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Basra Diary
September 29, 2007 5:37 AM   Subscribe

Basra Diary (Google Video)
"Last year, I completed my first tour of duty, in Basra, southern Iraq. I kept a video diary. This is the film I made, which details the experiences of both myself, and my colleagues, told in my own words."
posted by Mwongozi (25 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for the post, Mwongozi. This is certainly worth a view. This bit really struck me:

"There was a very fine margin between life and death, and what I found really weird out here was the fact that you could be 200 meters from your potential enemies and yet you were still able to order a pizza to your location. The way the conflict has been modernized is frankly astounding."

Business as usual, eh?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:01 AM on September 29, 2007


Excellent post, very insightful.
posted by dbiedny at 7:59 AM on September 29, 2007


Meh. All these navel-gazing posts/blogs/videos showing how hard/weird/fun/boring/deep/etc. it is to be part of an occupying force don't resonate with me at all.
In the face of a humanitarian tragedy of this proportions, listening to one of the perpetrators' ruminations on pizza seems sort of besides the point.
posted by signal at 8:18 AM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


In the face of a humanitarian tragedy of this proportions, listening to one of the perpetrators' ruminations on pizza seems sort of besides the point.

I'd disagree. It's all part of the same point. I mean, I don't think this particular British soldier or any other foreign troops should be in Iraq at all, personally, but the fact is that they are, and the fact that their experiences there can be seen and related in this way is, I think, something of value. It's part of the reality. The same reality as that of an Iraqi child begging GIs for food? Or a guy who places a roadside bomb? Or a family trying to get through this catastrophe in one piece? No, of course not, but this soldier's story is part of the picture, lie it or not, and I, for one, found this little document of his experience there to be something of interest. So I say meh to your meh.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:30 AM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Sorry, that's "like it or not".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:32 AM on September 29, 2007


So I say meh to your meh.

Meh-tah.
posted by jimfl at 8:56 AM on September 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


In the face of a humanitarian tragedy of this proportions, listening to one of the perpetrators' ruminations on pizza seems sort of besides the point.


To call this soldier "one of the perpetrators" is simplistic and insulting. We live in a democratic society (and so do the brits!) and unfortunately, our very misguided, corrupt, arrogant, and dishonest leaders have decided to wage this war. So guess what? That means Joe Blow has to go out there and fight it for them. That's the way it works signal. I don't like it, you don't like it, and the families of soldiers who are dying every day instead of you and I sure as hell don't like it.

So why don't you put the blame where it belongs? In the hands of the politicians, the hands of stupid voters for putting them in power, and in the hands of ignorant people who don't know what they're talking about.
posted by jotrock at 10:25 AM on September 29, 2007


So why don't you put the blame where it belongs? In the hands of the politicians, the hands of stupid voters for putting them in power, and in the hands of ignorant people who don't know what they're talking about.

Everybody but the soldiers who signed up knowing full well what the military is and how it gets used? Get off your high horse. The soldiers are no innocents. If nobody volunteered to go kill people they wouldn't get killed.

In the current situation everyone deserves blame since we are democracies but the soldiers out their pulling triggers deserve, like the leaders, a little bit more.
posted by srboisvert at 1:23 PM on September 29, 2007


The soldiers are no innocents. If nobody volunteered to go kill people they wouldn't get killed.

Excuse while I get off of my high horse to ask...

What do you think would would happen if "nobody volunteered to go kill people?" That wars would cease to exist? Really? Do you really beleive that people volunteering to be soldiers is what causes war?

Do you really believe that a nation can exist without a standing army of some kind? I'm sorry, but that is just not realistic. I wish that the world was different, but it just is not. The best we can do as citizens in a VERY imperfect democracy, is become more invloved in the political process, start movements, vote, protest etc., so that we can put people in power that will use war as a last resort instead of a pre-emptive tool for their greed and ignorance.

The idea that the soldiers are MORE responisble for the death and destruction than the politicians is so completely wrong, that I don't even know where to begin!

