09 March 2009

Fear and Loathing in Afghanistan

[See my 30 May 2008 article on Dr. Marilyn Dudley-Flores, written as she started training for the U.S. Army's Human Terrain System program. I had imagined that my article would be the beginning of a series of stories about her experiences during a 13-month tour "downrange," the modern military euphemism for the war zones. For thousands of years young men have marched off to war full of patriotism and a sense of adventure. Marilyn, a middle-age woman, similarly stirred by the call to duty, found that the most immediate enemy was in her own foxhole... and in the Five-Sided Foxhole on the Potomac.  --TG]

copyright © 2009 by Thomas Gangale

For months now, the American public has heard the drumbeat of war: we need to ramp up our military presence in Afghanistan before the Taliban takes over the entire country... again. We've been riding around the countryside for seven years, it's been a long ride, and the kids are asking, "Have we lost yet? Have we lost yet? Have we lost yet?"

We have only one Army division at a time in Afghanistan, rotating in and out of country like attention-deficient tourists, waving from their humvees. Lately it's been the 101st Airborne Division, and they seem to think that they have the situation well in hand. The countryside was quiet enough that they had to create an insurgency right inside their Joint Operations Compound--their "jock"--just to keep life interesting. Must keep the occupiers occupied. So the division's senior staff decided to indulge in an orgy of cigars, sex discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and death threats, featuring a 500-pound stripper and presided over by a Serbian Orthodox priest.

The Reverend Doctor came to Bagram last summer as the team leader and senior social scientist of something called the Human Terrain System (HTS) program. They call it that because their primary function is to walk all over people working in it and grind them into the terrain. One of the Reverend Doctor’s first accomplishments upon arrival was to plagiarize the work of a lower level HTS unit and present it to the Hundred and Worst as his own. Of course, all of the other lower level HTS teams stopped sending reports.

Did this mean that the Reverend Doctor now had to do some work of his own? Not at all. Instead, he kept the senior staff of the Hundred and Worst plied with fancy cigars. In accordance with General Order One, there are no officers' clubs, no alcohol, on US military bases in Islamic countries. Thus tobacco has become the only legal drug of choice, and on Bagram the Reverend Doctor was enterprising enough to become, in accordance with General Order One, Drug Pusher One. The colonels didn't care that he wasn't producing any actionable information for them as long as he gave them their stogy fixes. Hey, it won’t hurt you, and the first one is free.

You know the sorts of things that can be done with cigars... just ask Monica Lewinsky. So here were these 20 or 30 lonely colonels, far away from home, each chomping down on the Reverend Doctor’s cigar....

...which probably gets boring after a while. It wasn’t long before this Fun Bunch of Brass Hats was jonesing for a new thrill. So the Human Terrain Team imported a 500-pound stripper. That really got the party rolling. Rolling, rolling, rolling....

Sources say that the Hundred and Worst actually requisitioned a 125-pound stripper, but somehow the requisition ended up as a line item in the stimulus bill, got loaded up with pork, and the result added to the bloated federal budget. Those profligate Democrats! Not to be outdone, however, Senate Republicans attached a rider to the bill, thus the 500-pound stripper was delivered to Bagram Air Base complete with a partially nude man riding on her back. When he dismounted, the colonels climbed on, usually one at a time, but sometimes not, as might be the momentary whim. Stimulus package, indeed.

But even a 500-pound stripper can only entertain the troops for so long before she wears out. Fortunately, to keep the party lively, there were a number of female members of the HTS at hand, middle-aged and not exactly Barbie dolls, to provide fresh diversions for the Senior Officer Corps. Reverend Doctor and the Colonels hung cowbells around their necks and mooed at them, with the social scientist on the team honored with the role of the alpha cow… summa cum loudly.

A Puerto Rican National Guard first lieutenant, usually indistinguishable from a feral teenager, got into an uncharacteristically intellectual frame of mind and launched himself on a quest to pen deathless prose, beginning his literary career on a dry erase board: "Mata la vaca." "Kill the cow."

At that point, a member of Congress got wind of this indecorous military ball and stopped the music. She pulled the chief cow out of Afghanistan and back to the safety of Stateside. That didn't save La Vaca's job, however. The Hundred and Worst has yet to respond to the congressional inquiry, yet the Human Terrain System program office terminated her contract for "inadequate performance." Maybe she should have jangled her cowbell louder?

So that's how the American Empire does it these days in Afghanistan, historically the graveyard of empires. If God is indeed on the side of the just, just whose side might that be? The symbol of Islam is the crescent moon, but the crescent is the sunlit side of the moon. We have met the Dark Side... and it is U.S.

How Professors Fight
Death Threat Tarnishes US Army Human Terrain System
Exposing the Information Operatives, Part One