Monday, October 18, 2004

mutiny in Iraq

This is some of the worst news we've had out of Iraq: a mutiny by American soldiers (link from La Shawn). The soldiers were ordered to accompany a fuel convoy and refused to follow orders because (they said) the fuel was contaminated and the trucks were not reliable. In a civilian context, this might be an honorable thing to do: risking your job in order to call attention to management failures. But in the military this is criminal.

The soldiers felt that they were justified in refusing to follow orders because in their view the orders were not good ones. But they don't have a right to decide whether an order is a good one or not. And they aren't qualified to do so. They have no idea what the overall strategy is, and their officers may have had a good reason not to tell them. Maybe the officers knew the fuel was bad, but they also wanted the convoy out there as a distraction to protect another convoy. Maybe they wanted to draw out the bad guys. Maybe they had an application for the fuel even if it wasn't pure. Maybe it was some kind of feint, sending fuel to a group that wasn't even there any more. Maybe they just wanted Iraqis to see American trucks delivering fuel. The point is, the soldiers didn't know. They weren't qualified to make that judgment.

Their relatives support them:
Like other relatives, Coates called his son a good soldier who felt he had to take a stand. "I think he did the right thing. He lived to talk about it for one more day."
Maybe his son will live another day, but what about the other sons on the convoy that his son wasn't there to protect? The convoy went out anyway, it just had eighteen less soldiers protecting it.

Risking your life is part of the soldier's job. So is following orders. You can't have an effective military action when everyone is making their own decisions about what risks to take. For one thing, they don't have enough information, and for another thing they aren't exactly impartial.

A rigid command structure is one of the advantages that civilized militaries have over barbarian hoards. It's a big part of what makes soldiers more effective than mere warriors. A general can make a plan and he has high confidence that down the chain of command, everyone will be doing their best to carry it out. A company can attack at the planned time, confident that their support will be there. If the support unit decides at the last minute to skip the battle, the company is in deep trouble. And that is essentially what these eighteen soldiers did.

What's especially sad is that these soldiers have to go to prison for doing what they convinced themselves was the right thing to do. But they do have to go to prison. If the Army handles these soldiers with kid gloves then America might as well disband its military forces. Once the chain of command breaks down, once soldiers get the idea that it is up to them to decide when to obey orders, the military becomes more dangerous to its own civilians than to the enemy.

But it isn't even just an internal problem. These soldiers have let the enemy know that the constant ambushes have been effective. How many of the insurgents were getting frustrated and thinking of giving up because nothing they do seems to have any effect? How many of them have been given new hope by this act of cowardice by American soldiers? The soldiers didn't just refuse to follow orders, they called their families and urged them to publicize the event as widely as possible:
"Hi mom, this is Amber. This is a real, real big emergency. I need you to contact someone, I mean raise pure hell. We yesterday refused to go on a convoy. ... We had broken down trucks, non-armored vehicles and we were carrying contaminated fuel," said McClenny in the message aired on U.S. networks on Monday.
This is outright aiding the enemy. It's treason.

Now, Amber didn't intend to aid the enemy, she only intended to save her own skin. Aiding the enemy was just an unfortunate consequence of her own self-interest. But she did aid the enemy dramatically. And she needs to spend many years in prison over it.

I feel bad about this. Amber is really a victim of her society in a greater sense than any of the felons that normally use that excuse. Amber's upbringing told her to question authority. It constantly glorified rebels. She probably watched MASH as a kid, where she would have learned that military officers are mostly a bunch of arrogant, cruel idiots and that cool guys rebelled against them any way they could.

I'm sorry, Amber. I believe you really did think you were doing the right thing. But you weren't, and you need to be made an object lesson.

No comments: