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A soldiers exit essay on leaving the US war machine.

 

What I Won’t Be Missing

“It’s time to wave goodbye to a litany of absurdity that I witnessed in the institution to which I dedicated my adult life. Some peers, even friends, may call this heresy — a disgruntled former major airing dirty laundry — and maybe in some way it is. Still, what I observed in various combat units, in conversation with senior officers, and as a horrified voyeur of, and actor in, two dirty wars matters. Of that, I remain convinced.

So here’s my official goodbye to all that, to a military and a nation engaged in an Orwellian set of forever wars and to the professional foot soldiers who made so much of it all possible, while the remainder of the country worked, tweeted, shopped, and slept (in every sense of the word). 

Goodbye to the majors who wanted to be colonels and the colonels who wanted to be generals — at any cost. To the sociopaths who rose in the ranks by trampling on the souls of their overburdened troopers, trading lives for minor bumps in statistics and pats on the shoulder from aggressive superiors.

Goodbye to the generals who led like so many lieutenants, the ones who knew the tactics but couldn’t for the life of them think strategically, eternally proving the Peter Principle right with every promotion past their respective levels of incompetence. 

So long to the flag officers convinced that what worked at the squad level — physical fitness, esprit de corps, and teamwork — would win victories at the brigade and division level in distant, alien lands.

Farewell to the generals I served under who then shamelessly spun through Washington’s revolving door, trading in their multi-starred uniforms for six- and seven-figure corporate gigs on the boards of weapons manufacturers, aka “the merchants of death” (as they were known once upon a distant time), and so helped feed the unquenchable appetite of the military-industrial beast.

Farewell to the senior generals, so stuck in what they called “their lane” that they were unwilling (or intellectually unable) to advise civilian policymakers about missions that could never be accomplished, so trapped in the GWOT box that they couldn’t say no to a single suggestion from chickenhawk militarists on the Hill or in the Oval Office.

Goodbye to the devotees of American exceptionalism who filled the Army’s ranks, stalwart evangelists of a civic religion that believed there was a secret American inside every Arab or Afghan, ready to burst forth with the slightest poke from Uncle Sam’s benevolent bayonet. 

Ciao to staff officers who mistook “measures of performance” (doing lots of stuff) for “measures of effectiveness” (doing the right stuff). I won’t miss the gaggles of obtuse majors and colonels who demanded measurable “output” — numbers of patrols completed, numbers of houses searched, counts of PowerPoint slides published — from already overtasked captains and the soldiers they led and who will never learn the difference between doing lots and doing well.

Goodbye to battalion and brigade commanders who already had their hands full unsuccessfully “pacifying” entire districts and provinces in alien lands, yet seemed more concerned with the cleanliness of troopers’ uniforms and the two-mile-run times of their units, prioritizing physical fitness over tactical competence, empathy, or ethics.

Godspeed to the often-intolerant conservatism and evangelical Christianity infusing the ranks. […]”

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