Thursday, July 23, 2009

And the Auld Triangle went "jingle-jangle"...

That old triangle’s still going “jingle-jangle” all along the banks of the Irtysh River…

To be honest, I’m feeling more in the mood for using lyrics for “Monto”, but I’m afraid my parents (and anyone wise enough to know what Monto was…) will be worried for me and such.I'll get new recipies up 'soon'

Been a while since the last update—things have changed, though not too much. I’d have to say though that my mood may have improved a bit. I suppose this occurred sometime last night. Yesterday morning, I was too tired (went to bed ~2330, later than usual and I’ve gotten lazy, it’s hard to get up in the morning…ROTC’ll eat me alive…) so I decided to sleep in till 0700. Jake wasn’t as tired (he claims it was discipline—I claim it’s because he doesn’t have to work as hard in the day). Anyway, it was no big deal, I did plan to go run in the evening.

Unfortunately, the weather here is unpredictable and changing (worse than Kansas weather, if I’m honest). So it was raining pretty hard-core last night, however, feeling pretty lousy for sleeping in and with how I’ve probably lost time on my run, I forced myself out in the downpour. It was great! I don’t know about you, but for some reason, I get pumped running in the rain—heavy or light (and this rain was a bit between; a lot of rain, but it wasn’t too heavy when it hit). Not to mention, I was extremely fortunate in the music that came on my (dad’s) mp3 player: Dropkick Murphy’s “The Fields of Athenry”, followed by one of my favorite versions of “Twa Recruiting Sergeants” (one I picked up off YouTube by a group called “Fiery Jack”). Needless to say, (although I’m still saying it—what a curious phrase—an excuse to say something you claim is so obvious it doesn’t need to be said) those songs were repeated several times—Hoo-ah!

I won’t say I don’t have any worries about the future, or ROTC (especially ROTC), because that definitely isn’t true (and Dr. Lee is no help here, he just told me that we have to do a paper for both Korea and Kazakhstan’s trip…and the one I gave for the conference will not count…20 pages times 2). But for the first time in a long time, it felt like I could handle it and I even was looking forward to the challenge. Like I said, it’s not that I’m afraid of dying or that I don’t want to be a soldier—I do, almost more than anything, it’s just that I am afraid of not being up to scratch. However, yesterday with the cold pelt of the rain and the awesome mix of the electric guitar and Celtic song, made me feel ready to fight the enemies of the nation. I wouldn’t say I had bloodlust, but if someone had given me cause to fight at that moment, I would have been the wrong person to mess with.

Speaking of ROTC, there’s something I’d like to discuss. Hopefully, you’ve kept up on my previous posts about China and future possible conflict with the Red Menace. According to the Chinese students I’ve talked to and the stuff I’ve read about the government there, they are pushing towards becoming a superpower and to get there it seems they may want a fight. I’ve already mentioned how I am worried that we aren’t taking this possible threat seriously enough to prepare for it, but there’s another point I want to make.

Being abroad and having to explain ways Americans can pay for college, often means I have to explain how the ROTC program works. Sometimes I’ve explained that I’m part of the program, sometimes not (small note here, it isn’t because I’m ashamed to say I’m going to be a soldier or I’m afraid of Anti-Americanism, I can and do live with that, it’s just that I don’t really feel up to scratch to say “I’m a part of this”), however I have to say that reaction to this is almost universally negative. “You want to kill people?” “Aren’t you afraid of dying?” Or they talk about torture. When I had a class in Kazakhstan that I allowed to ask questions, it turned to politics and Iraq, and again, allegations of American greed, exploitation, torture, and killing.

To be honest, I wasn’t really surprised. I’m in a country that until twenty years ago was known as the “Kazakh Socialist Republic” and made up one of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I expect a country that for years was locked in a competition for global supremacy with the U.S. to not be huge fans of the U.S. military—I mean think of the propaganda they would have seen; we called them “an Evil Empire” once and its obvious to see how much more effective Soviet Propaganda was and is on shaping the thoughts of the people here and in Russia.

