Apr 10

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime contributor Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.)

I think I saw him first: a man lying face down on a street corner. I hit my partner in the shoulder.

We were dazed on the ride back to station. Working for an ambulance company that only did facility transfers, we were at the extreme edge of the company’s service area, returning from taking an invalid woman back to her Los Angeles home. It was a difficult transport, just toward the end, because the only access to her home was seven flights of stairs. We muscled our patient to her bed, made sure she was comfortable and taken care of, and trudged back to our ambulance.

Our radio barely worked we were so far from the repeater. My paperwork was done so there was nothing for me to do. I remember leaning my head on the window and looking staring down at the moving pavement. I stared so long I was becoming nauseous. So I adjusted and looked forward. That’s when I saw him.

“Yeah, I see him,” he said.

We were both that mix between excited and panicked. This looked like an unconscious person. A true emergency. True emergencies are something we rarely saw.

My partner radioed the location and situation in as he pulled over. The dispatcher sounded excited too. “Really?” I could hear her ask as I grabbed my clipboard and the jump kit with our supplies. I left the sliding door on the side open. My partner had yet to leave driver’s seat when I reached the patient.

As I knelt, I heard what sounded like a zipper followed by metal very quickly hitting the side of our ambulance. Thunk thunk thunk. Three, maybe more. My kneeling went to me falling on my ass and scurrying backwards. I’m not sure how I got into the ambulance but I remember falling backwards as my partner hit the gas and peering out the back to see who shot at us.

My partner radioed it in. He was yelling into the microphone. I remember telling him, “Shit. I left the jump kit.”

We were interviewed by police on what happened, paramedics checked us out, and our supervisor came to pick us up. They weren’t sure if the ambulance would become evidence since it had seven new holes in it. Either way, the company didn’t want us working for the rest of the day. Our supervisor kept asking if we wanted to talk to someone, a counselor to assess us for PTSD. But I didn’t feel traumatized, I felt dumb.

Scene safety is the first thing they teach you as an EMT. As a first responder, you’re no good to anyone if you’re hurt or dead. You, in fact, become another patient and are then risking someone else who has to retrieve and treat you. I knew this. Coupled with the years of situation awareness lessons [link post] from a paranoid (or ironically erudite) father, I shouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place.

Unfortunately, our patient was dead by the time police secured the area. An officer told me they probably shot at us because our uniforms. No one contacted me as to whether the shooter or shooters were caught.

I didn’t stay with that transport company much longer. Not because of the incident; I wanted to work for a 911 company, not an EMT company transferring the elderly from place to place. One where I could do primarily emergency response. I wanted more experience.

And I checked the scene for safety on every call.

Feb 20

(Today's guest post is by Austin Bodetti, who attends the Hopkins school in New Haven and has an avid interest in military history. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

From the Vietnam War to the Wars on Drugs and Terror, the United States of America has never stopped searching for pitched battles (i.e. guaranteed victories), yet even the most decisive of these battles mean nothing in terms of counterinsurgency. After the Tết Offensive, the Việt Cộng (vc) ceased to be a problem for the United States Army, but the US Army ceased to have popular support. Today is no different: the Battle of Baghdad and Fall of Kabul yielded similar results to Tết in the long term. Among all the lessons that the Vietnam War, Iraq War, and War in Afghanistan offer, nowhere in American history is there an example of the opposite, a case where guerillas had the means to defeat the counterinsurgent in pitched battle. Exceptions in warfare fall, as always, to the French.

Before the us Army fought the VC, the French Far-East Expeditionary Corps (CEFEO), led by Henri Eugène Navarre 1953–4, fought the Việt Minh. Navarre lacked the tactical genius of opponent Võ Nguyên Giáp; unlike the previous commander in chief Raoul Albin Louis Salan, Navarre had little experience in leadership. He was an intelligence officer thrown the job of leading four hundred thousand Frenchmen, Indochinese, and North Africans, and he blamed his problems on communists in Paris, who blamed the First Indochina War on him. It was this unremarkable man whom the French Fourth Republic and its American ally expected to succeed where six of France’s best generals had failed. It was he who would fail most remarkably of all.