OK, time to get back on my high horse and ride out of town.
posted by jotrock at 2:04 PM on September 29, 2007


I'd like to add to jotrock's already good point by adding that you really do not want a military that goes around second-guessing the instructions given to it by legitimate civilian government. That's not its function, and it's a pretty easy step from ignoring an order given by a civilian government you don't like, towards taking some action that the civilian government never told you to do. And that, friends, is how juntas happen.

Aside from well-defined tests ("is the order valid?" "is it legal?") you don't want your military deciding what to do by itself. That's a very dangerous situation.

The military is the gun, Congress is (supposed to be) the safety, and the Executive Branch is the finger on the trigger.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:44 PM on September 29, 2007


To call this soldier "one of the perpetrators" is simplistic and insulting.

No, it's a simple statement of fact. Regardless of their personal reasons to do so, these volunteer soldiers are the ones who are actually over their occupying the country.

We live in a democratic society

I do. You, I'm not so sure about anymore.

the families of soldiers who are dying every day instead of you and I sure as hell don't like it.

Well, then they should have seen to it that their relatives were a bit smarter, more ethical or more informed.
posted by signal at 2:48 PM on September 29, 2007


The idea that the soldiers are MORE responisble for the death and destruction than the politicians is so completely wrong, that I don't even know where to begin!

When I hear that people don't know where to begin I don't take that as evidence for their correctness.

I'd like to add to jotrock's already good point by adding that you really do not want a military that goes around second-guessing the instructions given to it by legitimate civilian government. That's not its function, and it's a pretty easy step from ignoring an order given by a civilian government you don't like, towards taking some action that the civilian government never told you to do. And that, friends, is how juntas happen.

Good thing the Burmese troops are following their orders then.
posted by srboisvert at 3:02 PM on September 29, 2007


Well, then they should have seen to it that their relatives were a bit smarter, more ethical or more informed.

As a said relative, I really wish there was a more eloquent way to rebut that ridiculous statement than "Fuck you," but I think that about sums it up.

Good thing the Burmese troops are following their orders then.

Good thing they're following the orders of their democratically elected government. Oh, wait. Sorry. Your analogy sucks.
posted by Cyrano at 6:50 PM on September 29, 2007


Good thing the Burmese troops are following their orders then.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Professional solders in dictatorships are a an extension of dictatorships. Not exactly a shocking revelation.

Following bad orders doesn't invalidate the need for professional soldiering. It invalidates the bad orders of dictators.

In "democracies" ideally there is supposed to exist checks and balances resulting in the judicious use of force.

In the case of Iraq the failure is in the civilian citizenry to both be educated in the consequences of the proposed military policy and holding the CIC to a higher standard of justification for his wielding the stick.

Listen to me. You WANT the dogs of war. For the foreseeable future, anyway.

Killing people is thankfully not a a very natural or intuitive thing for most of us. So we have to warp people and their natures into becoming killing machines in order to do it. And we layer rules for the use of these people. We ritualized their training and their culture so they view them selves as sheep dogs sent by a Shepard to set upon wolves. We must have very strict rules for them. And the violation of these rules is the firing squad.

If you are to argue that we should never NEED to kill other people... well... SHOULD... sure... but the fact remains that here on earth we DO. "Should" is for time being irrelevant. So. Sometimes (and we should make those times as rare as possible) people must be killed to prevent them from doing terrible things. Some times people have values radically diametrically opposed to our own. That's just reality. We have no technology or methods to magically change these peoples values quickly enough (nor, morally should we) to stop them from acting ill towards us if that is their wish.

So we have paid professional killers that from time to time we unleash. And so we must be very careful when, how and why we do.

Where they fail is when we seduce ourselves into thinking they are something BUT killers. That their mission is humanitarian. They are not cops. They are not "nation builders."

They are nation destroyers.

