What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give?
--Alfie, Hal David
I won't take all that they hand me down,
And make out a smile, though I wear a frown,
And I won't take it all lying down,
'cause once I get started I go to town
--I'm Not Like Everybody Else, The Kinks
The entire economy of the Western world
is built on things that cause cancer
This is a story of how Ranger came to his views of the military, and why he has decided there is nothing worth dying for in the U.S Army.
It is a small chip off a large granite mountain. Most long-term soldiers end up in the flakes lying about the base of the mountain that we all tried to scale. That mountain was the U.S. Army, and many young men put their lives, health and minds into that endeavor.
We all thought that what we did or failed to do was meaningful and necessary to our national polity and welfare. As a result, we made a whore's bargain, totally oblivious to that fact. We believe that we are important and we pay our dues while the whore smiles, takes our money and never delivers on her promise. We are taken on a ride, but not the one we signed up for.
The whore has a pimp called the U.S. government, and nobody beats that combination. The higher one rises in the Army, the more indebted one is to the pimp.
Our enemies only do what they are supposed to do. They try to kill us, and we reciprocate or initiate. The problem arises when the U.S. enters battles with hatred as a basis for its actions. All wars are based in this emotion, and soldiers are taught to hate Gooks, Zips, Nips, Nazis, the Boche, Communists and Terrorists as they are evil, and deserve whatever democracy reigns down upon their heads. Philosopher Marcel described this as the depersonalization of war.
This hatred consumes us as a society, as well. Society can be analogized to the U.S. government as it also functions as a controlling body for its constituents.
Ranger's personal history illustrates his perspective. ROTC - RA commission - guaranteed choice of branch. Chose Infantry. All the normal Ft. Benning schools and off to the 8th Infantry Division. First duty assignment a disaster -- career-killing OER.
This was all less than a year after graduating as a Distinguished Military Grad, top 3% of the ROTC graduates. Ranger goes to Special Forces thinking to pull his nuts out of the fire, but already they were singed beyond redemption. However, young soldiers know naught of these things. We do what soldiers do; we persevere and drive on.
Ranger now moves on to B53/5th Special Forces Group Airborne and sees the Army in action in a real direct action Special Forces war. Ranger stresses that his exposure was light and limited, but it afforded a view of the war from a clear vantage point.
As a strap-hangar/training observer Ranger accompanied a Hatchet Force Unit on a training mission to the edges of war Zone C outside of Ba Rhia. On this mission the troops were inserted using trucks because HELO assets were not available due to restricted usage as the U.S. part of the war was winding down.
Gunships were unavailable and we were not in anybody's Artillery fans, but nonetheless we were inserted to look for enemy contact. Precisely what we would do if we found it was questionable.
On the first day we found a village full of people. The intel brief told us there were no friendlies in the area and we were cleared to kill all life forms. So much for intel -- "What do you do now, Lieutenant?"
We bypassed the village went off into the jungle to set up an ambush on a well-used trail, since this was Hatchet and not Reconnaissance work. In recon, you snoop and avoid contact, whereas in hatchet you look for contact, or so the story goes.
After set-up a large main-force element actually walked through the ambush kill zone, but we did not engage for to do so would have been suicidal. Ranger still marvels at seeing enemy soldiers actually walking down a trail in an administrative movement. This episode was one of two incidents in which Ranger actually eyeballed NVA soldiers at pistol-range. He carries this memory as a point of pride, as most American soldiers in RVN only saw but shadows and muzzle flashes. This was December 1970.
If we had engaged we did not have an escape route since the area was saturated with North Vietnamese Army (probably 274th NVA Regiment) and we had no artillery or gunship support. Whatever we were to have achieved escapes Ranger, this after 38+ years of contemplation.
Why were we even out there? To what military purpose?
The above story is prologue for another story that would seal Ranger's disillusionment. That story happened 20/21 Jan 71, in which members of MACVSOG 38/Camp Long Thanh/B 53 engaged a strong enemy force and were severely and roughly handled. During that encounter, Ranger's friend, SSG Ken Lovelace, was killed along with some One Zero Recon students.
This story repeats the earlier one: U.S. SF assets put in to do a job that they could not possibly complete successfully, and good men died. The real tragedy was that SF leaders made the decision to engage, and not conventional types -- people who knew better, but did not act better.
Although there were credible reasons for this response, the outcome was predictable. In effect, a team was put into a suicidal insertion with the predictable outcome all but certain. We call this heroism, but Ranger calls it insanity. Men should kill and die only for an achievable purpose.
So Ranger learned a few more things when a young man. The Army will kill you is you give it a chance. He further learned to fend for himself and those around him and damn the Army to hell.
It was a small event in the larger scheme, but after 21 Jan 71 Ranger never again believed the "mission" the Army preached as sacred doctrine; it was but another word for unreasoned death and destruction.
Further down the road, Officers Advanced Course confirmed this belief when the stakes became much larger. Nuclear weapons employment doctrine was based on a fantasy that we would fight the Russians on the plains of Europe using both tactical and strategic nukes. This was equivalent to inserting into an Area of Operations with trucks -- it was unsustainable.
The point is, the people promoted believed the concept of fighting wars with tactical nukes. This terrain was nonnegotiable and contorted Ranger's powers of conception. To accept Army doctrine is to accept insanity. Doctrine is the nice word for death and destruction.
Lisa's friend, Vietnam fighter pilot Forrest Fenn, expressed his awakening this way:
All of the frailties of humankind had manifested themselves in that beautiful place and that terrible situation. Lyndon Johnson had summed it up under the heading of “Saving South Vietnam and all of Southeast Asia from Communist aggression.” I bought into that pretty good. All the pilots did. The endless hours of classroom training and sorties flown on the gunnery ranges around the world, had bred us to it. It was almost umbilical. How faint it seems to me now and how dreadful it must still be for so many others.
After all of the bullets and rockets and bombs had finished flying through the trees and across the skies, there was nothing left for us but the memory of 58,266 Americans whose names have been etched, chronologically by time of death, on that shiny black wall, which is constantly being washed clean by the tears of a million visitors. Another generation or so and most of those names will be but an asterisk in the history of a forgotten war; a curiosity to wonder at, like the Lincoln Memorial. How unfortunate it is that world leaders are constantly bringing war and death to those of us who are relegated to follow.
The afterthoughts of later elected officials all ask the same question and supply the same answer. Why, and never again. Of course they don’t know why, and there will be yet another again.
Many of us have awoken, and though the circumstances differ, the upshot is the same. There is more that completes Ranger's tale, for another day, perhaps. But the action which killed Ken Lovelace was adequate to secure his disillusionment. The enemy could only kill us, but the Army destroyed our lives.
Ranger writes this knowing the Ooh-rah readers will see this as so much sniveling. So be it.
The fact is, soldiers and veterans are disposable and inconvenient facts after the mission.