Friday :: Feb 3, 2006

Toon Wars: The Home Front


by pessimist

Political cartoons are a tradition in free societies. They are a way of sticking a pin in the over-inflated ego balloons of the powerful and well-connected. From the famous Thomas Nast cartoons that took on the corrupt and powerful Tammany Hall in New York City, to Bill Mauldin's Willie and Joe, which sometimes made the brass uncomfortable because they reflected a front-line soldier's day-to-day life a little too accurately [General George Patton, for example, was an outspoken critic and made no secret of the fact that he'd love to see Mauldin's cartoons suppressed], to Herblock's presidential lampoons, these cartoons acted as a safety valve, a way for the common man to express disapproval over the action of the high and mighty without resorting to revolution.

There is always a reason for the sort of outraged portrayals of leaders as out-of-touch buffoons in these cartoons, a reason usually generated by an ill-considered action of these same leaders.

Such is the case today. The Pentagon Brass isn't very happy over a cartoon by Tom Toles [too large to reproduce here]:


Toles' cartoon attacked by Joint Chiefs of Staff

[T]he chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and each of its five members have fired off a letter assailing a Washington Post cartoon as "beyond tasteless." The cartoon by former Buffalo News cartoonist Tom Toles, published Sunday in the Post and in Wednesday's editions of The Buffalo News, depicts a heavily bandaged soldier in a hospital bed as having lost his arms and legs, while Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in the guise of a doctor, says: "I'm listing your condition as "battle hardened.'

Maybe you hee-men heerows should look at what the criminal organization you went to war for is doing before you protest so strenuously!

Because the military-service-averse civilian leaders who sent you to war unprepared, un-supplied, and undermanned refuse to bite the draft bullet (because that would rouse the slumbering public to the realization of what that levee was intended to do), they are recycling wounded soldiers - many missing limbs, as I will show - to do the job of an able-bodied warrior. That is why Toles drew that cartoon.

Maybe all that fruit salad you proudly display on those puffed-out chests has you propped up and thinking that you are too important to be criticized. Maybe all the scrambled eggs on those long visors is blocking your vision. Maybe you could skip a tee time at one of those PGA-class courses on military bases around the world that I (as a taxpayer) paid for and spend the time instead studying what is happening to your command.

Maybe you should stop being girly men weeping over a cartoon, and instead look at what those war-avoiding civilians are doing to the military you lead.

First, hear what Toles says in his defense:

In an interview, Toles called the letter "an understandable response" but said he did not regret what he drew. In thinking about Rumsfeld's remarks, he said, "what came soon to mind was the catastrophic level of injuries the Army and members of the armed services have sustained . . . I thought my portrayal of it was a fair depiction of the reality of the situation.

It is a fair assessment. as I hope to show.

"I think there are more serious things — such as body armor, in particular — that they could be dealing with right now," Toles told ABC News.

I agree. Three years after illegally invading Iraq, front-line troops still aren't fully-equiped with body armor or armored vehicles. Even now, We, the People are asking some tough questions:

The Pentagon owes further explanations to military families and to Congress, which since 2001 has appropriated $302 billion to cover operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Putting Americans on the moon cost only $25 billion 1960's dollars.

But I digress.

Some of the questions that need answering include:

• Was there proper planning? Thousands of troops arrived in Iraq with old-style flak jackets. Not until January 2004 did all troops have the new Interceptor vests, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last year.

• Was the armor upgraded fast enough? The Marine Corps says it moved quickly to add side armor upon learning the news from the examiner's report. But the Army has yet to supply its soldiers with side protection.

• Do the services have adequate supply systems? Those systems appear hobbled by slow turnarounds and poor reliability. In November, more than 18,000 vests were recalled for failing to meet ballistics tests.

Army and Marine commanders know that no battle plan survives the first contact with the enemy. The question is how quickly the services adapt. The answer in Iraq is too slowly, says Paul Rieckhoff, who led an Army platoon there protected only by the flak jackets, which can't stop an AK-47 round.

The body armor delays mirror problems with the Humvee. Not until last July did the Army finally replace its soft-skinned Humvees, proven tragically vulnerable to roadside bombs, with a fully armored version.

And that effort hasn't proven to be sufficient, or fast enough, as this January 30, 2006 article reports:


Humvees get field makeover

Soldiers exposed to Iraq's increasingly lethal roadside bombs, which can rip through armored Humvees, are drawing on wartime experience and stateside expertise to protect their vehicles with stronger armor and heat-detection cameras.
The upgrades are being done by individual soldiers and units as the Pentagon decides how Humvees should be changed.

