Blue on Blue Blues
March 31, 2003 2:57 AM   Subscribe

"A cowboy who had gone out on a jolly" British soldiers talk about surviving friendly fire, and call for the US pilot who attacked them to be prosecuted for manslaughter.
posted by brettski (32 comments total)
full... metal... jacket...

The sad truth is that most intelligent people don't want to be on the front lines of a modern warzone. That low intelligence threshold leads to incidents like this.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:45 AM on March 31, 2003

Pretty_Generic: And what sort of intelligence that leads to sweeping, ignorant generalizations like the one in your comment? Or do you personally know a sizable cross section of the sort of people serving your country at this moment?
posted by Zonker at 3:55 AM on March 31, 2003

Do you actually disagree with either of my statements? I didn't say that all soldiers are stupid. I said that, because there is no conscription anymore, and going to war isn't a tempting career for most people, there's a low minimum intelligence required to get in command of heavy weaponry. Which is unfortunate.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:02 AM on March 31, 2003

Gerrard also criticised the pilot for shooting when there were civilians so close to the tanks.

"There was a boy of about 12 years old. He was no more than 20 metres (yards) away when the Yank opened up. There were all these civilians around."


"'Blue-on-blue' has always been one of my biggest fears. It is something that my friends and family joked about. 'Don't worry about the Iraqis, it's the Americans you want to watch'. The proof is in the pudding really."

yep, winning hearts and minds. even our staunchest allies think we suck. but they suck, right? we couldn't possibly suck.
posted by donkeyschlong at 4:10 AM on March 31, 2003

There's actually a rather high level of intelligence required to operate an aircraft of the sort involved in this incident, or any military aircraft at all. I say that having known a fairly sizable number of combat pilots.

True, there isn't much intelligence required to serve as a foot solider, but the intelligence of those soldiers isn't at issue here. Some of them are much more intelligent than required, though. The officers tend to be highly intelligent (see Lt. Col. Collins of the Royal Irish for one publicized example), as are many of their NCO's (although not in as polished or educated a way). And again, that statement is made on personal knowledge.

I can understand both grief and outrage over this incident. I feel some of both, myself. But to say "they're all idiots, so what do you expect" is just astonishing.
posted by Zonker at 4:14 AM on March 31, 2003

Well, one such "event" pissed the Canadians out of Afghanistan. I doubt the whole incident will be treated with frank straightforwardness by the Americans; US armed forces don't have a good record at being tough with their own when they mess up. I expect denial, evasiveness and the such - as usual.
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 4:18 AM on March 31, 2003

Don't expect much out of the prosecutions, if Canada's experience is any indication.

Odd that this story hasn't made much of a splash over here yet. Is anyone else getting the impression there have been more friendly fire/accidental deaths than enemy-inflicted ones?
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:21 AM on March 31, 2003

Zonker: I clearly have less personal experience than you, but I have some, and it hasn't been good. So when I see (despite all the immensely sophisticated technolgy we have in the field) the attack on Canadians in Afghanistan; or the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade; or the attack on a passenger train on a bridge in Kosovo; or the downing of a British plane in Iraq when there aren't even any Iraqi planes you might be intending to down - well, it affects me. It's one thing attacking military targets and having unfortunate civilian casualties in the surrounding area. It's quite another when people shoot civilians and their friends before they stop to think.

Blue on Blue. Sampled by Röyksopp.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:30 AM on March 31, 2003

even our staunchest allies think we suck. but they suck, right? we couldn't possibly suck.

How about "we all suck". I don't mean to minimize the horror of what happened, but friendly fire is not simply an American problem. The British even accidently shoot each other sometimes. Now, even ONE accident such as this is far too many, and all involved parties should work on ensuring that it never happens, but when you put a tremendous amount of weaponry in a small amount of space, and expect the combatants to make incredibly rapid, literally life-and-death decisions, sometimes the wrong decision gets made.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 4:41 AM on March 31, 2003

Interestingly this was reported on BBC Radio 5 this morning but the angle was that Trooper Chris Finney -- the only soldier mentioned in the R5 report -- didn't blame the US soldiers saying that 'it was one of those things'. However, IIRC, there was no audio of him saying it.

He is mentioned in these reports
& [here].

