Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Monday, March 12, 2012


Well, isn't that special? An Afghan mass murder by a sole American soldier. Leaving aside the next expressions of Afghan outrage that are likely to kill more Allied troops, all of them innocent of this crime, we turn first to the predictable defence: he has undiagnosed PTSD, so he's a victim.

I have more than the usual empathy for the very worn troops sent to do what has been impossible for a millennium or so: to make Afghanistan run in a way that's comprehensible to the outside world. PTSD, you might say, runs in my family. However, I might point out that it's somewhat more usual a) to take it back home and b) to turn it inward, on self or family.

As the title suggests, there are other candidates. First of them is TMT: too many tours. A military person doesn't necessarily need PTSD. Successive experiences of being wound up like a spring for dangerous service, then released, at best take the edge off the best soldier. At worst they open the door to (usually) self-destructive behaviour. This perp, says the Guardian, had three previous tours in Iraq. So this is the soldier's fourth high-stress tour in just over ten years. That's too much. There has been at least some awareness that there's a limit to human endurance in war since the Civil War, but we seem to have shelved that thought.

The next one is LTG. Armed services run on the backs of their non-commissioned officers (NCOs), or what we Navy people call petty officers.
The good ones make the machine run smoothly, providing positive motivation for their juniors and subtle, background support for commissioned officers. The role of the middle ranks of NCO can be tough. They have little actual authority over their juniors, being more primus inter pares than anything else. In these ranks--which include staff sergeants, the perp's rank-- all too often cases of LTG break out. LTG is for Little Tin God: the longer NCOs stay in the middle ranks, the more vulnerable they are to LTG inclinations. They know everything, they think. They don't hide their attitude from their seniors, which puts a damper on their chances of advancement. They tend to behave badly toward the people they're supposed to lead. Sometimes they presume too much on their authority. I saw a PO1 end his career with a presumption that angered our Admiral. Sometimes they just come apart at the seams, and possibly that happened in the current case, although self-destruction is more common to LTG than other-directed violence. They get reckless: I also knew a PO1 with a fine record but a raging case of LTG end his career drunk on the crypto room deck while on watch: a bad thing to do and a worse place to do it.

The trial of someone who has ruined any case left of a dignified exit from Afghanistan will be interesting in the worst sense of the word.

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