Thursday, 7 October 2010

Was the Iraq Worth it? Irish Man Paul Kane's View


A marine

I will post this out of interest. It's a well written individual war memoir by USMC Reservist Paul Kane. It appreared in the Irish Times here. I wish all the best for Paul and thank him for his story, its a good account of how many veterans feel. Plus it is a well articulated view of it from a Serviceman's perspective. Full text below:











VOICE OF EXPERIENCE: Marines we interviewed consistently expressed two hopes to us: that by this war the Iraqi people would have a better future; and that their own kids would never fight in the Middle East, writes PAUL KANE



IN 2003, I was an unlikely and unexpected participant in the Iraq war. At age 39, I was a “recovering venture capitalist” who’d made millions, and lost them and his business in Ireland, everything lost in the tech-stock crash of 2000. I lost everything I thought at the time was important.



Following Hemingway’s invocation that the world is a fine place well worth fighting for, I decided in the wake of my failure to make myself useful. Life experience and being Catholic had taught me that everything usually comes down to a handful of people. That in a tight spot an individual can make the difference, change the course of events, and maybe save lives.



I had been a US Marine in the late Eighties and decided just before 9/11 to return again, doing part-time service with a Marine Corps reserve intelligence and training unit at Quantico. On March 17th, 2003, a few days before the Iraq war began, my Marine colonel called: “Two questions, Kane. What’s an Irishman doing home and sober on St Patrick’s Day? Second, what are you doing for the next 15-weeks or 15-months?” The next day, I reported to Quantico and prepared for deployment to Iraq.



I will never forget my experiences or what I saw in Iraq. I would never want to forget. It was a brush with the “very real” world; there is a positive power to adversity that makes you appreciate what you have, what should be a priority, that makes you stronger and sounder, rich in what matters.
The surreal nights at Diwaniya sleeping rough in 115 degree temperatures in an abandoned building that had been looted of everything but the dust, listening to automatic weapons firing on our perimeter and howling wild dogs and cats; the Pioneer spy drone buzzing overhead looking for bad men trying to sneak up on our patch of earth; driving at 90 miles an hour in convoys, lickety-split through sniper zones; carrying an injured British soldier to a chopper only to later get the radio call, “He’s gone”; two fanatical black-clad Fedayeen discovering that their ambition to kill us exceeded their ability, eviscerated by a stream of 50-calibre rounds from the sky; seeing an eight-year-old Shia boy sent airborne and bloodied by a speeding hit-and-run taxi as he stood beaming at the roadside, waving us welcomes.



As I lay on that kiln-hot concrete among snoring Marines trying to ignore the night sounds and steal some sleep, an irony hit me. Three years ago now, I was likely sitting in Dobbin’s posh Dublin bistro with a crisp white table cloth having lunch and noshing with the brie-and-fine-Chablis set.
The ching-ching of glasses and chortling with a colleague in the Aer Lingus Elite Club; him off to Marco Island, me off to Palm Beach; him happily our consiglieri for years, enjoying the dosh and media limelight, me later “Paul who?” when we went down, denied three times to three papers. During our last session together as bits of our company fell to earth, he, our own Captain Renault from Casablanca, hysterically blurted: “I am shocked, shocked to hear that gambling was going on here!” We handed him his last fat fee. During those dark days of the Irish elite, only Zig and Zag still returned calls.



But in the end, the only one responsible was the captain who found the iceberg, that fella in the mirror. Now I’m here on hell’s half acre cuddling up to an M-16 rifle and serving as an appetiser for sand fleas. My first year nuns from St Camillus, reached in retirement with this news, not one whit surprised.



Holy mackerel, how I musta really pissed off God! Sweet Jesus, Allah, Yahweh, Fadder Abraham you grew up in this neighbourhood, whoever has their radio set on “receive”, wake me from this, help me out here. I remember thinking to myself: “If I ever get out of here, I am gonna settle down, and have a zillion kids.”



Part of our mission in Iraq was to do “collections”. This was military parlance for gathering insight from Marines. What worked? What didn’t? Lessons learned. Dawn to dark daily, we were “Oscar Mike” (On the Move) tracking units, interviewing and surveying more than 6,000 combat Marines across Iraq in Hillah, Safwan, Ur, Nasiriya, Karbala, Kut and points in between. It was Club Med on a budget with rifles. The war in Iraq officially ended on August 31st. But war never ends for those who fight, nor for the Iraqis who live in this war’s wake. Unfortunately, Plato got it right: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”



It has been eight years of strife and suffering and seeing the face of evil, not infrequently all made worse by our own civilian leaders’ misreads, hubris and missteps. The list is long. But there were the small victories, small kindnesses, and small noble acts that never make the news. The evil of war is made smaller by the camaraderie that warriors experience in a world where every decision may mean life or death and by manifestations of concern for others that you would never witness were you not in combat.