Those who need are the ones who know best about that need - and why that need should be met:

Commanders in both units say insurgents are adept at hiding their work and improving their bombs. And they are quick to learn. "All the stupid ones are dead," said Capt. Jamey Turner of Baton Rouge, La., a brigade commander in Beiji.

But are the Top Brass paying any attention? All indications are that the field veterans are being ignored:

The National Guard unit's Humvee improvements also have been passed up the chain of command, but it's not clear if the military plans to make the changes on more vehicles.

That would cost money, and the Bu$h (mi$)Admini$tration refuses to ask the Topper$ to give up any tax 'relief'! They would rather make rash accusations of treason against those who are exposing their malfeasance.

Thus, the lowly soldier gets to pay the price for the greed and stinginess of their commanders by becoming real-life models for the Toles cartoon.

[T]he U.S. armed forces have recently announced new efforts to keep seriously wounded or disabled soldiers on active duty. Although there is no clear written policy, the sentiment is being echoed down from the White House.

"Part of this is a response to the stress on the all-volunteer forces due to the war on terror," said Laura Miller, a military sociologist with the Rand Corp. "And part of it is adapting to future warfare: smaller expeditionary forces that can respond to a variety of missions, including peacekeeping and humanitarian. Why throw away someone with years of training and expertise, only to re-train someone new?"

Although much of the nation's attention has focused on the more than 1,250 U.S. troops who have died in Iraq, more than 9,300 have been wounded [December 1, 2004], and the number climbs daily. [16,000 seriously wounded as of February 2, 2006 - ed.]

"Our view is that once a soldier, always a soldier, and the Army is looking for ways to keep a number of them on active duty rather than medically retiring them," said Lt. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel.

The dictates from the top do not always trickle down to the company or unit level.
Spec. Garth Stewart lost his leg in a land-mine explosion in Iraq. "The Department of Defense might say one thing, but there's always going to be some brand-spanking-new commander out there, and the last thing he wants is a liability," said Stewart, who took medical retirement last month and is applying to college.

"I suspect that there will be wonderful success stories and fairly miserable failures," said David E. Autry, spokesman for Disabled American Veterans. "You've got a soldier with a $20,000 computerized leg. If he gets deployed back to Iraq, if it gets sand and crud in it, it gives out, who's gonna fix it?"

Might not that $20,000 leg and an expensively retrained soldier be better served paying for two healthy E4s with about three years service time each to be in the field?

One would think! Or is there some other way these wounded men can still serve? The Pentagon knows!


Wounded soldiers return to the range

The night desert is dark and cloudless. Four U.S. service members stand on high alert, waiting and watching, their weapons locked and loaded. Suddenly, enemy fighters are seen rushing through the smoke and glare of the trip flares. The soldiers open fire. One by one, the advancing fighters fall.
But the troops are not in a war zone.
The two soldiers, a sailor and a Marine are in a small, dark, garage-level room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Each is missing all or part of an arm. Still, they are gamely operating the computerized weapons to take out the enemy projected 20 feet in front of them.
Their mission is to prove that with the help of this simulated firing range they can be fully rehabilitated in one of the most important warrior tasks: firing a weapon.
The study aims to determine whether service members with upper extremity wounds can qualify to standard on a virtual firing range. The goal is to rehabilitate 35 wounded service members to their original marksmanship levels. More service members are needed for the test, and more are expected to enroll now that summer convalescent leave is over and patients have returned.

Considering how badly things are going in Iraq and in Afghanistan, there isn't going to be a shortage of candidates. A study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine found that about nine of every 10 soldiers are surviving their war wounds, the highest survival percentage in U.S. history.

But are such simulations becoming too much of a game for those running this all-too-real war?


Hurt soldiers still help country -- virtually

He tests a "Dismounted Soldier Embedded Training and Mission Rehearsal System" by running, jumping, kneeling and, when necessary, dropping and rolling through the virtual combat zone. He will also shoot at the enemy, who will shoot at him too.

If he is wounded or killed -- in a bloodless, computer-generated way -- his medical information can be relayed to lifelike "combat trauma patient simulators" sprawled on gurneys nearby. These robotic mannequins are programmed to hyperventilate, hemorrhage and display other injuries for medics training in battlefield triage. "They have a pulse, their eyes roll back, and blood pumps out of their wounds," said Maj. Ray Compton, executive officer at the training center.

"We can even make them die when [the medics] have done everything right, which also happens in real combat."
Having direct input from combat veterans is a boon to the computer scientists creating "the most cutting-edge, state-of-the-art system out there," said Jim Grosse, principal investigator for the Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command in Orlando.

Grosse and Compton are careful to note that the Pentagon and PlayStation are in two very different games, but they concede that their no-nonsense training simulations borrow much of their technology from best-selling entertainment such as SimCity.