The French high command proposed to Navarre a project that Salan had begun. In 1953’s Operation Castor, Salan had captured a large piece of Việt-Minh territory, where he established a sixteen-square-mile stronghold in a ravine outside the city Điện Biên Phủ. This base had two airstrips, enough artillery to flatten Vietnam, and a 10,800-man garrison, largely legionnaires and paratroopers.Para commander Marcel ‘Bruno’ Bigeard declared, ‘Dien Bien Phu est imprenable!’ and each of Navarre’s American advisors agreed. When Giáp attacked Điện Biên Phủ—he would have to attack since it was the honorable, French thing to do—the cefeo would be so ready that all Giáp’s men might die on the spot. The Americans liked this idea.

Neither the Americans nor Navarre expected Giáp to be an admirer of Napoléon Bonaparte, who first earned fame dragging artillery a few miles across the Alps. Giáp dragged his artillery all the way from Beijing. He shelled the French March through May 1954, when they surrendered…legionnaires, paras, and all. Giáp’s artillery, what ensured his victory, did not cross the Sino–Vietnamese border on his back. Thousands of peasants, communist and nationalist alike, offered to carry ammunition and food hundreds of miles by truck, by bicycle, and most often by foot. Plus, Giáp had forty-eight thousand soldiers, all volunteers, to the cefeo’s 10,800 professionals.

The French had better soldiers. They had better weapons. They even had Bigeard, called the greatest para in history. Decades later, Giáp would write the book People’s War, People’s Army: The Viet Cong Insurrection Manual for Underdeveloped Countries, where he described how guerillas could defeat a Western country as long as they had popular support. This support the French lacked, and five thousand reinforcements airdropped by Central-Intelligence-Agency pilots were never going to get it. The situation became so dire that the CIA proposed Operation Vulture: the US Air Force would nuke Việt-Minh positions around Điện Biên Phủ with British and French support. The French agreed. The British, who have long understood the nuances of counterinsurgency, did not. They saw that the First Indochina War was no Malayan Emergency, which the British had quelled by promising the Malays independence. The French had refused independence to the Khmers, the Laos, and the Vietnamese for the Indochina War’s eight years, and turning Điện Biên Phủ into Hiroshima would change nothing.

Like Giáp, Navarre wrote a book about his experience, where he blamed the defeat not on his own errors and those of the French in general but on communists in Paris, who continued to haunt him till his death in 1983. Bigeard, on the other hand, applied the lessons from the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ in French Algeria, where he earned the love of civilians (Arab as well as French) and the respect of his enemy. Somehow, America has spent the last sixty years studying Điện Biên Phủ without learning to do the same.

Dec 05

(Today's guest post is by Matthew Timothy Bradley, a graduate student. Matthew does not claim to be an expert on the Sahel, military matters, or diplomacy, but he did once spend an afternoon in the custody of the Burkinabé military and he reads a lot. Follow Matthew on Twitter, Facebook or GooglePlus.

If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

Any native of the Sahel is by definition a tough creature, but the honey badger is the toughest of them all. In addition to raiding bee hives, the honey badger's hobbies include eating cobras and attacking Cape buffaloes. But as tough as he might be, the honey badger still can't manage to stop the jackal from feeding on his kills when the jackal puts his mind to it.

On November 16th in Ouagadougou the President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, hosted tripartite talks with leadership from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and Ansar Dine, the two insurgent groups responsible for the ejection of government military and security forces from northern Mali early this spring.

Ansar Dine is the jackal to the MNLA's honey badger. Iyad Ag Ghaly founded the Ansar Dine after being denied a seat at the MNLA leadership table, and this spring Ansar Dine waited for the MNLA to do the hard work of evicting the inhabitants of Malian army garrisons before following on their heels to raise their black flag and impose sharia.

But Ansar Dine has nothing on Compaore, former friend and confidant of the most inspiring world leader you have never heard of, Thomas Sankara. The reason you have never heard of him is because his life and legacy were curtailed by an assassination organized by Compaore. When I visited Burkina Faso in the summer of 2010, I was told by a number of Burkinabé that Sankara and Compaore had been family friends and that Compaore's education had been subsidized by the Sankaras. I have yet to find documentation confirming that this was in fact the case, but I believe it fair to say that the circulation of the tale speaks a great truth regarding Compaore's reputation and integrity (such as they are).