Was the war worth it?





If only there was a simple answer. Were I king, would I have led us into war? No. Hindsight is 20/20, but those calling the shots were combat innocents and clueless as to what they were unleashing. Would that in 2003 we had a military veteran like Abraham Lincoln at the helm rather than someone who landed, ironically, on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln to pronounce: “Mission accomplished!” Do tell, who neglected to route that memo updating those nice men in the insurgency?



President Lincoln’s brilliance at wartime execution was well chronicled in a recent biography by James McPherson, Tried by War. It was Lincoln’s hard-earned personal wisdom, ability to endure serial failures and constant challenges, daring use of strategy and available resource, balancing of interests, and keeping his friends close and his rivals even closer, that enabled him to prevail. In a word, Lincoln was a leader.



Similarly, President John F Kennedy’s brush with war left him an idealist without illusions. He kept his own counsel during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that nearly brought nuclear Armageddon, precisely because he had served in uniform, been to war, and had his ship sunk in combat. Kennedy was not overawed by the cigar-chopping general with a constellation of stars on his collar who disdainfully told him, “Sir, you have few options on Cuba except ‘surgical strikes’.” JFK knew that using terms for precision and for bombing in the same sentence was nonsense. Kennedy knew that generals, like senior leaders in any human enterprise or endeavour, deserve no quarter or special deference. And generals, like many banksters, regulators and politicians, recent events have revealed, usually fall into one of three categories. There are the exceptionally sound and capable, the committed mediocre, and the stunningly incompetent. No bell-curve distribution assumed.



Do I think the Iraqis will now have a better future?



My gut says yes, despite our bungling. Did it have to be so painful? No. Could Saddam have been dispatched by another strategy? Likely, yes. Were more combat veterans in the room when wars were discussed, there would likely be fewer wars, and the ones we did fight would be fought with fewer blunders and prosecuted so as to prevail.



Those who fight in wars, be they just or unjust, morally or immorally executed, have the noble experience of having been actively engaged in protecting those around them in war, fellow soldiers and many civilians, and saved and protected lives. Not many people wake up in the morning with that being a life experience they possess.



Men who knew nothing of combat like pro consul L Paul Bremer sacked the Iraqi army in May 2003 and left us Marines scratching our heads in disbelief. With the stroke of a pen, Bremer beggared soldiers and their families, more than three million Iraqis, overnight, giving untold momentum to insurgency. And then there was The Quartet: Rummy, Cheney, Blair and W. Enough said. But despite us, and the bad hand they were dealt, I do believe the Iraqi people will prevail and the unseen force that moves through life accompanying adversity will see them on to better lives – little consolation though this is to the dead, wounded, mourning or displaced. We had leaders, but we had little in the way of leadership. Personally, I owe a big thank you to Saddam and W.



One door closes and another opens and the unforeseen comes to you. Failing in business was the best thing that ever happened to me. Had I not failed, I would have bounded along, an oblivious fat-cat businessman, and never gone back to the Marines. I would have maintained my steady diet of suits as colleagues and compadres. Never really seeing outside that circle, never getting down in the dirt and meeting some of the most able, tough and resourceful, wickedly funny and selfless human beings it became my pleasure to know. There would have been no war for me. Some innocent Iraqis and perhaps Marines who are alive today would be dead. I never would have gone on to accept an appointment to hide at Harvard after the war, where I met my lovely wife.



Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Iraq. Or the fact that there are Marines in harm’s way somewhere, right now, while I go about my life. I think back about those things we Marines hoped would come from this war. Aside from the nuts and bolts issues, those 6,000 Marines we interviewed consistently expressed two hopes to us. They hoped by this war the Iraqi people would have a better future. And they hoped their own kids would never return to fight in the Middle East.



I hope and pray for those things every night when I tuck Kieron and baby Ella into bed.



Paul Kane was a Fellow from 2004-2008 of the John F Kennedy School’s International Security Programme at Harvard University. President Obama awarded him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal last year for heroism during a 2008 subway rescue.

4 comments:

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Paul said...

Sorry for the delay in replying Alfred! Yes you can add me and I will add you, I look forward to visiting your blog.

Isobel said...

Happy New Year, Paul. Haven't heard from you in a while. Hope everything is ok. All the best.

Paul said...

Thanks Isobel happy New Year to you as well.