The Army isn't the first serious player to plug into the simulation technologies found in Xbox, Nintendo and PlayStation. The Navy has used a modified version of Microsoft's Flight Simulator to train its rookie pilots for several years. The CIA has invested millions to develop a video game in which its analysts can learn to think like terrorists. And the militant Shiite Hezbollah movement created a "Special Force" commercial video game that simulates attacks on Israeli soldiers and officials.

"The commercial industry has developed the processes and gaming technologies, and we are using that technology to develop training systems for soldiers," Compton said.

I suppose it helps a lot if they are already experts at playing Grand Theft Auto?

It's much faster, safer and cheaper to teach -- and learn -- those lessons over the Internet than in a combat zone or on a military base, Compton said. "We are not advocating the replacement of live training totally," he added. "This is just another enabler to training, another tool in the bag."

Grosse and others in the Army's $6 million program to develop virtual-training technology say their simulations are not yet ready for battle. But during a recent test of the system, an Illinois National Guard artillery battalion was posted at a virtual checkpoint while Grosse and other computer engineers played the roles of terrorists and civilians in the online exercise.

The crafty computer guys jumped out of a virtual car and began shooting at the checkpoint guards. But the soldiers participating in the computer exercise were no slouches. They shot down the civilian geeks in short order.

But not everyone can return to combat - even virtually - and the VA isn't keeping up with those who can't 'fire' simulated weapons:

According to Brown Medical School's Dr. Roy Aaron, the current VA medical system "literally cannot handle the load" of amputees.

Data compiled by the US Senate, and included in the 2005 defense appropriations bill in support of a request for increased funding for the care of amputees at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, reveal that 6 percent of those wounded in Iraq have required amputations, compared with a rate of 3 percent for past wars. Responding to the large number of amputations, scientists at Brown University in Providence and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology yesterday announced a $7.2 million research program to design more functional prosthetic limbs. The US Department of Veterans Affairs is paying for the work.

"Amputee research has never been a high priority because it's not . . . fashionable," said Aaron.

"Iraq has changed that."
"Returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are our highest priority now," he said.

Only as research subjects are returning veterans considered a high priority. In all other ways, one has to wonder if they are considered important for any reason at all.


The Bush Regime's War on American Soldiers

The story illustrates once again the paradox that pervades the Bush Regime: They love war, they love military power – but they hate soldiers, the actual human beings who do their dirty work for them.

They regard them as mere biological material to be used then discarded. They despise and disrespect them, as all overseers despise and disrespect their slaves and coolies (while loudly proclaiming their tender, paternal care for them). It's how these big-time criminals sleep at night – by dehumanizing everyone they harm by their depradations.

These aren't merely idle partisan accusations, as there is empirical evidence to support the charges:


Sick, wounded U.S. troops held in squalor

In an Oct. 9 speech to National Guard and reserve troops in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Bush said the soldiers had become part of the backbone of the military. "Citizen-soldiers are serving in every front on the war on terror," Bush said. "And you're making your state and your country proud."

So pay the debt you owe them for their service to you, Yore Hindni$$!

Hundreds of sick and wounded U.S. soldiers including many who served in the Iraq war are languishing in hot cement barracks here while they wait -- sometimes for months -- to see doctors.

Most soldiers in medical hold at Fort Stewart stay in rows of rectangular, gray, single-story cinder block barracks without bathrooms or air conditioning. They are dark and sweltering in the southern Georgia heat and humidity.

Soldiers make their way by walking or using crutches through the sandy dirt to a communal bathroom, where they have propped office partitions between otherwise open toilets for privacy. A row of leaky sinks sits on an opposite wall. The latrine smells of urine and is full of bugs, because many windows have no screens. Showering is in a communal, cinder block room. Soldiers say they have to buy their own toilet paper. Around 60 soldiers cram in the bunk beds in each barrack.

The National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers' living conditions are so substandard, and the medical care so poor, that many of them believe the Army is trying push them out with reduced benefits for their ailments. One document shown to UPI states that no doctor appointments were available from Oct. 14 through Nov. 11 -- Veterans Day.

"I have loved the Army. I have served the Army faithfully and I have done everything the Army has asked me to do," said Sgt. 1st Class Willie Buckels, a truck master with the 296th Transportation Company. Buckels served in the Army Reserves for 27 years, including Operation Iraqi Freedom and the first Gulf War. "Now my whole idea about the U.S. Army has changed.

"I am treated like a third-class citizen."
First Sgt. Gerry Mosley crossed into Iraq from Kuwait on March 19 with the 296th Transportation Company, hauling fuel while under fire from the Iraqis as they traveled north alongside combat vehicles. Mosley said he was healthy before the war; he could run two miles in 17 minutes at 48 years old.