I’ve had similar experiences in Russia and again I was not surprised. I tried not to argue there, however, not out of fear for my position’s strength, but because I knew there was no way I could change their minds. They don’t accept any of the western media sources as valid and I refuse to set any stock in their (state influenced, which just happens to only have one party) media as well. Not to mention, I always got a kick out of their indignation at what we have done with Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with their attitude towards their own actions in Georgia—

“What? Supporting a separatist movement in another country, supplying those people with support and Russian passports and then using said Russian passports as an excuse to intervene when the other country tries to fight the separatists is not a good example of peace keeping? And that we may have acted with less than honorable motives here? What are talking about? How dare you attack Afghanistan (with more of a causus belli than we had 30 years ago)! How dare you attack Iraq claiming that they had Weapons of Mass Destruction, when they gave the appearance that they did and for years acted like a belligerent party as well as using them on their own people and during the Iran-Iraq war! Obviously you lied about that, because you didn’t find any. Everyone knows you’re government is perfect when it does things!”

I’m not all that surprised by the Chinese position either. I always did find it amusing that Hai-Xiao would readily admit that his government kept information from their people and also was repressive, but again he took any information it had to say about the U.S. government or military as fact.

Folks, bear with me for a minute here, I’ll get back on topic of ROTC after this short rant.

I would have been surprised by the Korean opinion that I heard, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d already heard it before and was kind of expecting it. Also, it was slightly less overtly anti-American than I had come expecting—but I’m not yet willing to say that it’s because it isn’t there. The time I was there was a period when North Korea was doing its usual saber rattling and their former president had just taking a dive from a cliff, so they had other things on their mind. I’d like to see how they’re acting now and judge the feeling of current events; from what I’ve read and heard, the only time the U.S. Military is appreciated there is when N.K. is acting up.

It’s hard for me to accept that attitude from them, for if any country should at least respect the U.S. Military, it’d be them. Koreans love to talk about “the Miracle of the Han” and how they pulled themselves out of the gutter, but very few acknowledge that without the U.S. support during the Korean war, they’d be little better than their northern brethren. Or when they do acknowledge that U.S. support helped save them, they simply say, “but you got benefit from it too” as if that makes us even and washes away any sort of obligation to the US-ROK alliance.

Yes, there is a great benefit for the United States in having an independent Korean Republic—we have an important ally in the east, with a strategic location; which was a great aid during the Cold War in helping check communist expansion in Asia. I’m sure that the government also saved some money selling surplus or obsolete U.S. equipment as well, but what country (or person for that matter) in history has ever done something for purely altruistic motives? Everyone (country, person, or animal) does an action because it is necessary for their survival or it benefits them somehow (even South Korea).

Let’s be cynical here for a bit. For example, America gives much aid (more than any other country in the world) to places like Africa and other third world hell holes. Many people, I’m sure, say that it’s because the US wants to make a profit in the future. As an American, I see it differently. Remember that America is a democratic republic that has to at least pay lip service to the “people”. Also remembering that Americans view themselves as the most fortunate and wealthy people in the world and that a free and independent media is protected by the constitution, when Americans see suffering in Africa they may ignore it at first, but if the media persists (and is effective) American public opinion will change and they will demand government action (remember Somalia 1993—that picture of a starving child did wonders to galvanize Bush). Any politicians in government will be very careful to listen to the popular opinion for fear of losing the next midterm or (God forbid!) presidential election. It’s a nasty bit of ammunition for the opposition if they can claim that you stood by and allowed people to starve to death.

Another major benefit helping places like Africa is because a stable Africa will mean that the aid will not be needed and if the countries are stable, that will lead to safety for America (and the rest of the world). Don’t agree? Somalia is a lawless country that is a prime example of the problems in Africa. Many people have turned to piracy to feed their families—which I can almost sympathize with, but this is not good for anyone else. Pirates attack ships, endangering lives of sailors and driving up the costs of shipping. A more stable Somalia might (and I believe will) lead to safer waters around the coast, saving lives of both sailors and Somalis and also keeping shipping costs down. Thus, it would be in America (and again the world’s benefit) for Somali to be a functioning nation-state.

