by John Donnelly…
Special Soldier Designations Are Often Insignificant–When Compared To Ground Warriors.
Although this article is lengthy, I ask that you read it in its entirety before formulating an opinion. I’ve been troubled with how to best publish my thoughts. For clarity’s sake, I’ve presented my ideas on a continuum, consolidating them into an expression that I hope will be illuminating and informative.
It’s not without many nightmarish moments, that my story comes to you.
I’ve never cared for snipers. Whether they were shooting at us or firing from behind at targets over our heads. Although there were times when danger dogged their every step, snipers were basically concealed from the action at lengthy distances, sometimes as much as 1,000 yards ( 10 football fields). Removed from the fight at a relatively secure position, we knew that they were incapable of precisely detailing the quick pace, speed, variability and abrupt action, which epitomizes the behavior of combatants fighting in close quarters. We were uneasy about anyone second guessing our decisions or anticipating our next move. Snipers were paid no accord. For the most part they were considered to be irrelevant and inconsequential.
Recently, I viewed ‘several panels of snipers’ from the Iraqi and Afghanistan Wars extolling the praises of their handiwork on popular cable networks. Focusing and concentrating on their discussion, I detected an emptiness and restlessness embodied within the boiler plated euphemisms they passed off as justification, for the staggering number of assassinations executed under their hand.
Frolicsome and affectionate exchanges between the panelists and television emcees, belied the loathing these veterans appropriated towards the human beings they killed. I didn’t like their omnipotent assuredness, as the arbitrators of life and death, purporting to be anointed judge, jury and executioner.
My strong aversion to this cast of characters triggered a serendipitous awakening, forcing me to acknowledge my kinship with these killers. These contemptuous and crippled individuals, longed to justify and make some sense of their battlefield experiences.
Twenty-two veterans commit suicide each day. It’s the leading cause of death among active duty soldiers.
Perhaps I was witnessing the pre-requisite plausibility and denial (conflict) often written into the scripts of combat veterans, as they evolve towards an ‘instinctive awareness’ that their voluminous killings, in wars of questionable legitimacy, may have crossed the line.
The government’s standard play book and narrative concerning its righteousness and effectiveness in fighting the war on terror, has lost much of its flair and panache. Particularly, when viewed through the multifaceted prisms examining the carnage, barbarism, futility and ineffectiveness of such action.
One measure of a societies’ collective consciousness can be appraised via the manner in which it respects the rights of its citizens. Another standard of cultural advancement assesses the value and worth that said society places on human life. Are our citizen/soldiers being trained and indoctrinated to become heartless, highly skilled and mind numbed mechanical entities? Did we not have that problem in Nazi Germany; soldiers just following and obeying orders?
Please allow me to take you back to those ‘sniper panels’. Prompted by their witty TV hosts and moderators these snipers triumphantly regaled in their self-aggrandizement, as they described the extraordinary successes they had in killing hundreds of human beings.
During their cocky and presumptuous ‘slaying rhetoric’, quick interludes were taken by the moderator to promote their books and upcoming movies. The absurdity of their discussion was beyond the pale. They gloated and preened with the TV luminaries as the boasted, bragged and glorified the lives that were exterminated at their hand. I dare say, during the unpredictability of combat mistakes are often made, particularly when civilian populations are intermingled within combat zones. Innocent children and citizens are invariably liquidated.
The magnitude and depth of their destruction was applauded and encouraged by the cable hosts. They had me convinced. I wouldn’t doubt for one moment that they were prolific terminators of life.
This raises a question as to what type of training goes into developing the mindset of a conscienceless automaton? Developing killers of this caliber, with their terminal uniqueness, devoid of the requisite bearing to engage humanity appropriately, will perpetuate the creation of our enemies, while keeping us in a chronic state of war. ‘Peace’ will become a bygone notion, a novel idea; a brief interlude between painful conflicts, only to be read about on our tablets. The engines of our ‘war time economy’ have been primed for perpetuity. What manner of ‘Power’ can redirect this manic pursuit of self-destruction?
To me, the demeanor and method by which these snipers on the dais presented themselves, along with the jubilant and twisted logic they applied in sanctioning their killings, established an incongruent relationship with the ‘true nature and spirit of a warrior’. I was disappointed, embarrassed and ashamed by their performance on the world stage.
Rarely, will I ever publicly critique the conduct of a ‘Brother In Arms’. The sanctity of sacrifices made on the battlefield should remain there. However, these snipers ‘violated a prime directive’. They broadcasted battlefield intimacies into the homes of families across the world. With ease, comfort and exuberance they made it appear as though their violence and destructiveness were an upgraded version of the latest video game. In so doing, they’ve opened themselves to the scrutiny of their audience. These veterans advertised a condescending attitude, which reflected degrees of ruthlessness and barbarity best suited for an assassin, not an American soldier.