A military confrontation in northern Mali seems imminent regardless of the outcome of the talks in Ouagadougou. But a military solution to the problem seems far less likely. To be sure, the in-the-works ECOWAS force should be able to wrest control of the Niger River basin from the MNLA, Ansar Dine, and the MUJAO. Running the three to ground in the arid region north of there is another matter, though admittedly one of lesser importance in the big picture. Larger concerns to my mind include the very real possibility of retaliatory attacks by Ansar Dine and the MUJAO in Bamako and other ECOWAS-member capitals (à la al-Shabab's attacks in Nairobi in retaliation for Kenya's role in AMISOM) and the adoption of a Global War on Terror paradigm in the region in the wake of the return of government control in northern Mali.

The people of Burkina Faso have a tough row to hoe as is. Their country is the kind of place many Americans would never live, but as someone who has visited both Burkina Faso and Ohio I would much rather live in Ouagadougou than in Columbus, but I digress. Despite the fact that the majority of Burkinabé are better global citizens than squeaky-clean Middle Americans—their consumer choices amount to fonio vs. rice rather than new flat screen versus vacation abroad, so their carbon footprint is helping offset ours, and their political duties don't include paying the taxes which underwrite a nuclear arsenal which has helped keep the world under constant threat of annihilation for going on seven decades now—they have received very little in the way of acknowledgment from the U.S. or any other nation over the course of their country's half century existence, not to mention material support. So seeing War on Terror money being spent there in a manner which might end up turning Burkinabé into the targets of reprisal attacks by Islamists is a tough pill to swallow.

There is no good reason to believe that the security situation in northern Mali is going to improve in the absence of military leverage. But hard power doesn't have to mean dumb power. At this point it is still possible for the Malian government to accept that the MNLA may have legitimate political grievances and to cease rhetoric which paints the secular MNLA as a jihadi movement and for foreign governments to be at pains that foreign internal defense not turn into the creation of a future military dictatorship.

The jackals are waiting in the wings regardless.

Nov 27

(Today's guest post is by an anonymous soldier. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

In October the Defense Department’s number two official, Ashton Carter, visited some of the United States’ nearly 15,000 troops in Kuwait and thanked them for their service and sacrifice before--from what can be construed from news reports--totally failing in trying to describe why these soldiers were forced to sit in the Kuwait desert away from their families and undertaking no real mission or purpose. (For the full article.)

From the average citizen, the words “thank you for your service” are the best connection a civilian can often think of to bridge the gap between their own and the military world. But from Ashton Carter, it just doesn’t cut it. Carter totally failed in his explanation of why we are keeping thousands of troops in Kuwait.  And what Carter may not know is that the bulk of those troops are being drawn from Army National Guard units, taken away from civilian jobs and civilian lives to sit in the desert for a year.

The rationale behind this deployment in Kuwait lies in a DoD strategy to keep thousands of troops in certain ‘strategic lily pads’ throughout the Middle East for a presence in those countries even while the U.S. shifts focus to Asia. Kuwait was perhaps the most notable example, as after the withdrawal from Iraq, thousands of troops were stationed in Kuwait and this report sought to keep a baseline of 13,500 troops there. A large number of those are currently Army National Guard soldiers instead of active duty ones.

So what’s with the National Guard?

The military reserve (which includes the Army and Air National Guard, as well as the reserve component of each service) used to be what was termed a “strategic reserve,” meaning, effectively, that if World War III broke out, they would be called upon to augment the active duty forces. In Vietnam the National Guard existed, but was not deployed, because the Army was able to draft people directly to the regular Army and send them to the front lines. With an all-volunteer and extremely expensive military, the reserve became a cheap way to augment active duty troops and was called-up heavily during Desert Storm in 1991. And in the recent years it has been used extensively throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the last decade, the reserve has become an “operational reserve” meaning that they are continually called up to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. Considering the size, complexity and intensity of these wars, it is understandable that reservists have been mobilized. But Iraq is over, and there are only 60,000 service members left in Afghanistan. So why are so many reservists populating Kuwait? Why aren’t they being brought home so the deployments be done by active duty soldiers?

Well, the Defense Department sees the National Guard as a cheap way to maintain its strength. They only have to pay reserve soldiers active duty pay when they need to, and otherwise, can force them to fend for themselves in the civilian world, where their unemployment rate far exceeds that of the average citizen. They don’t have to provide nearly the training or equipping budget. Furthermore, with these basic missions the Army can ensure that the National Guard keeps its skill level moderately high and doesn’t return to its joke status of the 1980s when its only operational experience was that of returning Vietnam veterans from active duty.

The frank language of the 2013 DOD budget makes it clear, “Today’s Citizen Warriors have made a conscious decision to serve, with full knowledge that their decisions mean periodic recalls to active duty under arduous and hazardous conditions.” (2013 DOD budget summary)

Bottom line: They plan to keep deploying reservists as long as they want to. Their basic argument boils down to, “We will, because we can. You signed up for it, we will use you however we please.”

This, I would argue, is not a sustainable model and is one of the most callous pieces of bureaucratic crap I have ever read, even from the Defense Department. Nor is it a just use of our nation’s most precious resource. The Army is at least trying to think this one through, as reported in August in the Army Times. According to the article, the Army is “working hard to reach a balance in training that allows units to achieve their required readiness while remaining acceptable to families and employers.” Great idea, however, I do not believe the Army is capable of coming up with a solution that benefits anyone other than the Army.

Reservists signed up to serve, and are uniformly proud of their service in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, bogus, involuntary activations to serve on useless deployments will drive them away. At least, it will drive away the good ones worth having.

It also does not account for civilian employers. Let me be honest about what I have seen: the Pentagon is staffed by careerist officers, political appointees and civilians who think war is a chess game to be played from a desk. They think soldiers are an input, a commodity resource. They are disconnected from reality. In their mind, USERRA rights, which prevent discrimination in hiring, promotion and firing against reservists, actually prevent discrimination against reservists and allow them to create elaborate training schedules that encompass weekdays and extra training in the summertime.

Reality check: soldiers have to have real jobs (or should), and in a rough economy, these Pentagon policy makers are totally blind to the job discrimination that reservists face. If you run a company, and you know a reservist will be deployed every five years, and you look on his resume and he hasn’t been deployed in the last 3, would you hire him?  If you have five candidates for a job, and one is in the National Guard, this means you know he will, at a minimum, be gone for two weeks every year, and probably want to take a vacation at some point too. Would you hire him?

The military will keep deploying our military reservists as long as we let them. They will hold ceremonies and say, “Thank you for your service” and keep shipping soldiers over to sit in Kuwait or Africa and then cutting off their benefits as soon as they get back home so they can get their “cost effective returns on significant DOD investment.” (This gem of a phrase was also included in the 2013 budget referring to the reservists.)

But does that make it just?

Aug 08

(Today's guest post is by frequent commenter, Asher Kohn. Asher is a law student studying the intersection of Islamic Law and Natural Resource Law, along with lots of other things. He tweets at @ajkhn and recently started The Tuqay, a blog on West/Central/South Asian topics.  If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

Who wouldn’t want to conquer the world? Many people, including (but not limited to) Alexander the Great, James Cagney, and Kate Winslet have expressed their interest in becoming “King of the World.” The neat thing about video games is that you can fight and buy your way to domination in one (likely quite lonely) weekend, and do it without making enemies.

Total War lets me do just that. You take control of a historic great power and lead it to world domination. I got into it from Civilization, a game where you take a great power and…lead it to world domination.

There are differences between the two games. In Civilization the world map is randomized and you can win through science, culture, diplomacy, or war; Total War is more visceral. The map is historical and bloodshed is the whole point.  Although Civilization is by far the deeper game, I find myself preferring Total War sometimes precisely because it is limiting. If I have a constricted palette, I can get a bit more creative.

The problem is, I don’t like bloodshed. I rarely fight to the death in Civilization; it’s too expensive and too risky. The game does a good job demonstrating that warfare is fraught with the unexpected. Even though Total War has gorgeously-rendered battle scenes, I find myself working around them. My alternative? Siege warfare. It’s simple, I just build up an imposing army and then park it in front of an enemy city for a few turns. I lose nothing and they lose a city.

