NYPD.  First they claimed that all this sort of activity stopped around 2004 (with the Republican National Convention).  Oh, but that didn’t count the ‘demographics unit’ that tracked those scary brown people in New Jersey and elsewhere.  That supposedly ended in 2006.  So why do some of these documents refer to events in 2008?

Nothing to see here…move along.

Jane Harman has an article up at Foreign Policy about four unresolved problems involving the intelligence community here in the U.S.  Just one reminder:  It’s 2012 and we STILL haven’t figured out what to do about Gitmo.

Finally, just to show that we aren’t the first empire to have problems.  Smithsonian has a piece up about the Ottoman Empire’s tradition of fratricide within the ruling family and proclivity for capital punishment.  It wasn’t all straightforward though.  It seems like we know where Stephen King may have gotten one of his ideas:

For a grand vizier, however, there was still a chance: as soon as the death sentence was passed, the condemned man would be allowed to run as fast as he was able the 300 yards or so from the palace, through the gardens, and down to the Fish Market Gate on the southern side of the palace complex…

If the deposed vizier reached the Fish Market Gate before the head gardener, his sentence was commuted to mere banishment. But if the condemned man found the bostanci basha waiting for him at the gate, he was summarily executed and his body hurled into the sea.

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