I do not place all snipers into the category represented by those taken to the airwaves exalting their trade; nor do I claim to be a tactical authority on the use of these men. I am not detracting from their bravery and courage under fire. I pay tribute to those who were wounded or killed in action. However, in all of my life, I’ve never been exposed to any combat veteran who disgraced and humiliated themselves, to the extent demonstrated by said snipers during their TV appearances.
Watching and listening to these veterans, as they made the rounds on the cable shows, I went over in my mind the scenarios that surrounded our actual involvement with this group. Independent of my personal evaluation regarding the ‘sniper love fest’ portrayed on the screen before me, several Marines randomly contacted me after viewing the same shows. They found the conduct of those veterans to be disturbing and discomforting. These hardened Marines were not onboard with the snipers’ presentation. They green-lighted this publication.
With their endorsement, along with my own assessment of the exploits of said veterans on TV, I made a decision to put on paper our collective recollections describing these men assigned a military occupational specialty (MOS) as a sniper.
If snipers wanted some real action, let them come up front and get their noses bloodied. Let them face off against a determined and accomplished enemy soldier, at arm’s length. Combatants that were delighted to slit their throats with surgical precision. An enemy well versed in luring their opponents towards a location where they could be clutched onto and cut into pieces; or mercifully, simply shot dead.
The smells and sounds of death coming from groups of men savagely engaged in a fight for life, cannot be appreciated at a 1,000 yards.
In the thick mountainous jungles of Southeast Asia, in the territory that we worked, the utility and effectiveness of a sniper was limited. Their negligible impact on the fighting, within our ‘theater of operations’, was reflected by the insignificance with which they were viewed. On those brief occasions when they came up from the rear and were attached to a front line unit, they were hardly noticed.
When flown into combat from the safety of their rear echelon locations, in their crisp new fatigues, with clean working battle gear, freshly bathed bodies and uncontaminated drinking water; it took all that we had not to strip them bare and relieve them of their fresh supplies. Suffering from jungle rot, emersion foot, fever and dysentery, along with torn up clothing strewn with feces, tissue and other bodily fluids, they only thing these new editions brought to the table were their pleasant smells and what they wore on their backs.
Snipers were not involved with our daily combat assignments and regular routines. As ‘grunts’ (riflemen and infantrymen) we went out every day on patrols and night ambushes.
Manning perimeter fighting positions, setting up ‘listening posts’, ‘killer team’ insertions and joint assault team operations; along with being assigned to combat action platoons within the local villages, rounded off our day.
A sniper had little or no importance in our lives. They weren’t given a second thought. As accomplished riflemen, my men could hit a cantaloupe size object without a scope, while standing up at a range of 500 yards. Of what use was a sniper?
We preferred dysentery medicine, a hot shower, clean fatigues, ointments for our jungle rot, dry socks, drinking water and hot sauce; rather than the temporary presence of support personnel (snipers).
The bonding, trust and brotherhood critical to men attempting to stay alive while fighting, dying and being wounded with one another over an extended period of time, are endearing qualities that can only be earned. They are not extended, nor given, to an unmerited recipient.
We were quite aware that our lives and very survival were dependent upon the sacrifices and care rendered unto us by those who kept our supply lines open and operational. Without their courageous consistency, under every manner of hardship, death would have been our fate. Unfortunate for them, was the fact that the entire country of Vietnam resided within a combat zone.
Of special note was the extraordinary courage exhibited by medivac, armored, weapons and artillery units; as well as the air assault and strike squadrons that protected us from above. Everyone serving ‘in country’ had some skin in the game.
As ‘grunts’, we were ordinary and simple men, operating within a framework where “uncommon valor had become a common virtue”. We were honored, privileged and humbled to have the gallant and valorous backing of so many brave men and women.
Snipers were not denied membership nor excluded from the ‘soldiers-at-arms’ family. They were just not that essential or crucial in determining battlefield outcomes. They did not have the celebrity status proclaimed and reveled in by their successors on the recent cable shows.
The chest beating and glorification of killing demonstrated by those snipers, are uncharacteristic of the original ‘Soldier’s Creed’. It was a shameful display of ignorance that defiled the hallowed ground upon which soldiers shed their blood and die. Exploiting the taking of life for fame and notoriety, is reprehensible and un-American. Even on the battlefield; killing is never glorified. Bragging and boasting about slaughtering any type of human being are sickening and noxious characteristics.