Did anyone else hear the report this morning & did it sound like an 'official' version contradicted by these other reports?
posted by i_cola at 5:07 AM on March 31, 2003

On topic:
Imagine the fear and anger that has been drilled into the US forces on duty in Iraq. If you thought the US press were jingoistic and unbalanced, imagine what the propaganda is like in an active unit. Is it any wonder that US soldiers have a loose trigger finger?
Does anyone know what the stats are for other forces (pref. fighting alongside the US) for blue-on-blue hit rates?
Thanks for the heads up on the Royksopp sample, Pretty_Generic, it is a mournful sound.
The Royksopp tune is used to advertise mobile phones in the UK, advertising co-opts another soundbite/image to it's own ends, obscuring the orginal meaning.
Off topic:
We also have an advert for cars which uses the tune 'Capoeira Mata Un'. The original song, translated, goes:
'Zum zum zum
Capoiera has killed someone'
Which is not something I would have thought the marketeers would want associated with their product. Seperating the concept of car 'accidents' from car 'freedoms' has been a long term project for the automobile industry.
How we laughed.
posted by asok at 5:09 AM on March 31, 2003

Given the current doctrine of "pre-emptive strike" I'll immediately strike the technology luddites that will say "so much useless deadly technology that doesn't work" by saying that there is no technology that can prevent trigger happy morons from being loaded on a fine A-10.

Oh wait maybe there's one: a LOT of training and strict adherence to ROE (rules of engagement).
posted by elpapacito at 5:47 AM on March 31, 2003

Maybe the American pilot feared the Brits would think he was Iraqi, and so decided to take them out first...

There's definitely a fire first, ask questions later mentality among the American troops. And due to the great technological advantage the yanks have, there really isn't any justification for such an attitude. They can afford to take the time to establish wether a convoy of armoured vehicles is friend or foe. And, in this particular case, even a cursory check would have saved a life. If what the British soldier said is correct, there is no excuse at all.
posted by MarkC at 5:48 AM on March 31, 2003

This, like the bombing of Cdn's in Afghanistan, isn't a simple blue on blue incident. It is a special case where there were a number of reasons why the attack shouldn't have happened. In this case there were clearly marked vehicles with civilians nearby. Ground troops trying to wave off a second run. Vehicle types that are not in the Iraqi inventory. Presumably the pilot was not under fire so he could take all the time he needed to make a proper ID.

It sounds more like the pilot in the A10 had buck fever and that is the type of person you don't want controlling a warthog with its seven barrel 30mm Gatling gun dishing out 2100 spm of armor piercing incendiary and high-explosive incedieary rounds.
posted by srboisvert at 5:50 AM on March 31, 2003

srboisvert: You forgot Depleted Uranium.

Do they still give US fighter pilots amphetamines?
posted by spazzm at 6:16 AM on March 31, 2003

Another two British soldiers were killed when their Challenger 2 Main Battle tank was engaged by another British tank west of Basra.

How can the be critical of a US aircraft pilot for mistaking a British tank for a Iraqi tank, and yet they are killing their own by shooting at each other.
posted by dirt at 6:21 AM on March 31, 2003

Do they still give US fighter pilots amphetamines?

That's the thing I was wondering. I was told a long time ago that US fighter pilots were cranked to the gills with speed (The Go Pill) and pointed in the general direction of The Enemy at whom they unloaded everything they had. They then had to take a tranquilizer (The Slow Pill) to stop them firing whatever they had left at their own landing strips or aircraft carriers, because they really were that wound up. Anybody who was unlucky enough to be in the direction they were pointed, of course...

I always thought it was an urban myth, but it does seem plausible, doesn't it?

How can the be critical of a US aircraft pilot for mistaking a British tank for a Iraqi tank, and yet they are killing their own by shooting at each other.

Because the pilot shouldn't even have been in the area and was definitely in a position to identify them as non-targets.
posted by Grangousier at 6:24 AM on March 31, 2003

I'm gonna agree with the "we all suck" doctrine:
British helicopters are flying into one another (that can't be too easy) and US troops are firing patriot missiles at anything that moves.
And yea, US pilots are still on uppers.
posted by SimStupid at 6:37 AM on March 31, 2003

Grangousier: This may be of interest. .
posted by seanyboy at 6:57 AM on March 31, 2003

The 'friendly fire' issue (ptui) is being taken by the British press, and to a greater extent, the British public, as a symptom of a wider problem in the relationship between the two main forces. The British get the shitty, tough jobs while the Americans do the high-profile, glamourous things with lots of technology and firepower and the odd itchy trigger-finger.

Right now in southern Iraq, the British troops are reverting to their counter-insurgency tactics from Northern Ireland, where it's even harder to tell friend from foe: they're wearing berets rather than helmets, taking the risk of wearing lighter body armour, handing out ciggies and sweets to the locals. In contrast, the American-held areas are marked by a relationship of mutual fear and mistrust: the troops are shit-scared of snipers and suicide bombers, and treat all young men as potential threats. That's because the US generally has no experience of dealing with an insurgent community. I suppose we owe all the faux-paddies of Boston and New York a debt of gratitude for underwriting the RIR and Royal Marines' training all these years.

But the same basic attitude applies in both cases. One of the interminable array of tele-generals (who, in this case was a real general) said that 'the Americans man the equipment; the British equip the man'. And that makes more and more sense.
posted by riviera at 7:16 AM on March 31, 2003

dirt, the two Challengers firing on each other was a clear case of "Fog of War" - they were in an active battle situation, and some reports suggest that it might even have been splash damage that took out the second Challenger.

