‘Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging’: Junger’s must-read explains why America is tearing itself apart

tribe-cover

Roughly 17 years ago I exited the military after a stint as a mechanized infantryman in the U.S. Army. Even though the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and the nation’s “long war” had not yet begun, I found myself having a difficult time with the transition to civilian life. Understanding why I missed my old platoon — and why I felt a growing fear and sadness for the country I loved — took years (and a blog like this) to figure out, but author and former war reporter Sebastian Junger articulates it all in his must-read book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

Americans who have not lived under a rock for the past 20 years have witnessed the slow-motion implosion of our culture.

  • Cable news pundits obsessively talk of “red states” and “blue states.”
  • The politics of personal destruction reigns supreme.
  • Saying “all lives matter” is interpreted in a Twilight Zone-ish twist by millions of people as somehow racist.
  • Americans watch carefully constructed social-media feeds that tell them all Republicans are the equivalent of Darth Vader, or that all Democrats have shrines to Fidel Castro in their bedroom.

In short, the modern world is deficient in something that is causing tens-of-millions of people to feel isolated, alone, and empty. The void is filled with confusion, and that in turn fuels the kind of anger and hate that was the hallmark of the 2016 election cycle.

Why is it that many soldiers and civilians who have lived through war sometimes get nostalgic for it?

What are the consequences for society when a person “living in a modern city or suburb can, for the first time in history, go through an entire day — or an entire life — mostly encountering complete strangers”?

Why are we often surrounded by others, yet “feel deeply, dangerously alone”?

One of the answers can be found in tribal societies. And no, your friendly neighborhood blogger is not saying Native Americans should have won the clash of civilizations at our nation’s inception. I am merely saying, like Mr. Junger, that we can learn from their ability to provide “the three pillars of self-determination — autonomy, competence, and community.”

Mr. Junger writes:

“After World War II, many Londoners claimed to miss the exciting and perilous days of the Blitz. (“I wouldn’t mind having an evening like it, say, once a week — ordinarily there’s no excitement,” one man commented to Mass-Observation about the air raids), and the war that is missed doesn’t even have to be a shooting war: “I am a survivor of the AIDS epidemic,” an American man wrote in 2014 on the comment board of an online lecture about war. “Now that AIDS is no longer a death sentence, I must admit that I miss those days of extreme brotherhood…which led to deep emotions and understandings that are above anything I have felt since the plague years.”

What people miss presumably isn’t danger or loss but the unity that these things often engender. There are obvious stresses on a person in a group, but there may be even greater stresses on a person in isolation, so during disasters there is a net gain in well-being. Most primates, including humans, are intensely social, and there are very few instances of lone primates surviving in the wild. …

Whatever the technological advances of modern society — and they’re near miraculous — the individualized lifestyles that those technologies spawn seem to be deeply brutalizing to the human spirit.” — (Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (New York: Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2016), 92-93.

Tribe covers issues like PTSD, depression, and anxiety among combat veterans, but it would be a big mistake to solely think of it as a book for the military community. It is much more than that, because it is a blueprint for getting the nation on a path to cultural healing.

The author continues:

“The eternal argument over so-called entitlement programs — and, more broadly, over liberal and conservative thought — will never be resolved because each side represents an ancient and absolutely essential component of our evolutionary past.

So how do you unify a secure, wealthy country that has sunk into a zero-sum political game with itself? How do you make veterans feel that they are returning to a cohesive society that was worth fighting for in the first place? […] I put the question to Rachel Yehuda of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. …

“if you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the places where you’re different — you underscore your shared humanity,” she told me. “I’m appalled by how much people focus on differences. Why are you focusing on how different you are from one another, and not on the things that unite us?” […]

Reviling people you share a combat outpost with is an incredibly stupid thing to do, and public figures who imagine their nation isn’t, potentially, one huge combat outpost are deluding themselves. (127-128).

Tribe is by no means “the” answer to the nation’s deep-seated cultural problems, but it is a significant piece of the puzzle. To get a good look at the big picture, I suggest pairing Mr. Junger’s quick-read with George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic. Each book provides a template for transcending dead-end partisan bickering, and in turn getting America efficiently focused on  becoming a more-perfect union.

Red Platoon: Clinton Romesha’s combat memoir will floor you. Buy it — now

red-platoon-cover

One of the rarest things on earth is the perfect blending between a warrior and a scholar. To meet such a man or to read his wisdom on the written page is truly a blessing, which is why I search … and search … and search for those moments. It is safe to say that Clinton Romesha, Medal of Honor recipient and author of Red Platoon, unequivocally belongs in that elite group. His memoir is exquisitely written, which feels somewhat odd to say given the subject matter.

For those who are unfamiliar with Mr. Romesha’s story — or, rather, the story of the men deployed to Combat Outpost (COP) Keating in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2009 — it is the stuff of legend. The former Staff Sergeant and his comrades were told to man an outpost that was in every way imaginable a death trap, and then when all their worst fears came true the majority of them found a way to survive.

Here is an excerpt that in many ways sums up what the book is about:

In 1958, a soldier named J. Glenn Gray wrote a book about soldiers in combat called The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle. Gray, who was drafted into the army as a private in May 1941, was discharged as a second lieutenant in October 1945 after having seen fighting in North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany. His book, which is both obscure and revered, touches on something that would later strike me as relevant to what was now unfolding at Keating as our counterassault came in danger of unraveling.

Gray wrote with elegance and precision about how the essence of combat basically boils down to an exchange of trust between two men — or two groups of men — each of whom are providing support by fire for the other. This simple agreement — you move while I shoot at the guys who are trying to kill you, then I will move while you shoot at the guys who are trying to kill me — depends on a willingness to place one’s life into the hands of someone else while in turn taking responsibility for that person’s life in your own hands. When this pact is executed well, it is not only extraordinarily effective but also tends to create a bond between men who enter into it that may stand as the most powerful connection they will ever experience to another human being.

There is, however, one thing that Gray doesn’t explore in his book, which is what can happen when one of the two parties who are supposed to be working in tandem fails — for whatever reason, legitimate or not — to keep his end of the deal. That was what appeared to be taking place right then with Hill’s machine-gun team.” — Clinton Romesha, Red Platoon (New York, Penguin Random House LLC, 2016), 243-244.

I cannot say enough good things about this book. It seems awkward to call a wartime memoir “flawless” (How does one give glowing reviews to true story where men died gruesome deaths without seeming inconsiderate or detached?), but that seems to be the best adjective to use.

Red Platoon is powerful, organized, thrilling, poignant, inspirational and educational all at the same time. It is intelligent, but relatable to a wide audience. It is honest, but respectful to all Americans involved — regardless of how they handled themselves on the battlefield.

In short, buy the book. It is awesome, and probably something I will come back to for many years to come.

RELATED: ‘Black Hawk Down’: Read the book because the movie can never do the men who died justice

‘The White Donkey’: Iraq War veteran’s graphic novel a powerful read

White Donkey

For  years this blog has tried to make the case that a comic book can be much more than “just” a comic book. For years this blog has tried to make the case that the industry would benefit if it employed, say, men like Terminal Lance creator Maximilian Uriarte. His New York Times bestseller, “The White Donkey,” should officially put that debate to rest.

“The White Donkey” is the story about Abe, a young man who left his small Oregon town in search of … something. He wasn’t quiet sure what he was looking for, but he thought he might find it in the United States Marine Corps as an infantryman. Abe, his best buddy Jesus Garcia, and the rest of their battalion are eventually deployed to Iraq. There is not much more I can say without spoiling the book other than to note its honesty rivals National Book Award Winner Redeployment,” by Phil Klay.

White Donkey Garcia

Every so often a critic comes to this blog and says something along the lines of, “You write about popular culture because you wanted to make it in Hollywood and never did.”

Yes, I did go to USC upon exiting the Army as a mechanized infantryman, but nothing could be further from the truth regarding professional regrets. In fact, a better personal attack would be that I exited the military prior to 9/11, didn’t have the courage to re-enlist after the Twin Towers fell, and that it still haunts me to this day.

There actually is some truth to that — I carried a ton of guilt with me for years after 9/11, which was exacerbated after a friend of mine, Hector Leija, had his head blown off in Iraq by a sniper. I disclose these details because readers need to know that everything that happens to “Abe” prior to his deployment is eerily close to what I experienced as a peace time soldier (i.e., it’s authentic). The characters, situations, and confrontations Abe navigates in many ways mirror my own.

I see myself in Abe (except the atheist part), and cannot help but wonder what I would be like had I stayed in military.

White Donkey leave

If you’re looking for a book with intelligence and emotional weight, then check out “The White Donkey.” If you’re looking for a book that can help civilians better understand returning war veterans, PTSD, and the other burdens they might be carrying, then Uriarte’s work is a must-read. One can only hope that he continues telling tales for many years to come.

Christopher Marquez, war hero, attacked in D.C. — Obama silent

Chris-Marquez

George Orwell’s Animal Farm is famous for the quote “Some animals are more equal than others.” Someone should write an update called American Farm that includes the line “Some hate crimes are more equal than others” after the Washington, D.C., attack of war hero Christopher Marquez.

Most media outlets have not covered the Feb. 12 attack of Marquez, who served eight years on active duty between 2003 and 2011. In short, the Bronze Star recipient sat down to eat in a McDonald’s in the nation’s capital and was accosted by a group of teens demanding to know if he thought “black lives matter.”

Like most sane people, he tried to ignore them and just eat his burger. He was promptly ambushed and robbed upon exiting the restaurant.

“I believe this was a hate crime and I was targeted because of my skin color,” Marquez told the Daily Caller Feb. 15. “Too many of these types of attacks have been happening against white people by members of the black community and the majority of the mainstream media refuses to report on it.”