Adorning stardom upon individuals violating their ‘credo’ as soldiers reflects the callousness of a dumb downed society; grown fearfully dependent upon the government and its proxies to do their thinking for them. Detached and secure via political and media rhetoric; the government’s misinformation and propaganda has gone unchecked. Unconscious to our commonality with all sentiment beings, injuring and killing the ‘evil doers’ has become easy and fashionable.
One nation’s terrorist, is another nation’s freedom fighter. The British Crown viewed the participants in our American Revolution as radical insurgents, terrorists to be sought out and hung.
Cheapening the value of life significantly increases the murdering of non-combatants. Conservative estimates tally the number of innocent children, women and men slaughtered in the Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts to be at 174,000. That’s a lot of collateral damage. No wonder why so many people from these nations are not fond of us.
Innocent children and civilians murdered during the Vietnam conflict are estimated to be 2.5 million. Civilians wounded were approximately 5.3 million. The populace that was made homeless and put into refugee status because of that war was about 11 million.
Our nation has not been successful in prosecuting its wars. The government’s 16 year war in Vietnam resulted in a loss. The 12 year war in Iraqi and the 14 year war in Afghanistan are rapidly moving towards the loss column. With a record of 0 and 3, perhaps it’s time to reconsider the use of military force, when it comes to addressing the differences we have with groups of people from other nations.
At 9 years of age in the South Bronx we negotiated peace treaties with the neighboring gangs; insuring safe passage on agreed upon activities, for the divergent races, religions and ethnicities that made up our world. As an American citizen with some years, I’ve watched our foreign policy blunders metastasize and destabilize the world. Our diplomatic stature and standing in the world has suffered. An arcane and empty civilian leadership continues to drift, as genocidal and sectarian murders have reached epidemic proportions.
So many Americans have been maimed, mangled and horrifically slaughtered; during America’s incompetent misadventures abroad. Those in charge haven’t had the stomach, will or intelligence to win a fight. It’s time to declare a moratorium on any further military involvement, until an effective leader; emblazoned with integrity, credibility and courage can clearly present the facts that necessitate violence and killing within another’s sovereign nation. At that time, a ‘Constitutional’ presentation can be made to Congress, asking them for the authorization to ‘declare war’.
Not much has been accomplished by the aforementioned wars. It’s a cautionary tale as to what to expect, if we continue down this destructive path. The ‘military industrial complex’ is an unconscionable lethal mix of war for profit. It’s as deadly as any bullet or bayonet striking a child or innocent civilian in their heart.
Cavalierly suggesting that there is a nobility in killing, is an indoctrinated, conditioned and misguided attitude. It’s a departure from our ‘founding documents’ which proffer the promise of a safe and valued citizenship based upon the principles that guarantee our rights to pursue: “Life, liberty and happiness”.
Lack of knowledge and information may have contributed to my ‘take’ on the sniper interviews. Times, tactics and terrain have changed, perhaps I’m unable to objectively understand the nuances of ‘contemporary war’. Or maybe, I’m tired of the baloney.
However, one thing is for certain, in my discontent I do not stand alone.
Discernment is a good thing. I judge no one. However, as imperfect as I am, I know the difference between right and wrong.
I don’t throw the word hero or heroic around. Those who did not have a chance at life, never returning home from their tours of combat or unable to enjoy life again because of their wounds; are the only “Heroes” that I’m familiar with.
My biases, as mistaken as they may be, are evident in this article. I am not, nor do I purport to be a ‘military expert’. If through my interpretation of events I’ve offended anyone, I ask for your forgiveness. It will not be the first, nor last time, I’ve been wrong.
I’ve chosen to atone for the violence I brought into this world by devoting much of my life to assisting veterans and their families, while affording aid to the Vietnamese refugees that settled in the United States. I’ve taken the second chance I had at life seriously, attempting to lighten the load of my fellow man. I hope that my God will forgive me, and perhaps find favor with some of my actions.
My spirit called upon me to speak up. Grandstanding and triumphantly exalting the taking of life, whether it be an enemy combatant/soldier/civilian, suspected terrorist, or an innocent causality caught in the cross hairs; has not, nor will it ever be an acceptable expression for members of our Armed Forces.
Warriors take care of their business with stealth like dispassion and precision. They derive their comfort, endurance and fortitude from the silent presence of their comrades-in-arms.
Beating one’s chest with bravado and luster, so that attention can be gotten for doing what a soldier in combat is called upon to do, will always be contemptible and repugnant.