Total War does a terrible job demonstrating the terror of siege warfare.

I do not intend to use my time as a guest to talk about the digitization of war and our estrangement from it, as interesting as that is. Because I would rather talk about economic sanctions like the ones recently imposed on Iran. Yep, boring, boardroom-based, economic sanctions, like the ones enacted on Iraq in the past and on Iran in the present. Sanctions are the siege warfare of the 21st century and it simply doesn’t bother us because we can afford to park in front and wait for them to move inexorably forward.

The problem is, siege warfare is of a terror incomprehensible to those that have not experienced it. Siege warfare is a prime example of “War at its Worst.” Historical sources will tell you of claustrophobic tunnels under castle walls, chemical warfare, dagger fights as mines collapsed on each other, and the Sam Raimi doom of hearing a tunnel nearing your walls, about to turn your defensive redoubt into a chicken coop for the wolves outside.

And that’s just the warfare. Those same histories tell of starving children and skeletal women. They tell of blight and disease, of the very worst of human desperation. And when the walls finally do break, a flood of rapine and looting was near-guaranteed. We are fortunate that in our day and age, the mining and catapults are gone. The mental image of a CIA Predator Drone dropping a botulism-infested cow onto Tehran is humorous, not visionary. But even though the soldiers have been protected from this particular flavor of “War at its Worst,” non-combatants have not.

Many Americans around my age can vividly remember the opening scenes of Black Hawk Down that show the starving Somalis that Mohamed Farrah Aidid is holding hostage. It may be Ridley Scott less plucking heartstrings like a harp and more slapping at them like an electronic bass, but it is effective in stirring our sympathy for the Army Rangers to come in and save the day.

The situation in Iran, of course, is nowhere as terrible as Somalia in the 90’s. Iran is an enormous country and has plenty of agriculture, though starvation is not unheard of. But the siege mentality is there all the same. The film No One Knows About Persian Cats tells the story of young Iranian musicians trying to find their sound and escape the country. The scenes of youthful anger, mistrust, drug use and backstabbing are familiar to an American audience. The stakes, however, are incomprehensible: electricity cuts, smugglers, and secret conclaves make for tripwires in every scene. Persian Cats takes place in a country at war, there is no doubt about it.

Sanctions – that is, modern siege warfare – destroy lives. This is never argued, but the hope is that eventually, the lives that will be destroyed will be the ones in power, the ones making decisions that the sanctioner does not like. Starvation, impoverishment, martial law, and the wholesale destruction of public space are the tools. The questions asked by think-tank critics of economic sanctions is rarely phrased as “How many?” but “When?” The implication, not lost on the sanctionee, is that the economic sanctions are a form of asymmetric warfare perpetrated with the most plentiful implement available: money. This is perhaps not easily admitted by those demanding the starvation, impoverishment, martial law, and the wholesale destruction of public space. Sanctions are vicious, they are the slow strangulation of a country and a way of life, the better to make way for whatever’s next.

In Total War, the city under siege will always give a last-ditch attack in the turn before it is swallowed up. They usually won’t win, but they can usually put a dent in my better-trained and healthier force. Of course, in Total War I don’t have to deal with the media. I also don’t have to see what my simulated army did to that simulated city both during and after the siege. I can just point my horsemen towards the next task. I would say war is at its worst when it is purely mathematical and when it treats civilians the same way it treats the armed forces. I would have a tough time finding a worse method of war than siege warfare or its modern-day equivalents.

Aug 01

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime contributor Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Tuesdays.)

Just the other night, I sat in a casino bar far from the Las Vegas strip waiting for a friend. The friend was in town for a job interview and he chose this particular casino and this particular bar to meet. I managed to beat him there from class. As I sat there, beer foaming from the tap and five dollars draining away to video blackjack, a young man and his friends approached my position at the bar.

“Bud Light,” he called out to the bartender who wasn’t anywhere to be seen, and slapped a twenty down on the bar.

I looked over to my left and said, “How’s it going?”

With a few words, this young man’s world opened up to me. From a combination of alcohol and excitement, I suddenly became this guy’s best friend. He slapped a hand around my shoulder, which startled me before I realized his state. After collecting myself I asked him what he was doing in the great city of Las Vegas.