Marquez-Marine-attack-suspects
Suspects arrested in connection with Christopher Marquez’s assault and robbery will not be charged with a hate crime, despite harassing him with racial questions prior to their attack. (Photo: D.C. Metropolitan Police Department)

There are two very interesting facts about Marquez’s case:

  1. Cops finally arrested and charge two individuals in connection with the incident, but they will not be charged with a hate crime — even though they were explicitly harassing him about race and calling him “racist” before the attack.
  2. President Obama, who always seems eager to weigh in on race-related crimes, somehow can’t find his voice when it comes to Black Lives Matter supporters who beat a Marine veteran unconscious and stole $400, a VA medical card, and three credit cards from his back pocket just miles from the White House. What did his assailants spend the stolen cash on, you ask? Answer: liquor, a Five Guys burgers, and products from Walmart.

Regular readers of this blog may remember the case of Allen Haywood, who was attacked by a similar group of kids on the DC Metro Green Line in 2011. They may also remember my own tale on the Green Line from September 17, 2011.

I wrote then:

As I came home late from work on the D.C. Metro Green line, an inebriated older man approached me. I stood towards the back of the Metro minding my own business. The stranger crept up beside me, but just enough to my rear to obscure his actions. There was almost no one else on the train. I angled slightly towards him and he whispered in my ear,  “Why don’t you sit down? Don’t you like black people?” I ignored him. He raised his voice: “Why don’t you sit down? Don’t you like black people?” Again, I ignored him. Since the third time around is a charm I finally answered, “I’ve been sitting all day.”

He didn’t believe me.

The man continued to ask me the question, and when I ignored him some more (all the while paying close attention to his position and body language) he turned his question into a statement. Then, he squared up, stated that I didn’t like black people and pushed his palm into my shoulder, which I immediately swiped down with a force that surprised him. He approached again, reaching out his hand to push my shoulder and I swiped it hard enough to make him stutter-step backwards.

On his third attempt to escalate the situation he came at me from the side and bumped me. I responded by shoving him to the other side of the Metro car with enough force so that, should I have chosen to pounce, the backward momentum with which he was stumbling would have put him at a distinct disadvantage.

At this time the Metro stopped, the man gave me a few hard glares and left the train car.

This is an ongoing problem in Washington, D.C., whether the mainstream media wants to admit it or not.

I used to take the Green Line home from work on a regular basis, and groups of kids would act like psychopaths — almost daring someone to speak up. They would also look for women who possessed zero situational awareness and then steal their cell phones right before the Metro doors closed at any given stop.

In my case I was just singled out by a drunk man who, like the teenagers, has convinced himself that any white person who doesn’t greet him with giant smiles after a long day of work is somehow racist and worthy of a physical confrontation.

Incidents like this regularly get swept under the rug, yet the media cannot get enough of the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida; the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; or the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland.

Meanwhile, a Marine veteran who literally helped inspire the iconic war memorial “No Man Left Behind” at Camp Pendleton, California, is ambushed — on American soil — and there is deafening silence.

No-Man-Left-Behind

For those who do not remember, Marquez was in Fallujah’s “Hell House” in 2004 when he helped aide Marine Sgt. Maj. Brad Kasal with lance corporal Dane Shaffer. The image of the three men, which went viral, was sculpted into the memorial by Vietnam veteran John Phelps in November 2015.

No-Man-Left-Behind-Memorial

The moral of the story here is that no group naturally has a monopoly on hate, but for whatever reason American media outlets are obsessed with filling certain subsets of the population with it.

Christopher Marquez, who now attends American University, will be fine in the long-run. Your friendly neighborhood blogger, who also attended American University, has fared rather well since 2011.

My guess is that the drunken man on the Green Line and the McDonald’s attackers — all filled with racial animosity towards guys like us — will have a slew of needlessly rough days ahead. Perhaps they should have enlisted in the Army like me or the Marines like Mr. Marquez.

At a minimum, minorities in Washington, D.C., would be wise to stop listening to race activists, whose careers are dependent upon keeping as many people as possible in a perpetual state of anger and confusion.

The VA is failing Joe Geoghagan — and so are we. No veteran should ever feel trapped in a ‘pit’

Joe Geoghagan

Navy Veteran Joe Geoghagan needed help, and the Alabama VA failed him. For reasons I won’t detail here, I will now admit that I failed him as well — and I feel horrible. Hopefully, by telling his story it will slightly ease the pain of a man who has already suffered far too much, and perhaps shed some light on just how woefully deficient we as a nation are in taking care of the men and women who risk it all so that we might live in a safer world.

Joe enlisted in the Navy in 2003 and was honorably discharged almost five years later. During that time he deployed two times to Afghanistan and once to Iraq. When he returned home he started suffering symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression, which was followed years later by perpetual nausea.