But he developed a series of symptoms: lung problems and shortness of breath; vertigo; migraines; and tinnitus. He also thinks the anthrax vaccine may have hurt him. Mosley also has a torn shoulder from an injury there. He said he has never been treated like this in his 30 years in the Army Reserves.M

"Now, I would not go back to war for the Army," Mosley said.
Many soldiers in the hot barracks said regular Army soldiers get to see doctors, while National Guard and Army Reserve troops wait.

"The active duty guys that are coming in, they get treated first and they put us on hold," said another soldier who returned from Iraq six weeks ago with a serious back injury. He has gotten to see a doctor only two times since he got back, he said.

Another Army Reservist with the 149th Infantry Battalion said he has had real trouble seeing doctors about his crushed foot he suffered in Iraq. "There are not enough doctors. They are overcrowded and they can't perform the surgeries that have to be done," that soldier said. "Look at these mattresses. It hurts just to sit on them," he said, gesturing to the bunks. "There are people here who got back in April but did not get their surgeries until July. It is putting a lot on these families."

The Pentagon is reportedly drawing up plans to call up more reserves.

Just to keep the record straight, even the regular soldiers are being seriously disrespected by Bu$hco: Starting January of 2005, the Army started making some wounded soldiers pay for the food they eat at the Walter Reed hospital.

So much for "making your state and your country proud".

Despite Senate hearings, and academic studies, and the establishment of legal support for America's wounded warriors, they still have serious issues over receiving the care and benefits they were promised in return for their service to the nation.

In fact, without celebrities suffering the sort of injuries real soldiers have, much of this story would never see the light of day.

For some, none of this will stop them from trying to return to the only life they want to live - in the military, ready for war.

While the service of these soldiers was not performed for a just cause, that wasn't their decision nor their fault, and I won't hold them accountable for that crime. No one else should either.

We all know where the blame belongs. I'll let Molly Ivins present that evidence, as she expresses things so much better than I:

The most important question about the war in Iraq is whether it is doing any good, and an increasing pool of evidence shows that it has become a rallying and recruiting tool for global terrorists. Like the other information in this article, the evidence comes from official reports.

# The number of terrorist attacks per day in Iraq grew from 55 in December 2004 to 77 per day in December 2006.

# Electricity production in Iraq has not yet recovered to prewar levels, and the electricity in Baghdad is on less today than it was under Saddam Hussein.

# While there are no hard numbers, there are repeated reports of the loss of educated, middle-class Iraqis, especially doctors, fleeing the country because of lack of security.

# Iraq today produces less oil than it did under Saddam Hussein. The current oil minister is Ahmad Chalabi, onetime darling of the neo-con set and convicted of bank fraud in Jordan.

# The majority of Iraqis favor complete American troop withdrawal, though the timeframes they prefer vary.

# The war in Iraq costs the United States $1 billion per week, $251 billion so far. Bush originally said it would cost $70 billion. Before the war, he fired his top economic adviser, Larry Lindsay, who said it would cost $200 billion. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel economist, now estimates the total cost between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.

He includes lifetime care of the wounded, the economic value of destroyed and lost lives, and the opportunity cost of resources diverted to the war.
Over 2,200 Americans have been killed in action in Iraq and 16,000 seriously wounded. Because we are doing a better job saving the lives of the wounded, those who survive often have devastating injuries from which there is no recovery.

# So far, we've boosted the electoral results for Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon and, next, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

# The remaining allies in Iraq plan to withdraw 25 percent or more of their 22,000 troops this year.

# The special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction released an audit last week containing extensive findings of fraud, incompetence and confusion.

# Because of its total misjudgment of the war in Iraq, the administration has failed to enlarge the regular Army and has therefore put the entire institution under immense strain. The "stop-loss" refusal to let people leave at the end of their enlistments now affects 50,000 soldiers, and mobilization of the reserves and extended service are a form of draft.

It is quite possible this administration is destroying the professional Army.
Despite chipper denials from the Pentagon, the Army has serious problems with recruiting, especially getting quality recruits, and with regular Army re-enlistment. The reason the numbers are not worse is because of the bonuses being offered.

The officer corps is also being hollowed out, as younger officers quit in such numbers that 100 percent of those remaining are automatically moved up the ladder. For example, last year the Army promoted 97 percent of all eligible captains, up from as historical average of 70 percent to 80 percent.

This information is from Pentagon data in a report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

"The Iraq war has been a disaster." -- CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour.
I do hope this is responsible criticism that aims for cures, not defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure.


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