January 09, 2006

EMPATHY

LGF points to two views about the recent study showing many deaths in Iraq could've been prevented with more body armor: on the one hand, writers at the left-wing site Daily Kos are wringing their hands and blaming bureaucracy, and on the other hand soldiers are saying that the armor they already wear is sufficiently clunky and cumbersome and that more armor would make them less effective. R1 voiced the soldier side:

The armor I wore was a big improvement over any other armor I've seen before. But it was still hot, heavy, and contributed to heat and fatigue casualties. So what's better? Losing one man to a gun shot wound or losing five to heat stroke?

The other night my husband and I caught an episode of that show Over There. The plot in a nutshell was that the Americans had captured an insurgent who knew information about where stolen missles were. At the end of the episode, the insurgent agrees to tell the Special Forces officer where the missles are (on a farm) as long as the Americans promise not to kill the farmer and his family. Long dramatic pause as the officer promises...cut to the next scene of the farmer feeding his goats and his farm getting blown to bits from an air strike.

Naturally, I got wrapped up in the moral dilemma of the issue. Why would the director of this show have the officer promise and then just blow up the farm? What was the underlying agenda behind this move? I turned to my husband and asked him, "Would that really happen?", meaning would someone be able to so easily renege on a promise like that and just blow up a family of civilians. The answer I got was not what I expected...

My husband said the scene was complete horse manure because you don't just call in air strikes on some random farm where you think there might be missles just because some prisoner told you so. He said Iraqis were notorious for lying about weapons caches: they'd have a beef with a neighbor and then run to the Americans claiming the neighbor was a terrorist just to get him in trouble. Husband said what would really happen would be that they'd raid the farm looking for the missles. If you just aerial bomb the farm, you have no idea what you just blew up. Maybe the missles were there, maybe they weren't, so you're no closer to knowing you're safe.

I fell for it. I fell for the tug-at-your-heartstrings nonsense that the director of Over There wanted me to. Hook, line, and sinker. But that's because I'm a dumb civilian, just like the majority of people watching this television program. The writers sent me right down the garden path towards Moral Dilemma, so I completely missed the tactical errors. I don't have the military training to notice the things my husband noticed about this show.

I can't help but think that the people at Daily Kos have gone down the same garden path. They've never worn any body armor, but if someone says it saves lives, well then coat the soldiers from top to bottom in it. Make their bodies bulletproof and none of them will die. The only problem is that soldiers don't just stand out in the street trying not to die. They need to move around, run, jump in and out of HMMWVs and Blackhawks, and react to whatever comes their way. They can't be standing there like the un-oiled Tin Man because they're weighted down in body armor.

I used to joke with my husband online in Iraq that he needed to sleep in his body armor. I told him I was going to make him kevlar pajamas to keep him safe. Then he got home from Iraq and put his body armor on me, vest and helmet. I had it on for maybe two minutes and I felt like I was being crushed. He wore it every day for 13 months.

Sometimes we civilians think we can see things as clearly as our soldiers do. We think we know what's best for them, or we think we can see the Moral Dilemmas just as well as they can. I'm just not sure we have the knowledge and experience to make that call. Our hearts can be in the right place -- as I'd like to believe this Kos writer's is -- but sometimes all the empathy in the world doesn't match up to experience.

Usch, I can't believe I walked right into that stupid tv plot.

Posted by: Sarah at 06:17 AM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
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1 Heh. The crap they made us wear was even heavier. We would have killed for the niftier armor they make nowadays, but it was no big deal, my particular hatred was for those damned MOPP suits and gas masks. Armor plates are just heavy and bulky, MOPP gear is positively stifling, but we needed to wear it and drink lots of water to replace what we'd lost, because the risk of dehydration is worth it, considering what VX or sarin could do to you. Anyway, the sequence you describe in "Over There" is entirely contrived. I see it as a failure of imagination, a lack of familiarity with what really goes on in combat or military in general. It's self fulfilling as well, the idea that we'd just blow up a house on someone's say so is "credible and gripping" because, well, that's how it is always portrayed in the popular media. Isn't that what we always see in the news, where we blast some house to smithereens on a tip? So it gets portrayed as such, over and over, till the popular perception is that it is standard procedure. And so it repeats, and it doesn't occur to the folks writing the story that we maybe just do things differently. Not in the approved paradigm. Fortunately for us, the war is being conducted by folks who understand warfare, like Red6 and your husband, rather than some technoweenie in Hollywood who thinks 40mm grenades explode like so many pounds of dynamite and gasoline. Now, don't get all bent out of shape because you didn't consider possible alternatives to blowing up the house in the stupid TV show. No alternatives were presented to you, suspension of disbelief was enough to carry you through the show, but at least you maintained sufficient incredulousnes to ask the question afterwards. But think of it like this, if the show was "Hyperknitting", and the rest of us were watching (who don't know squat about knitting) were led to believe that some overhand/underhand manuever (or whatever, I don't know squat about knitting) was the proper way to make a sock, and you know darned (heh) well that there are a lot more ways to make a sock...how would you feel about it? I dunno if that last part made enough sense.

Posted by: Jason at January 09, 2006 11:36 AM (565iX)

2 That's probably the most frustrating thing about getting to be "in the know" about how the military works...I am by no means fully educated but it's getting increasingly more frustrating to deal with my ignorant civilian counterparts!...which makes me realize how little I knew for so long

Posted by: Nicole at January 09, 2006 03:58 PM (KJBDI)

3 Don't feel too bad. Having served in the (peace-time) Army, I can catch more stupid portrayals of the military than the average civilian, but even I get snagged. For the generations who grew up on TV, movies and mainstream media, it's tough to get away from a lifetime of indoctrination.

Posted by: Eric at January 09, 2006 11:23 PM (qaR9z)

4 that'll teach you to stop reading daily kos. ; ) anyways, there is historical precedent for what happens when you try to armor a soldier from head to toe. it's called the middle ages. Something will happen to make ceramic body armor obsolete, and then we'll stop using it altogether.

Posted by: annika at January 10, 2006 12:12 PM (Yotfs)

5 Great post. Just goes to show you should never form an opinion until you have seen at least more than one side of the situation. I don't think the kids at KOS will ever figure that out.

Posted by: Titan Mk 6B at January 10, 2006 01:48 PM (8HxzN)

6 I have to send my MIL to blogs like this so she can educate herself. She thinks most of the military are blooming idiots and WHY did I ever chose to serve. THANK YOU for keeping us informed.

Posted by: Sgt Lori at January 13, 2006 02:21 PM (DmF+F)

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