The Alabama VA couldn’t figure out what was going on with Joe, so it came up with a solution: Cut hole in his stomach, stick a tube in him, give him some Boost shakes five times a day and hope for the best. Then, not long afterward, he got a letter in the mail saying his mysterious stomach illness was not the result of his military service and that he would be having a portion of his benefits cut.

Why does it not surprise me that the same U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that denied 80 percent of disability claims filed by Gulf War veterans (citing “inadequate and insufficient evidence” to indicate that the cancers, chronic fatigue and migraines they suffer from are service-related) would pull that same sort of stunt with Mr. Geoghagan?

Luckily, local media outlets and Sen. Jeff Sessions put pressure on the Birmingham VA Medical Center and Joe was admitted back into the hospital for further testing on Monday, July 14. Joe had to endure seven long months of constant vomiting, a drop in weight from 267 pounds to 130 pounds, and unspeakable mental and physical distress — but at least he’s one step closer to finding out what’s wrong with him. The funny thing is, after Sen. Sessions’ office began looking into the matter, the VA temporarily granted Joe total disability. He will now receive $2,859 a month to cover his medical needs instead of $577. Amazing how that works, doesn’t it?

If you’re looking for the VA’s side of the story, here’s what Birmingham VA Chief of Staff Dr. Bill Harper told a local station: “We have a cadre of people that are very happy, and we have a cadre of people who aren’t so happy.” He added that because the Medicare website on hospital comparison put The Birmingham VA “equal to and/or above average in three areas — treatment of heart attacks, pneumonia and surgical care,” it’s a clear indicator that the quality of care veterans are receiving is sufficient. “I would put [Alabama’s VA care] up against anyone else in the country and the proof is in the pudding,” he added. Perhaps Dr. Harper should have said “the proof is in the Boost shake.” Or maybe not, since that would remind people of how Joe has been treated.

Question: Is the Alabama VA a model of for veterans health care everywhere, or are they just like the VA personnel operating out of Philadelphia — cooking the books, retaliating against whistleblowers and attempting to bug congressional investigators?

ABC reported Tuesday:

The committee investigators were directed to a workspace at the regional office which was outfitted with cameras and microphones. Upon discovering they were being monitored, the aides requested to be moved.

“Am I surprised? No, I’m shocked,” [House Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.)] said. “The VA may ignore everybody, but I stress you will not ignore this committee anymore.”

The Under Secretary for Benefits apologized to the committee, clearly embarrassed.

Despicable. How many “Joes” in Pennsylvania are there that we never hear about?

Here is what Joe told the Daily Mountain Eagle July 4:

Feeling despondent and being heavily medicated for depression, he attempted suicide last year.

“Though I’m not suicidal now, I can safely tell you that the disparity and hopelessness I feel on the inside has not changed,” Geoghagan said.

Although he is still determined to fight, he has made peace with the fact that he may not win this battle.

“I feel like I’m in a pit, looking up at this little speck of light where I fell in,” Geoghagan explained. “It’s so defeating to look at because you know you cannot reach it, no matter what you do. That light is my health and future.”

No veteran should ever have to feel like he is hopelessly stranded in a a pit. No veteran should ever be placed in a situation where suicide seems like the only option capable of easing his pain. It is culturally criminal for the individuals who send men and women off to war to allow a system to exist that would foster this level of despair upon their return home.

Right now I feel as though I could have made that speck of light just a bit bigger for Joe, but like I said — I failed him. Hopefully this blog post will telegraph just how much complete strangers care for his physical and mental well being. Hopefully, it will lift his spirits to know that others will read this and possibly share it with their friends, family and loved ones.

If you’re able to help Joe out, there is a Go Fund Me account seeking to raise $10,000 for his medical expenses. And if you meet a veteran, make it a point to be a speck of light in their life because you may just be the only one they see.

 

Nancy Pelosi: Bush is to blame for Obama’s VA problems — and perhaps 1932 Bonus Army scandal

Pelosi blame someone else

Okay, you got me. Nancy Pelosi did not indicate that George W. Bush was possibly to blame for the Bonus Army march on Washington, D.C. in 1932, but one gets the feeling after hearing her blame ‘W’ for Obama’s VA problems — problems he knew about years ago and vowed to fix — that on the right day she might do so.

The Washington Examiner reported Friday:

 House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., repeatedly put the blame for the Veterans Affairs scandal on former President George W. Bush, while arguing that her party has worked hard for veterans in recent years.

Pelosi took a shot at Bush while saying that the scandal is a high priority for Obama. “He sees the ramifications of some seeds that were sown a long time ago, when you have two wars over a long period of time and many, many more, millions more veterans,” she told reporters during her Thursday press briefing. “And so, I know that he is upset about it.” …

“Maybe when we go into war, we should be thinking about its consequences and its ramifications,” Pelosi said while discussing the scandal. “You would think that would be a given, but maybe it wasn’t. And so, we go in a war in Afghanistan, leave Afghanistan for Iraq with unfinished business in Afghanistan. Ten years later, we have all of these additional veterans. In the past five years, two million more veterans needing benefits from the VA. That’s a huge, huge increase.”

Where do I start? Where would the military be if its members played the blame game like members of Congress? What sort of national security would we have if the entire chain of command spent its limited time and resources coming up with creative way to blame the guy before him? If you ever wanted to know why so many military men downright loathe politicians, Nancy Pelosi’s “blame Bush” speech regarding the VA hospital scandal is a great example. What’s worse is that Bush went to Congress to get approval for both wars. Even a liberal guy like Dennis Kucinich understands the importance behind that historical fact (as inconvenient as it might be for Nancy Pelosi). But I digress.

Perhaps the best way for me to respond is by giving voice to some military guys on one of my favorite sites: Doctrine Man. I love its humor and the moderator’s eye for news, but the comments sections on many stories are often hilarious.

Here are a few responses to Nancy Pelosi’s redirect:

 

Doctrine Man VA

I have to give a hat tip to Matt Martin for the “still Bush’s fault” for the VA problems from the 1970s comment. It made me laugh and inspired the “Bonus Army” headline.

The VA is not perfect and never will be, but when a man like Obama holds himself up as the keeper of the “Sacred Trust,” then it is beyond pathetic for he and his acolytes to shift blame onto a man over five years removed from office.

Major Garret reported for National Journal May 20:

Running for president in May of 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama delivered a stem-winder on mismanagement of veterans care under President George W. Bush, recalling the story of an 89-year-old South Carolina veteran who committed suicide after being repeatedly denied access to health care.

“How can we let this happen?” Obama thundered in front of a podium in Charleston, W.Va., that read, “A Sacred Trust; Support our Veterans.” “How is that acceptable in the United States of America? The answer is, it’s not. It’s an outrage. And it’s a betrayal, a betrayal of the ideals that we ask our troops to risk their lives for.”

Well. Well.

A veteran committed suicide because he couldn’t obtain VA care. In South Carolina. The Democratic front-runner for the White House called it an outrage. And yet, when at least six veterans died due to delayed access to colonoscopies in Columbia, S.C., neither Obama nor his Veterans Affairs Department said a word. The deaths were first reported in April. At a subsequent field hearing in Columbia, one veteran testified he contracted cancer because VA doctors ignored pleas for a colonoscopy and misdiagnosed severe rectal bleeding and pain as hemorrhoids. The response from Veterans Affairs officials and, by extension, Obama? We’ll get back to you. …

“The president has been nowhere to be found,” [The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jeff Miller (R-Fla.)] said. “The White House truly thought this would go away over time. But the pressure is mounting. Whistle-blowers are coming forward. They see strength in numbers.”

And with that, I would merely request that you watch Jon Stewart’s intellectual atom bomb explode on the VA scandal if you haven’t already. It’s a must-see.

I look forward to Nancy Pelosi’s future press conference, where she blames George W. Bush for the low moral of General George Washington’s troops in the winter of 1777.

 

 

Captain America exists — and his real name is William Kyle Carpenter

Marine.Medal.of.Honor

Remember the scene in the first Captain America — the one where Cap throws himself on what he thinks is a real grenade to protect his fellow soldiers?

It's incredibly honorable to sacrifce oneself for the protection of others. There are few better ways to die. The fact that Marvel's Captain America depicts such a scene is a good sign for American moviegoers.

Yeah. Well, that guy really exists.

Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter, who was severely wounded during a 2010 grenade attack, is set to become the third Medal of Honor recipient from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

The medically retired Marine Corps veteran will be commended for shielding Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio from a live grenade in Afghanistan on Nov. 21, 2010, the Army Times reported.

“We knew the area we were moving into was one of the rougher areas. … The grenade hit … and our Marines do what they do best — they took care of us and they kept us alive,” he told the Army Times.

Cpl. Carpenter, 24, suffered the loss of his right eye, a blown-out eardrum, a “pretty much blown off” lower jaw and various other broken bones. Damage to the soldier’s frontal lobe also left him unable to speak until just recently. …

“I’m still here and kicking and I have all my limbs, so you’ll never hear me complain,” he said.

If you get a chance, read up on his full story. It’s amazing.

“I just wanted to give a little shout out to all the people that not necessarily doubted, but who didn’t think 15 months ago that I’d be running 10K marathons and doing more pull-ups than I at one point thought I could do. I guess this is a message and a constant reminder for me and everybody out there that thinks they have obstacles to accomplish and overcome.”

The guy was in many respects blown to bits, he couldn’t talk for an extended amount of time because of injuries sustained to his brain, and yet he finds the drive and determination to get back into the kind of shape it takes to run marathons and knock out pull-ups.

Imagine what the world would look like if everyone had William Kyle Carpenter’s attitude. I feel confident saying that it would be a much better place.

Fallujah falls to al Qaeda: Did American soldiers die in vain?

Fallujah. To anyone who closely followed the Iraq War, the name speaks volumes. No matter where you stand on U.S. foreign policy in a post 9/11 world, Fallujah holds all the stories you will ever need to make your case and defend the position. Now that the city has fallen into the hands of al Qaeda, the story becomes much sadder than it ever needed to be.

The Washington Post reports:

BEIRUT — A rejuvenated al-Qaeda-affiliated force asserted control over the western Iraqi city of Fallujah on Friday, raising its flag over government buildings and declaring an Islamic state in one of the most crucial areas that U.S. troops fought to pacify before withdrawing from Iraq two years ago.

The capture of Fallujah came amid an explosion of violence across the western desert province of Anbar in which local tribes, Iraqi security forces and al-Qaeda-affiliated militants have been fighting one another for days in a confusingly chaotic three-way war.

Elsewhere in the province, local tribal militias claimed they were gaining ground against the al-Qaeda militants who surged into urban areas from their desert strongholds this week after clashes erupted between local residents and the Iraqi security forces.

In Fallujah, where Marines fought the bloodiest battle of the Iraq war in 2004, the militants appeared to have the upper hand, underscoring the extent to which the Iraqi security forces have struggled to sustain the gains made by U.S. troops before they withdrew in December 2011.

The upheaval also affirmed the soaring capabilities of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the rebranded version of the al-Qaeda in Iraq organization that was formed a decade ago to confront U.S. troops and expanded into Syria last year while escalating its activities in Iraq. Roughly a third of the 4,486 U.S. troops killed in Iraq died in Anbar trying to defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq, nearly 100 of them in the November 2004 battle for control of Fallujah, the site of America’s bloodiest confrontation since the Vietnam War.

Events Friday suggested the fight may have been in vain.

“At the moment, there is no presence of the Iraqi state in Fallujah,” said a local journalist who asked not to be named because he fears for his safety. “The police and the army have abandoned the city, al-Qaeda has taken down all the Iraqi flags and burned them, and it has raised its own flag on all the buildings.”

Did U.S. Marines die in vain? It’s an excellent question. The tale is far from over.

In 2011, President Obama failed to secure a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government and, in many ways, attempted to wish away his responsibilities regarding the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Likewise, he disengaged from the world stage as Syria spun out of control. The result: tens-of-thousands of Syrian refugees (including foreign fighters linked with al Qaeda) have flooded into Iraq, overloading a government that could barely control its security situation to begin with. George W. Bush — for all his faults — stuck with “the surge” strategy despite enormous political pressure to raise the white flag of surrender. That opened the door for the al-Anbar Awakening and, when he left office, it appeared as though the U.S. had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Whether politicians agreed or disagreed with the Iraq War, it is their solemn obligation to ensure that the soldiers who willingly sacrificed themselves for the cause did not do so in vain. If there are no true statesmen left in the U.S. Congress, then Americans should admit it and become like people around the world who are just happy if someone can find them on a map.

Before any hasty decisions are made, it is best to revisit Fallujah:

Fallujah is sometimes called “the city of mosques”; and insurgents made heavy use of them as command posts, arms depots, and defensive positions. Inside the Saad Abi Bin Waqas Mosque in central Fallujah, Marines found small arms, artillery shells, and parts of missile systems. Marines and soldiers engaged insurgents emplaced in mosques, but always with great caution and often using Iraqi troops to finish off assaults. It took Company B, 1/8, fighting on foot, 16 hours of house-to-house combat to capture the Muhammadia Mosque, during which time they were attacked with everything from rocket-propelled grenades to suicide bombers.

The people who are in charge of Fallujah now use mosques as armories, staging areas for attacks, and as bunkers when necessary. They plot and plan from inside sacred walls, in part because Western politicians tend to let them do so with impunity. To ignore that this is happening in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria across the Middle East and in Northern Africa is to invite disaster yet again on American shores.

In the Middle East, our adversaries think and act in terms of centuries. In the United States, the vast majority of politicians cannot think beyond the next election cycle.

In large swathes of the Middle East, words like ‘honor’ — to the family, to the tribe, and to the nation — are taken seriously. In large swathes of the United States, ‘honor’ is now an antiquated notion, and patriots are portrayed as backwoods hicks by the purveyors of popular culture.

In the Middle East, guys who spend years solely focused on memorizing the Koran are in a waiting game with a nation of ADD-suffering narcissists who think they’re geniuses because they’ve accumulated enough hours consuming science fiction masterworks that they can dazzle audiences with Star Wars improvisational skills. These days, Americans are only serious about being unserious — and it will come back to haunt us tenfold.

Fallujah is important because it highlights yet another momentous challenge before free nations, while exposing America’s intellectually underprepared and ill-equipped political class.

Fallujah is important because it demonstrates that while America’s entertainment-obsessed culture pretends as if it can exist within viral video YouTube bubbles, Xbox fantasy worlds and the studios of late night comics who never found a good man or a higher ideal that they couldn’t tear down, the reality is something starkly different.

At one time, vast oceans could be used to make a compelling case that an isolationist America was a safer America. As technology advances, collisions between cultures will speed up. What happens in the Middle East and Northern Africa matters here, and Americans who think that every four years is a good time for a debate on foreign policy are sorely mistaken. When top officials in Washington can make the case that obscure anti-Islam YouTube videos are the cause of terror attacks on U.S. consulates (whether you believe them or not), it’s a clear indicator that the paradigm has changed.

Did U.S. Marines die in vain in Fallujah? The answer is up to us. Political leaders and an informed public have a responsibility to make sure that the vision soldiers sacrificed their lives for — a safer world for future Americans — becomes a reality.

Marcus Luttrell: The humbling tale of an American hero who calls himself a ‘coward’

Marcus Lutrell

Years ago I read ‘Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10.’ It’s the story of a 2005 mission along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that was compromised and ultimately the battle for Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell to stay alive long enough to tell the tale.

Years ago I said that if Hollywood was smart, the studios would make it into a movie. ‘Lone Survivor’ has been made into a movie, directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Walhberg, but Hollywood made Mr. Berg do some serious heavy lifting to get it done. I guess we can say that Peter Berg is a smart guy… Regardless, it will be out in January, 2014.

For those who want to really get a taste of what these guys volunteer for, I suggest watching Anderson Cooper’s recent ’60 Minutes’ interview with Luttrell. Although I’m very familiar with the ‘Lone Survivor’ tale, I still had a hard time watching the full interview without tearing up. To know that there are men like Marcus Luttrell, who are willing to lay their lives on the line for the rest of us, is incredibly humbling. It’s nearly impossible to hear his tale without wondering how you would react in the same situation. More often than not, my mind tells me that I’d fall far short of the bravery and heroism he displayed.

What must it be like to be Marcus Luttrell? The vast majority of Americans call him a hero — and yet a part of him believes he is a coward. I can only pray that one day he accepts that his self-evaluation is harsh and unfair, and that he might find the peace that will come along with that realization.

Here is how Luttrell recounts the final moment’s of Lt. Mike Murphy’s life, who sacrificed himself so that the rest of his team might have a chance to live.

Luttrell: Mikey was up and pushed out onto this boulder out in the middle of the draw in this wide open — no cover, nothing — He was on our satellite phone.

Anderson Cooper: Luttrell saw his lieutenant make the call. A call Mike Murphy knew would likely cost him his life.

Luttrell: He took two rounds to the chest because it spun like a top and it dropped him. And I tried to make my way up to him. He was my best friend, and I already lost Danny and I knew that Ax was dying and I didn’t want to lose him. That’s all I wanted him to do, was to come down to me. That’s all I wanted him to do, was come down to me. I heard his gun go off and a lot of gunfire in his area. I was trying with everything I had to get to him. He started screaming my name. Hey was like, ‘Marcus man, you gotta help me! I need help, Marcus!’ It got so intense that I actually put my weapon down and covered my ears because I couldn’t stand to hear him die. All I wanted him to do was stop screaming my name. And they killed him. And I put my weapon down in a gunfight while my best friend was getting killed — so that pretty much makes me a coward.

Anderson Cooper: How can you say that? …

Luttrell: Because that is a cowardice act, if you put you weapon down in a gunfight. They say every man has his breaking point. I never thought I’d find mine. The only way to break a Navy Seal is you have to kill us. But I broke right there. I quit right there.

Marcus was later blown off the side of the mountain he was fighting on, but managed to crawl his way to a source of water — with a broken back. It was there that he met the man who would save his life.

Luttrell: When I got to that waterfall and got those two sips out of there I was actually looking around thinking, ‘you know, this is a pretty good place to lay down and die.’

Cooper: You were ready to die.

Luttrell: I wasn’t ready to die. I just knew I was dying.

Anderson Cooper: That’s when an Afghan man appeared. Luttrell later learned his name was Mohammed Gulab.

Luttrell: He came up over this rock ledge and started screaming at me. ‘American! American!’ and I swung around on him. I had my finger on the trigger with the safety off. He started walking at me. He was like “Okay, okay.” He lifted up his shirt to show me he didn’t have a weapon. He was like: “Okay. Okay. Okay.” I lowered my weapon and I pulled the grenade and pulled the pin and said, ‘I’ll kill all of us.’

Anderson Cooper: You were prepared to blow yourself up along with everyone else.

Marcus Luttrell: Yes. I wasn’t going to get taken.

Ander Cooper: Why do you think you didn’t kill him?

Luttrell: I can’t tell you. I don’t know why.