This is an extremely cynical view to take, but it seems to be the one the Koreans want to use against America. OK, so American benefits from a democratic and prosperous Korea—but who benefits more? The Americans who gain some strategic security or the Koreans who have the same security since they are under the blanket of American protection and have prospered greatly? Who has gained the most? Who would be worse off without American intervention?

I believe the answer to all of these is the Korean people. For ever benefit America gets, Korea benefits more. Selling excess weapons may offset the cost of producing new ones, but you can’t turn a profit on that. Not to mention, America sells weapons to many countries, not just countries it has spilled its blood for. More than 38,000 Americans died to preserve South Korean independence, what has Korea given in return for the ultimate sacrifice? Nothing that comes close, since we Americans value individual human life above all. And we’re not even talking about the men who came home maimed, crippled, insane, or traumatized for life.

Americans for over a hundred years talked of Lafayette and the French alliance; even when relations with the French government were low, such as under Napoleon III, Americans always maintained an affinity for the people of France and vice versa—as seen in the gift of the Statue of Liberty. When Americans went to France in 1917 and 1918, what did they say? “Lafayette, we are here!” Times may be strained and a lot of Anti-American or French jokes swapped, but the point remains that America was grateful for the intervention; and France did much less than America has done for Korea. And of course, France did a lot of it for their own benefit—as Americans tried to convince the French crown that it would benefit them for it. We never complained about their ulterior motives in helping, but were grateful for the aid that saved us. It seems to me that behavior of a similar caliber isn’t too much to ask of the Korean government and people.

Why the Koreans don’t, is something I cannot answer; many Koreans stress the humiliation of being helped by Americans at the time and how pitiful they looked—but the more I read about Korea before the war, shows me that they weren’t much better anyway, and if anyone should be blamed for it, it is the North Koreans and their Chinese and Soviet backers, not the Americans. Americans instead, I believe, should be thanked as helping to rescue (with of course the aid of the other allies of the UN, though, since Koreans tend to ignore them in this anti-ness, I will as well) the Korean people from the sad condition.

To end my aside rant (and it kind hurts that I have to express this explicitly), I have no problem with the Korean people or the people of China. With Korea, my frustration and disappointment (not really anger) is with behavior and what I perceive as ingratitude whenever I see this anti-American sentiment rear its ugly head. As far as people, I’ve only met two Koreans that I actively disliked and that was because of behavior on their part towards a friend of mine. Every other Korean I’ve known seems like a nice person and I genuinely like them. Sometimes behavior can irritate me (when I am at a lunch table with you, I’d appreciate it if someone talked with me a little bit in English!), but besides that I have no problem with the people. As long as we can stay of political topics or they’ll keep overtly anti-American statements to themselves, we will get along well. These are the same rules I apply to democrats for crying out loud—we may disagree, but just don’t say something that deeply offends me and I’m content to let us disagree, and I’ll try not to offend you either.

As for Chinese students; honestly, I’ve only known a few. Of those, I can’t say I’ve ever really had a major problem personally with any of them. The only problems I have ever had come with political issues. My beef with China is the government of China and the lies and propaganda it puts out to stoke their nationalism. Again, if we can stay away from politics and you keep your anti-American sentiments to yourself, I’ll keep my anti-communist ones to myself. This is the same criteria I keep of the Russian students I’ve met. The people I like, but their politics I do not care for.

So back to the main point for ROTC students:

Guys, I have noticed that with students all over the world—China, Malaysia, India, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ireland, Canada, Saudi Arabia and so forth, the United States Military has an extremely negative reputation. Some things are universal; such as accusations of torture, needless killings, and bloodlust. Others are more specific to areas; the students from Asia often accuse Americans of rape and using prostitutes. Of course, I realize that most of these criticisms and accusations are either completely baseless or based on isolated incidents and the soldiers invariably have been punished through our own system. The point is, however that even among “friendly” nations we have a bad reputation.