As they should be.
posted by tkchrist at 6:57 PM on September 29, 2007


Well, then they should have seen to it that their relatives were a bit smarter, more ethical or more informed.
    As a said relative, I really wish there was a more eloquent way to rebut that ridiculous statement than "Fuck you," but I think that about sums it up.
Well, from the strength, originality and eloquence of your argument, you probably wouldn't have been the one doing the education or enlightenment. I guess childish insults is about as close to a rebuttal as you'll get.
posted by signal at 7:18 PM on September 29, 2007


This war was started on a lie. Then the civilian criminals who started the war changed the casus belli after the war started - that makes the war illegal in the minds and courtrooms of many democratic nations. The proof that they lied has been well documented and the information readily accessible to any soldier curious enough to search it out. At what point does "calling it your job" turn from duty to rationalization? I'm not casting judgement just curious to find an accepted answer as to when a soldier is justified in saying "no, I will not fight". If you have a Democratically elected government fighting a just war on one side and a dictator using the military as a death squad to squelch dissent on the other - where does one cross the line?
posted by any major dude at 8:21 PM on September 29, 2007


So guess what? That means Joe Blow has to go out there and fight it for them. That's the way it works signal. I don't like it, you don't like it, and the families of soldiers who are dying every day instead of you and I sure as hell don't like it.

So why don't you put the blame where it belongs? In the hands of the politicians, the hands of stupid voters for putting them in power, and in the hands of ignorant people who don't know what they're talking about.


Sure, but the reason this arises is because it's not a conscripted army, it's all volunteer. I mean this earnestly, and as someone who has relatives fighting in Iraq: at what point do we call a soldier a murderer? Are they all absolved of responsibility because they didn't instigate this war? They are playing a direct role (and are all equally capable of deserting, objecting, etc. no matter what the consequences) and I have a hard time imagining this sort of "simple, good folks just following orders" line of argument being taken seriously if we were talking about the responsibility of SS officers. Of course they aren't de facto murderers, and this isn't a pacifist rationale, it's actually a question I've been struggling with for some time.
posted by inoculatedcities at 8:31 PM on September 29, 2007


Good thing the Burmese troops are following their orders then.

The Burmese soldiers are an extension of their government, just as US soldiers are an extension of the US government. They get their legitimacy or lack thereof from the people at the top of the food chain.

But situations like Burma's are what you get (in the extreme case) when you have a military that doesn't/didn't submit absolutely to a civilian authority.

Submission of the military to a civilian authority means that the military has to do what the government tells it to, (outside of some very narrowly-defined exceptions) both in the positive and negative case.

The positive case is "do what you're ordered," the negative case is "don't do things that you're prohibited from doing." They're two sides of the same coin. If you want a military that doesn't do things that it's prohibited from doing -- one that respects orders, in other words -- then you also have to expect that it's going to do what it's ordered to do. And that means the blame for the actual orders (as opposed to the execution of those orders) belongs squarely on the civilian leadership.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:18 PM on September 29, 2007


So why don't you put the blame where it belongs? In the hands of the politicians...

Actually. Do not blame the politicians for all of it. Like it or not the do represent US. And becuase we are craven and cowardly— so go they.

However. We SHOULD punish the politician who lied to us.

Sure, but the reason this arises is because it's not a conscripted army, it's all volunteer. I mean this earnestly, and as someone who has relatives fighting in Iraq: at what point do we call a soldier a murderer? Are they all absolved of responsibility because they didn't instigate this war?

Look. you really want soldiers making moral calls of which wars they want to fight? Not the best example but - the civil war was HUGELY unpopular. The largest draft riots in the country. If it was all volunteer nobody in the north would have fought. Historical moral legitimacy of that war aside it is likely slavery would have gone on for a few more decades as a result.

Once signed up a professional soldier is only given minimal latitude to make those kind of larger "is this the right war" decisions. And that is the way you want it.

On the battlefield, while they have more legal latitude, the call is even harder. Because they are THERE to kill. "Justified" killing and murder? What the fuck. Seriously? On the battlefield that distinction gets blurred pretty fast.

Once again some of you are buying into the concept of humanitarian war. This does not exist. War is about killing more of the other fucker.

This is the quintessential problem with "liberating" Iraq. We liberated them all right. We liberated them from this earth.

We used the wrong tool for the most of the job. Once the stand off forces were eradicated the war was over and the occupation began. Politician and police occupy. Not soldiers.

Since WE the civilians authorized war making as the tool it is OUR moral obligation to make thing right. The soldiers cannot.

What soldiers CAN be held accountable are "war crimes"... things like rape, wanton non-combatant massacres and the like. Things that are outside the "ethical" professional conduct in the business of killing. And so far I have to say, when compared to other wars, the Army has done okay punishing some of the worst.

But that is a dodge. Becuase then we say well that Marine, that 19 year old kid, who raped and murdered those Iraqis was evil and got punished. But what about Bush?

And ever so silently we abdicate OUR complicity in the lies that sent that kid there and TURNED him into a murder.
posted by tkchrist at 9:25 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Side stepping all of the above landmines, and taking it a a letter home to mum, I thought was an engaging and thoughtful account, of one rather dull tour of duty. Yes, on the back of a human tragedy instigated by cynical deception and lies, but here we saw no machismo, no self pity, no posturing.
posted by marvin at 9:28 PM on September 29, 2007


Submission of the military to a civilian authority means that the military has to do what the government tells it to

Doesn't the U.S. military swears allegiance to the U.S. Constitution - not it's government? So shouldn't it follow that it has the right to ignore orders that are not in accord with the Constitution? Such as going to war without the consent of the Congress?
posted by any major dude at 9:29 PM on September 29, 2007


Doesn't the U.S. military swears allegiance to the U.S. Constitution - not it's government? So shouldn't it follow that it has the right to ignore orders that are not in accord with the Constitution? Such as going to war without the consent of the Congress?

Members of the U.S. military do swear to uphold the Constitution; they protect the Government as an embodiment of it.

As to your particular example, people can and do lay out an argument for the constitutionality of Congressional "force authorizations" that have been used in lieu of actual declarations of war recently. As the Supreme Court (which is the branch of government tasked by the Constitution with deciding issues of constitutionality) has not seen fit to invalidate them, and has had ample opportunity to, it's at the very least a point open to debate.

Not being an explicitly unconstitutional, the military officer's correct response is to err on the side of caution rather than insubordination and carry out the order, assuming it is lawfully given (by the chain of command which has at its head the President).

It is not the job of the military to interpret constitutional nuances; gross violations or criminal acts can be refused, but the Constitution itself specifies that the Supreme Court and other civilian bodies are the ultimate arbiters of its meaning, and the military must always be subject to them.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:09 PM on September 29, 2007






“If nobody volunteered to go kill people they wouldn't get killed.”

Yeah. They’d come here and kill us.

“At what point does "calling it your job" turn from duty to rationalization? I'm not casting judgement just curious to find an accepted answer as to when a soldier is justified in saying "no, I will not fight".”

Good point. Why shouldn’t they then have done that under Clinton when the (then) conservatives were shouting “wag the dog” at Kosovo?
The simple fact is you troop hating fucktards only want them to listen to what you think is right, not what they think is right, and certainly not what the civilian leadership thinks.
Tell you what. Put me in charge, I’ll run the military exactly the way you’ve laid out. We will sit on our asses getting paid until there’s a war. Once there is a war we’ll say “No, sorry, we don’t believe in this war, we’re not going to fight” and you can laud us for our high morals.
And we’ll do that war after war as a matter of foreign policy, we never get involved and never use force just in case someone else might get hurt. And eventually when the country is invaded we’ll say “well, you have it coming, this government is bullshit anyway” and go back to sitting on our asses and collecting paychecks. Because y’know, war is wrong, even when they’re killing you.


“I mean this earnestly, and as someone who has relatives fighting in Iraq: at what point do we call a soldier a murderer?”

When he does something outside the rules of engagement and the laws of war. Beyond that he’s killing during a war. Don’t like that? You shouldn’t have sent him there.
No one prosecuted the rank and file German troops who fought in WWII except where they violated law - e.g. mass killing of civilians, etc. Their punishment - typically - for fighting in any case is the hell of war and the imminent threat of death. So, they survive all that, do what you told them to do, but suddenly - oh, the country’s had a change of conscience, now we think the war was bad - so you’re all murdering scum.

Yeah, fuckin’ a - the troops are the ones who are the murders man, they’re the ones that REALLY wanted the war...good, now I can go back to sitting on my ass jerking off to porn on the net with a clean conscience while we put that scumbag who lost a leg in jail where he belongs.

What wonderful policies some of you have.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:35 AM on October 1, 2007


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