Anderson Cooper (narration): Luckily, for Luttrell, Mohammed Gulab, who lived in a nearby village, was not a member of the Taliban.

Luttrell: He gave me water. I was bleeding real bad. Three other guys plus him picked me up and carried me down to his village.

Without Mr. Gulab’s help, who protected Luttrell at great risk to his tribe, the soldier would have died. Like Luttrell, Mr. Gulab’s story is worthy of its own movie: An Afghan tribal leader stands up to death threats from the Taliban to protect a severely wounded American, shuttling him from house to house (and ultimately a cave) to keep him safe, just long enough for a rescue team to extract him from the area. After the American leaves, the threats to his Mr. Gulab’s family and friends are far from over.

If you have time, seriously consider watching the full ’60 Minutes’ interview.

Editor’s note: A friend mine who was a Ranger let me know this morning that his buddy — who was part of the extraction team sent to find Luttrell — has just published a book: ‘Lest We Forget: An Army Ranger Medic’s Story,’ by Leo Jenkins. If Mr. Jenkins is anything like my friend it’s bound to be a very frank and honest book.

Related: ‘Lone Survivor’: A part of Marcus Luttrell died so that we can see how to live

Related: American Sniper: Chris Kyle, Guardian Angel who doesn’t know it

Related: Lt. Cmdr. Rorke Denver’s ‘Damn Few’ is damn awesome

Pentagon declares war — on ‘healthy, white, heterosexual, Christian’ men

US Navy SEALs, SEAL Team One
Years ago I was a proud member of Charlie Company, 1/18 Infantry Battalion. I was a ‘healthy, white, heterosexual, Christian’ man. As it turns out, the Pentagon was at war with me from behind the scenes and I didn’t even know it. Due to some great reporting by Todd Starnes and a courageous officer who knows when enemies are trying to destroy the military from within, we find that race-baiters now have enough rank to warp the minds of future military leaders.

A controversial 600-plus page manual used by the military to train its Equal Opportunity officers teaches that “healthy, white, heterosexual, Christian” men hold an unfair advantage over other races, and warns in great detail about a so-called “White Male Club.”

“Simply put, a healthy, white, heterosexual, Christian male receives many unearned advantages of social privilege, whereas a black, homosexual, atheist female in poor health receives many unearned disadvantages of social privilege,” reads a statement in the manual created by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI).

It gets worse. This manual, which some sick and twisted souls at the Pentagon approved, encourages officers to “assume racism is everywhere, every day.”

The subject of white privilege emerged in a 20-page section titled, “Power and Privilege.”

“Whites are the empowered group,” the manual declares. “White males represent the haves as compared to the have-nots.”

The military document advises personnel to “assume racism is everywhere, every day” and “notice code words for race.” They are also instructed to “understand and learn from the history of whiteness and racism.”

“Assume racism is everywhere, everyday,” read a statement in a section titled, ‘How to be a strong ‘white ally.'”

Why on God’s green earth are there military personnel who are taking a page out of playbook of race-baiters like Peggy McIntosh?

When I went into the field, conducted a live-fire exercise or was deployed as a young soldier, race never — never — came into consideration. When you know that the guy next to you would lay down his life to protect yours, color is meaningless. When you know in your heart that you would gladly do the same for him, the idea that “racism is everywhere” is repugnant.

I served with men of every ethnicity you can imagine, and all I cared about was whether or not they were a “good guy” at their core. Did he have my back when I needed it or not? That’s all that mattered.  It is quite obvious that whomever wrote this 600-page piece of garbage never went to the field, never was deployed — or, if so, they were the kind of person who finds a way to push paper instead of carry a rucksack.

When I exited the military and entered college, I was shocked by how obsessed with race my college professors were. Their minds were so diseased by intellectual rotgut that they said things like “the American dream is dead” and “all white people are subconsciously racist.” I came to detest everything my professors stood for, because it was obvious that their worldview only sowed anger, distrust, and envy where it didn’t need to exist. At times I often wanted to leave school and return to the military because it was the one place that I knew for sure didn’t have much patience for political correctness and excuses for failure. That appears to be changing…

If officers in the U.S. military are now being subjected to the psychological warfare that professors tried to use on me when I stepped on campus, it’s only a matter of time before things unravel. You can not successfully complete mission after mission if you are told to “assume racism is everywhere, every day.” If you have been told to look at the “battle buddy” next to you in your foxhole and believe that he is a racist, you will behave much differently than if you were allowed to realize on your own that he is and always will be your brother-in-arms.

I pray for the military, because it is obvious that the enemy within is much more dangerous than anything a foreign nation can dish out. I also pray because that’s just what healthy, white, heterosexual Christian men tend to do.

Our “power” doesn’t come from racism or exploitation — it comes from our faith in God, self-discipline, honesty, integrity, personal courage and a will to succeed. That is something that Pentagon paper-pushers who hang out with race-obsessed professors — instead of with real soldiers in the field — will never understand.