This is entirely different. It was not a battle situation; visibility was clear, in broad daylight, and the pilot had more than enough time to verify his target.

This is such a bizarre thing to happen "by accident", that I can only think that the pilot is another "disgruntled serviceman", as there seems to be no way that he could not have realised that this was a British tank.

Manslaughter charges sound about right to me.
posted by influx at 7:17 AM on March 31, 2003

i_cola: I heard Steven Gerrard, one of the A-10 attack survivors on Radio 4 this morning. The BBC hasn't made a transcript of the interview available but Mr Garrard was more phlegmatic about the incident than the "A cowboy who had gone out on a jolly" headline would suggest. A ghastly tragedy. The pilot should be held to account.

On the subject of speed, it's a proven fact (sorry, bizarre Java weirdness, you'll have to search for 'amphetamines') that amphetamine use causes paranoia. People entrusted with the responsible use of weaponry should not have this rotten substance forced on them. Surely an alternative isn't beyond the abilities of the pharma industry?
posted by dmt at 7:28 AM on March 31, 2003

Surely an alternative isn't beyond the abilities of the pharma industry?

What, like Extacy?
posted by spazzm at 7:45 AM on March 31, 2003

Checks and balances, baby. You can take out a loan, but the psychosis will still be waiting to give you a brutal reminder that you are spending what you haven't earned yet. The bigger the loan, the nastier the psychosis. (Probably nicked from Hunter S. or Irvine Welsh)
We used to call it pay-back.
spazzm, as you no doubt know, the amphetimine aspects of ecstacy only come to the fore on repeated use. Esctacy, does not impair, or improve motor reactions overall AFAIK. It just feels damn fine.
The US Navy seem to think the ecstacy 'hangover' is the operational readiness issue, in this interesting (if scaremongering in parts) report. (.pdf)
posted by asok at 8:06 AM on March 31, 2003

Or sleep, occasionally.

(Thanks for the links, seanyboy)
posted by Grangousier at 8:06 AM on March 31, 2003

And while I'm spouting supposed urban myths about the military, Riviera: A long time ago (again - during the days of Bad Queen Margaret) I heard the theory that some parts of the government were very keen to keep the Northern Ireland situation live to some extent at least because it meant that the British Army had seen active service constantly for longer than any in the world (every year since 1945 at that point). This gave them a definite edge, apparantly. Any links?

(And I wonder how our own dear Queen feels about Tony handing over her troops to the machinations of the idiot dauphin)
posted by Grangousier at 8:13 AM on March 31, 2003

I should think the Queen knows well enough that her feelings count for nothing.
posted by Summer at 8:16 AM on March 31, 2003

"Maybe the American pilot feared the Brits would think he was Iraqi"

The only aircraft that the Iraqis have put in the air have been some ultralights. And the Iraqis sure as hell don't have A-10s.
And even when an ultralight was spotted over troops, US troops were not allowed to fire on it without permission,
which came after it had flown out of site.
Only Allied forces are in the airspace, so to fire on ANY aircraft in the area without some effort at ID'ing it is nothing less than criminal.
posted by 2sheets at 9:06 AM on March 31, 2003

Surely an alternative isn't beyond the abilities of the pharma industry?

You're right. There is an alternative. It's a non-amphetamine stimulant called modafinil. It's still being tested for military use. Here's another article which mentions the military testing.

I take modafinil regularly for chronic fatigue caused by medical problems. It's impressive. There's no jittery high and no crash at the end. And it's very subtle; I only know it's working because I can keep going longer than I can without it. I hope it works out for military use, because pilots jacked up on speed scare the heck out of me.
posted by swerve at 9:49 AM on March 31, 2003

Adding to the distinction between US and UK troops, there's a Times report here which notes the way in which the US Marines in Nasiriyah got frustrated at the resistance and losses, and decided that the way forward was to shoot up men, women and children with very little discrimination. I don't expect to see that little Heart of Darkness moment on Fox News.

[login: cypherpunk; password: cypherpunk]
posted by riviera at 11:14 AM on March 31, 2003

The British get the shitty, tough jobs while the Americans do the high-profile, glamourous things with lots of technology and firepower and the odd itchy trigger-finger.

Ironic, really. It sounds a bit like the British use of colonial and commonwealth troops during a couple of world wars. 'Right ho, chaps. I want you to scale these sheer cliffs under fire and march all the way to Istanbul.' 'Now, Jerry will be coming down this road, ooh, any second now. Sorry we haven't been able to give you any training since you got off the boat, and, oh, sorry about the ammo situation, but hold them off the best you can, alright?' 'We have the perfect chance for you to blood your men -- Dieppe!' etc.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:40 PM on March 31, 2003

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