My new best friend Jason is a soldier. Our country’s finest. As my father always taught me, I immediately thanked him for his service. “You’re a good man,” I said. “I thank you for all you do.”

There was a pause.

“You military?” he asked.

“No,” I shrugged. “My father was. My brothers are. But not me.”

Without pause came the response I’ve heard more than once. “What the fuck’s wrong with you?” he asked. “Too good or too scared?”

He laughed. It was only a slight variation on a classic. He then turned to another man with him with tattoos up his right arm and said, “Look as this pussy. Daddy did all the fighting for him!”

They laughed some more. A few others joined in. I could feel my face flush. But humiliation wasn’t enough. He leaned in, an arm tight on my shoulder and said, “Do you have any idea how many buddies have taken IED’s so you can sit here and drink a beer?” More mocking ensued.

It was in this moment between a question and an answer that I became stuck. Admittedly, I probably stared directly ahead for a full minute before my response. As a man, I was just called a coward, all that I am insulted. Part of me wanted to compare scars and deeds.

“You think you know pain, bitch?” I wanted to say it. I wanted to measure experiences and compare who’s seen and done more. Which of us experienced more?  

Along that vein, part of me drifted to a hospital bed over a decade ago. My bed. If I’m being completely honest, it was part of me still trying to justify that I’ve suffer more than that jerk ever has. But the memory wasn’t about me, but of a child dying. Not from war wounds but of bone cancer. They couldn’t operate because it was everywhere. If you know nothing of bone cancer, understand that agony doesn’t do the experience justice. The God damned thing is so painful, these poor kids suffering from it are are in so much pain that morphine does nothing. It’s such agony that a child dying from it will scream, night and day. They scream till they’re hoarse. They screams till they pass out from exhaustion.

I can still hear him. A choking cough between waking and exhaustion, down the hall. Staring up at the ceiling. Thinking I could be him. Thanking a merciful God (and yes I see the irony in that statement) that I wasn’t.

Back in the casino bar, I took a twenty from my wallet. It’s all I had. I smiled at my new friend. “The next round’s on me.” I slid it over and got up. I hadn’t suffered. I’m not sure my new friend had either. But something other than that kid down the hall stuck in my head. For every day that he was there, so was his mother, watching. Listening. Helpless.

That’s pain.

May 31

(Today's guest post is by Joseph Suh. Joseph is currently a student at the University of Utah who writes for their The Daily Utah Chronicle. He is currently in the Army ROTC program, and plans to join the U.S. Army after graduation. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

Think that the West is the root cause for the most casualties with its most malevolent intentions? You aren’t alone. Scholarly studies and pundits have been tirelessly repeating the claim that the United States’ foreign policy is the underlying cause for the violence in the places it intervenes in.

The general sentiment from such arguments is that America’s violent invasion of countries is the indisputable motivation for the sanguine killing and the catastrophic violence in the aforementioned regions. Despite the convenience of such simplistic views, they don’t correlate with the facts. Let’s take, for instance, the facts about the United States' wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here are thereligionofpeace.com’s statistic on killings in 2006 Iraq:

  • Iraqi civilians killed (mostly intentionally) in 2006 by the Iraqi resistance: 16,791.

  • Iraqi civilians killed (mostly accidentally) in 2006 by Americans: 225.

All of these deaths, undoubtedly, are extremely tragic and disheartening. However, a comparison of body counts is the only way to dispel the myths surrounding such a heated issue.

The common, “blame America” explanation fails to expound why the number of Muslim civilians murdered by other Muslims is so magnanimously disproportionate. Perhaps, in spite of their supposed mission statements calling for war against the West, the fact that the vast majority of targets chosen by insurgents suggest their war is against other Muslims.

In Afghanistan, this paradigm is also sadly ever-present.

According to the United Nations in a 2010 report, 75 percent of the deaths in Afghanistan are caused by the Taliban while 16 percent are caused by NATO and Afghan forces. Again, although Western forces may be contributing to the aggregate total of Islamic extremists to fight in Afghanistan, and ergo inciting more frequent skirmishes, it’s ultimately irrelevant. Simply because Western troops are present doesn’t necessitate the clash between the different sects of Islam.