I realize there isn’t a whole lot we can do about this on our own, but I think we must be aware of this problem, because as Leto Atreides once said, “Knowing that there is a trap is the first step to avoiding it.” We will have to fight this kind of reputation, because if we are ever called to fight, such as we are now or in a more conventional sense, we will have to have the support of the local populace and of countries abroad. “Winning hearts and minds” should not be an empty phrase, but an active goal for the American soldier. If studying Napoleon and his failures and successes in Russia, Calabria, and Spain has taught me anything is that you can have the most technologically or tactically superior force in the world, but if you cannot win the goodwill or at least get the populace to stop actively supporting the guerillas, you will lose.The Grand Army was one of the greatest fighting machines the world has ever seen, but when it failed to address the local complaints or respond to popular opinion it got mired down in a protracted and bloody irregular conflict that in turn caused more people to take up arms. Furthermore, the violent actions coupled with Napoleon’s own foreign policy failures turned Europe against France and got them to join in coalition which humbled her.

So, I believe that we must start combating this negative press from every level. This means that again, I am urging government action, which I’ll admit, is probably already identified this problem and I’m sure they are working on this, I’m just adding my voice and support to these efforts. What this means for us, is to continue to fight this negative press by providing the opposite example. Continue with nation building efforts and community works that I’ve been hearing about in the media—most foreigners I have talked to had no idea what the Army does in Iraq besides apparently commit atrocities. Most importantly, stand up and stop behavior that has given the Military this negative press. If you see someone doing something like that Marine who threw a puppy off a cliff, stop them. Yeah, it’s just a stray, but it’s a perfect opportunity for the enemy to use that video showing how cruel Americans are. Or that video that made the rounds a few years ago of a tank crew smashing a guy’s car for stealing wood—sure maybe that’s “justice” but you take away his only means for working, how’ll he feed his family? Someone offers him the equivalent of a pension if he’ll become a suicide bomber…Maybe I’m over dramatizing the incident, but at the very least you’ve just created another person hostile to the Military.

We’re going to need help in the future and we need people on our side. My dad always told me that the U.S. Army was the army that fought for the little guy, for the oppressed, and for liberty. It was the army ready to stand against the vanguard of the revolution, the Red Army. The same army that had brought communism and suffering to the people of Eastern Europe. We were the good guys and thus we shall remain.

We’re fighting a type of war that is not the kind we would want and we get frustrated, but we cannot allow ourselves to give into those frustrations—you hear people say “It is false to say that you can’t kill your way out of an insurgency. In reality that is how most are defeated.” Partially that is true and I am not denying that violence is necessary, this is the Army after all. But the violence must be used to a purpose and the main focus must be to win the population’s support or at the very least isolate them from supporting the insurgents. This sometimes can be done through a combination of the carrot and the stick, as was Napoleon’s case in Calabria, but since we are a force of good, we must use the carrot and thus win the population over through good will and positive action. At the very least get them to stop supporting the enemy.

Just my two cents guys and I’d hope that I’m not saying anything new or shocking, but I just want to let my opinion be known. I think this is a problem and I’d really like to stop having to explain that I’m not joining a band of rapists and thugs. However, if you do disagree with me, I’m not too dismayed as phase two and three (phase one was inserting myself in the country) of Operation “The Man Who Would Be Khan” are hugely successful. I’ve already established local popularity and I’ve also made my contacts within the local indigenous forces. Should my cries fall on deaf ears, I’ll just redouble my efforts of reform into simply forming the indigenous forces into a professional Western army based on my own opinions.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm interesting. I think you'll like the Onion I got in NYC. A Chinese company called Yu Wan Mei bought it. The head article is "China Strong." Can't wait to show you.