Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Achin' Arkin

For those of you who don't follow the blogosphere much, there's been quite a kerfuffle over William Arkin's blog, hosted at the Washington Post. Said kerfuffle began after the airing of this brief NBC News piece by Richard Engel, it's all of 70 seconds long and worth a watch:

Wow. Let's just consider what we saw there. Three (3) US soldiers, average age probably 22-24, made statements that basically said, "Support us, enough of the cognitive dissonance that you 'Support the troops' but not what they do." Now, I personally don't put a lot of credence into the large worldview of someone of that age, even someone who's travelled internationally. What makes this news is that this viewpoint is so rarely expressed or even allowed to be expressed by the media. This is an outlier from NBC News, in my opinion. It's an outlier to hear this expressed by troops in any of the mainstream media outlets. I was happy to hear it, frankly. Given the attention and media coverage that the recent protest against the war got on the National Mall this past month, and the long and drawn-out coverage of the debate around the non-binding resolution criticizing 'The Surge' and the general conduct of the war, this is pretty mild stuff -- notable for if anything the absence of similar pieces elsewhere in the media but otherwise, not much of an issue. At least that's the way I see it.

William Arkin of the Washington Post had a bit of a different take. A borderline hysterical and over-the top take that's worth a read, particularly if you suffer from low blood pressure. Some key passages:

These soldiers should be grateful that the American public, which by all polls overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war and the President's handling of it, do still offer their support to them, and their respect.

Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order.
So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?
But it is the United States, and the recent NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary - oops sorry, volunteer - force that thinks it is doing the dirty work.

Now, Mr. Arkin is a former US soldier who enlisted in 1974. I have not enlisted and do not question his moral fiber, courage, whatever on that ground. What I do question is his mindset, the hair-trigger at which his vitriol-release mechanism must be set to in order to overreact to one story notable for being the only one of its kind I can remember, and to the statements of young men in a stressful situation. This is a horrific over-reaction, and he compounds it by going on an unhinged rant worthy of Mel Gibson or Michael Richards in terms of denigration, if not particular buzzwords of racial disharmony.

"Through every Abu Ghraib, every Haditha." You mean THE Abu Ghraib and THE Haditha, Mr. Arkin? The incidents that stand out as exceptions that generally prove the rule of good conduct of American soliders in extremely trying situations? It's telling that Mr. Arkin is a former researcher for Seymour Hirsch, who's never seen a soldier without seeing an atrocity. Mr. Arkin's post-Army experience has been pretty far-left in terms of the groups that have employed him. It's fairly obvious that his patience is of limited reach, since the first thing he brings to the rhetorical table are the offenses that he obviously considers de rigeur, his meta-message seems to me to be that there is no expiation for these crimes and that if he had his way the American people would hold each and every soldier personally accountable for them.

"Obscene amenities." Right. How many places that serve three kinds of ice cream also get mortared on a regular basis? Makes you wonder if Mr. Arkin doesn't have to wear his Interceptor vest and a helmet to Starbucks on a given day he considers it an "amenity". Yes, some of the FOBs are pretty snazzy, even John Kerry eats there when he's in-country -- but most of the places where US soldiers are deployed in the field would see regular running water, or hot running water, as an upgrade. I didn't see any KBR employees trotting along and helping those soldiers on patrol in the video report carry their packs and armor, a 45-lb load when you don't carry water, food and extra ammo, up to eighty when know you're going to fight. Maybe this is an "up hill both ways in the snow" moment for former-Private Arkin, but it's also petty and stupid.

And as for the soldiers being "above society", that's some delightful projection there on the part of Mr. Arkin. The soldiers are part of society. They would tell you the same thing, and they do on their blogs. A part of society that does hard things in hard places, but a part of society that gets a say in things as well (unless you're an attorney for the Gore Campaign in Florida after the 2000 election). How are these three soldiers' opinions impairing Mr. Arkin's freedom to put his foot in his mouth with this blog post? There are soldiers who would vehemently disagree with those guys, there's a whole website with 1268 active-duty and reserve soldiers who disagree with the statements made in the NBC News report. One wonders if Mr. Arkin is as offended by that expression of soldier viewpoints, one believes, uh, not.

And finally, Mr. Arkin delivers the coup-de-grace on himself by referring to our volunteer force as "mercenary". Even he, in a later post, says:
I was dead wrong in using the word mercenary to describe the American soldier today.
Only, he digs the hole deeper by adding in the next paragraph:
These men and women are not fighting for money with little regard for the nation. The situation might be much worse than that: Evidently, far too many in uniform believe that they are the one true nation. They hide behind the constitution and the flag and then spew an anti-Democrat, anti-liberal, anti-journalism, anti-dissent, and anti-citizen message that reflects a certain contempt for the American people.
Again, projection much Mr. Arkin? I doubt he can say with a straight face that he holds the people who voted for GWB in anything other than contempt.

Needless to say, Arkin's columns have provoked a storm of criticism, debate (mild profanity, but funny) and email, all of it angry on one side or the other and some of it threatening. I don't wish William Arkin any ill. I do wish him the anonymity he enjoyed prior to blowing a gasket and displaying his dark, sad, hateful soul for all to see. He's trying to tamp a lid on all of this with a third and a fourth post, if recent celebrity trips to rehab for bad public decisions are any guide I imagine he may volunteer to go to Parris Island for "Sensitivity Training" with the Marines. It's so very sad to watch people try to apologize for saying things they believe, from his third post:
I knew when I used the word "mercenary" in my Tuesday column that I was being highly inflammatory.

NBC News ran a piece in which enlisted soldiers in Iraq expressed frustration about waning American support.

I intentionally chose to criticize the military and used the word to incite and call into question their presumption that the public had a duty to support them. The public has duties, but not to the American military.

So I committed blasphemy, and for this seeming lack of respect and appreciation for individuals in uniform, I have been roundly criticized and condemned.

Mercenary, of course, is an insult and pejorative, and it does not accurately describe the condition of the American soldier today. I sincerely apologize to anyone in the military who took my words literally.

Does anyone else believe that his snarky use of the term 'blasphemy' pretty much invalidates everything else he says? It seems like that to me. His final post is about the evils of demonization, and I would take statements like that seriously from someone who spends so much time demonizing entire segments of society. He oughta know, and you should listen to experts.

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