Yet another example of this turbulence in Afghanistan is the repugnant and under-reported Taliban massacre of the Shi’a Hazara population in Afghanistan. This massacre took place in May 2000 and January 2001, significantly before any type of direct American intervention. This should further illuminate the core problem not as Western invasion.

In response, the counter-argument could be made that this pattern is only applicable to a particular region at particular times.

Not so. According to a 2009 study by West Point, “non‐Westerners are much more likely to be killed in an al‐Qa’ida attack. From 2004 to 2008, only 15% percent of the 3,010 victims were Western. During the most recent period studied the numbers skew even further. From 2006 to 2008, only 2% (12 of 661 victims) are from the West, and the remaining 98% are inhabitants of countries with Muslim majorities”.

These are global, international numbers — so if these Islamic extremists were created due to Western occupation of Muslim lands, then why is it that their victims are almost unanimously adherents of the same religion?

Even though some contend, to this day, that western foreign policy is the foremost and root generator of Islamic extremist violence, their positions are undermined by the sheer facts that illuminate most of the bloodshed to be Muslim-on-Muslim, a truism which doesn’t sit well with this strain of contention.

After all, if it was due to Western intervention that’s responsible for the killing in the Near East, why is it that in Iraq after the US left, fellow Muslims are murdering each other? Why is it that before the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan, the Taliban were killing the innocent Hazara people? Ultimately, it may not be because of the difference of sectarian beliefs of the same religion. It may simply be power politics played by a stronger sect in order to ensure its position.

One thing is unequivocal and irrefutable, though: the core cause isn’t Western foreign policy.

May 15

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Tuesdays.)

I never served in the military.

While this is true for the vast majority of our country, I realize that the rest of the country isn’t a part of my family. We’re a military family. Dad served in the Special Forces (and yes, he did teach me to capitalize that) in Vietnam. Mom treated wounded soldiers as a nurse in Vietnam, at one point one of the highest ranking women in the US Army, one day away from a star. One brother deployed three times to active conflicts and one flies missions over them. There are multiple Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts present at our family gatherings. I, on the other hand, lounge in comfort and relative safety.

In my family, I am a coward.

It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the military. To be honest, I was groomed for it. I held my first gun when I was seven. I was taught knife techniques when I was a freshman in high school. Dad always promoted situational awareness wherever we went. For father/son time, we took martial arts lessons. I took to all of it like a fish in water. To me, it seemed like the things a father should teach a son. With my parent’s status and connections matched by my grades, I was a shoo in for West Point.

But I never went. I knew the option was there, but I never even applied. Something bothered me. And it took me awhile to figure out what.

Clearly it wasn’t the culture. I was familiar with it, experienced it. Though military life can be hard on a family, my own immediate goals did not include a family, but education. Further, the extreme personalities that can be found in military culture I found to be a stereotype of poorly made war films. While I had experienced the gun-ho, ultra patriotic, abrasive, uber-Christian, meat-head grunt type; I found this to be in equal proportion in the military as it was on the college campuses. In reality, the men and women I’ve encountered that serve are no different from the rest of the population with the notable exception of wanting to serve their country.

What truly gave me pause was the question on whether I could take a life. The common question: could I or couldn’t I? Perhaps better phrased: should I or shouldn’t I? Raised a good Christian--hell, even President of my youth group, I believed that killing, no matter the circumstance is a bad thing. The bible says so. There are explicit passages on this and forgiving enemy. Yet, my brothers and my father taught me that you protect those who cannot protect themselves. That honor is in action and that the greatest act one can do for another, is lay down his life. A sentiment also explicit in the Bible (reference John 15).

As much as I battled back and forth on the morality of action I may never have to take, the unsettling truth became apparent. I was comfortable with the moral implications, a moral grey for me that while never good, the taking of life could be justified in extremis. Thus, my dilemma wasn’t that I could never take a life. The problem was, I’m almost sure I could and would. And I would probably sleep soundly the following night. Everything I believe highlights the sanctity of life. As Eric has said, it should break your heart to kill and I was afraid it wouldn’t. That’s why I’m a coward, because I refused to put myself in a position to find out.