Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Problem Of Perception

The problem of perception colors how people view this war.

This war, regardless of one's personal feelings, is a complex thing. Its history, people, and factions are as diverse as they are dangerous. There are no easy answers or clear-cut truths in this war, and yet people like to behave--especially on both ends of the media--as though there are. I find this disconcerting.

Every day, I read the blogs and see the same set of opposing arguments: either people assume that this place is a cakewalk or that it's a hellhole. No shades of gray; no middle ground. Everyone does it. Nobody outside of this war seems to have an accurate picture of what goes on here, and even then, it's so easy to let one's politics cloud one's observations. I can't begin to describe the difficulty I have in capturing this place fairly.

My own mother, bless her, sent me a care package a while back, as she is known to do. It contained the usual items--snacks, magazines, personal hygiene items--but what made it remarkable was the presence of a shopping bag filled with cans of Silly String. For those playing the home game, Silly String has been used in the past as a tool for detecting tripwires during house-to-house raids. When my mother mentioned this, I had to graciously explain to her that "you know, Mom, raiding houses isn't really part of my job."

And I suppose that's really where the problem lies, isn't it?

This war is unique, in that more than ever, we are able to receive real-time coverage on it's progress, not merely from embedded journalists, but also from those of us wearing the uniform. It's an interesting dynamic, and one in whose shaping I'm grateful to have a hand. But it's important to remember, also, that all conflict is inherently political, nowhere more obviously than here. Not only does the politics of a writer affect how said writer shapes the narrative, but indeed the experience that gives rise to the narrative can have a hand in shaping the writer's politics.

It seems to me that people back home--the pundits, the media, the activists, the wives and parents and children--get their information from what they see of us. Accordingly, what they see of us is divided into two extremes. People only see either the Grunts or the Pogues. The Grunts are the Infantrymen, raiding homes, staring at death daily, and going months at a time without so much as a phone call or a letter from home. The Pogues are the rest; the support or otherwise noncombat soldiers who may or may not even go out the wire. Now, everyone's experience of deployment is a little different, so it's unfair to cast all experiences in the same mold. People see stories of Infantry guys watching their squadmates die and murdering Iraqi civilians, and assume that I personally have seen levels of Hell of which I have had no taste. Conversely, people read the blogs of career soldiers and pogues, and perhaps get an image of this place that is a little sunnier than expected. People want to lump our stories into the either/or. All or none; one side of the story is true or none. And that's not really fair.

Like it or not, I am a Pogue. I still go outside the wire, yes, and I have indeed been mortared, rocketed and shot at. I have personally felt the hot whine of passing bullets singe my eardrums. But it's important to remember that I belong to a specialized field, and thus until my squadmates and I are actually needed, we spend most of our days battling boredom on the FOB. This may be difficult to understand for some people.

I have never fired my weapon at another human being. I have never watched a friend die. I have not lived through the detonation of an IED. I have never seen many of the things which will scar many of my counterparts for life. But that does not mean that those things aren't really happening. My words can only account for part of the picture, and simply ignoring narratives that don't jibe with our expectations is not the way to gain an accurate picture of this war.

I'll always believe that this war has been morally wrong; has been a mistake. But I can also acknowledge that good things have happened here; small moments of outreach and compassion have made small differences. I'm not here to tell you what to think of this war. People try to take our experiences of this war and use those experiences to judge the rightness or wrongness of this war. That's not the way to make an accurate judgement.

Soldiers are always going to die in combat; always going to see horrific things that damage their psyches. Every death or injury sustained in battle is going to be one too many. But instead of judging the rightness or wrongness or wars by body counts, why not judge the war by its impact on national moral standing?

Incidentally, does anyone remember John McCain's recent jaunt through that Baghdad market? The following day, 21 civilians from the same market were kidnapped, taken outside of the city, and murdered--shot execution-style.

The problem of perception is a motherfucker.


Blogger iamcoyote said...

Excellent post, Milo! I know I'm guilty of letting my bias cloud my perception. Thanks for the reminder.

7:51 PM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

What? There's grey areas in war? And in politics? What? Y'all in the uniforms aren't the same? WHAT? Whose side are you on, mister?

Snort. It's what sells, man. Blood and violence or happy stories. The grey bits are too difficult for the soundbyte digestion with which most of the public samples its media.

Aside: I am surprised, constantly, by people who think there's no difference between Marines and soldiers, much less the difference between grunts and pogues. Or, like, officers and enlisted, even.

9:49 PM  
Blogger Seven of Six said...

I'll always believe that this war has been morally wrong; has been a mistake.

I was one of those idiots who supported this war at first. I believed the lies. My wife was not believing nothing from the mouth of the bu$h cabal! I have gone through a lot of soul searching, your sentence above states it best. I'm still recovering from my guilt.

Milo, As a former "support" (77W) soldier while stationed in Panama during the invasion, I can tell you, you will still be an 11B when the defecation hits the rotating device! The training does kick into auto.

5:53 AM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 04/16/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee, when I sent silly string to Camp Gannon it was just for the purpose of being silly! I figured my nephew and his Marine buddies could use a little fun.

Yes, we have played into Bin Laden's hands by invading Iraq. We are spending billions of our dollars just like he wanted. We have become the poster child for his campaign to defeat western ideology. If we pulled out of Iraq, Bin Lasen would be sure to rub it in our faces. No big thing, the US has had egg on it's face before. But would that keep the suicide bombers from following us home if we left?

8:32 PM  
Blogger Spc. Freeman said...

"Would that keep the suicide bombers from following us home if we left?"

No, I don't suppose it would. They came to England, after all, and Spain and Germany and France. But that's just it. Suicide bombers aren't just born, they are CREATED. A basically good people don't just turn to religious madness and murder.

We have created this thing which hates us--WE have created this monster--and we have a moral obligation to make things right. We must heal the wounds we have inflicted, and then
ensure we create none further.

Violence is not necessarily the answer to violence.

9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Violence is not necessarily the answer to violence." Amen.

The way I see it is that they are here already. They are all over the world. I do not personally see the "protection" that this war is providing. That somehow if we do not "win" that all of the terrorists are going to come here and infiltrate our forcefield of protection. To constantly drive that into people's minds is a way to perpetuate the fear that keeps the machine running. Once you realize that they are here, they are everywhere, you stop fearing. You begin to think and rationalize. The war will end and they, the "bad guys" will still be out there. War doesn't stop hate.

8:22 PM  
Anonymous delia443 said...

Well of course pookie sixx, we have to keep the "illusion of safety" going as our friend Tyler Durden would say.

But either way Milo, without actually being there, most of us will have no sense of what happens in the barracks or on the battlefield. That's our own burden to bear back here at home whether our politics wants you to be there or not. It's a bit of guilt, perhaps, that we can't or won't share that situation with our men and women in uniform.


6:50 PM  
Blogger iamcoyote said...

Milo, if you can hear us, let us know you're all right. We worry. Thanks.

4:30 AM  
Anonymous Anne said...

Coyote, he's alive and well, just pretty busy. No need to worry just yet. :D

10:09 AM  
Blogger Silver said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:51 PM  
Blogger Silver said...

It has been relayed to me, and I in turn regret to relay to you, that a member of the Bad Axe Class of 2001 has died in Iraq.

I'll post with additional details as I learn more.

6:53 PM  
Blogger iamcoyote said...

Thanks, Anne, I'll just keep looking and sending good thoughts. Hope all is well with you both!

11:04 PM  

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