'The Petraeus Generation': Readers were surprised to find out how the reality of war in Iraq didn't mesh with conventional means of overwhelming the enemy with firepower. One said of the troops' steep learning curve and Gen. David Petraeus's leadership that such force worked just to fuel an angry insurgency and argued for the need to win Iraqi "hearts and minds." Another wrote, "The key to reducing the violence is giving more control to the young officers who face the brunt of it, but paying off the thugs appears to be a short-term solution."
Struggling to Remake the Army
I applaud NEWSWEEK for getting right how America's officer corps has been transformed five years into the Iraq War ("Scions of the Surge," March 24), but this debate started many years ago. I used to be one of Capt. Tim Wright's West Point classmates. As an adviser to the Iraqi Army in 2005, I routinely found my team and myself at odds with our senior commanders over how to win the war. In military parlance, whoever controls or retains the key terrain possesses a decisive advantage. My chain of command continually emphasized that the Iraqi population was the key terrain. However, the same chain of command, despite my team's pleas to move onto the Iraqi base, rejected outright our request due to the "risk." Our forces migrated to larger and larger U.S. bases, complete with coffee shops and a Burger King. Same as Captain Wright, we expressed our thoughts on cohabitating with the Iraqis to an incoming American unit, only to be dismissed by our senior officers again. I left the Army after six years in the infantry and entered business school like many of my peers. The war has vanished from my life not because I wanted it to, but because I became a "normal" American. Staying connected to the war in a meaningful way was difficult, even for someone who fought it on and off for almost two years. The modern military experience is one of incredible burdens and isolation. Rather than your cover moniker, "The Petraeus Generation," a more fitting description might be "The Decoupled Generation."
As an "old generation" soldier it is gratifying to see an Army leadership finally emerge that understands we must be prepared for all contingencies. When I arrived as a young lieutenant colonel on the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College faculty in 1981, my instructions were to keep the counterinsurgency doctrine alive until such time as we could have leadership that would "get it." At that time the Army's premier school for developing senior leadership devoted nine hours out of a curriculum of more than 1,600 hours to counterinsurgency. When I left the faculty for another assignment, we were up to about 33 hours, still woefully inadequate. Thankfully, Gen. David Petraeus, Capt. Tim Wright and many other fine leaders at all levels of our Army "get it."
Col. James Young, U.S. Army (Ret.)
The March 24 cover photo of Capt. Tim Wright and his men on patrol along with the cover story on Iraq illustrated not only the scary warrior image that Iraqi citizens face but what seems to be a growing dependency by Iraqis not only on our military presence but also on bribes, coercion and fragile alliances. The efforts of Petraeus, Wright and others to negotiate and present a more humane face to U.S. occupation are admirable, but we remain a foreign occupying force. That has been the problem all along.
Let me see if I have this correct: With middle-class families unable to send their children to college because of dwindling federal loans, with this country's infrastructure and economy crumbling, with thousands of schools in dire need of repairs and updating, millions without health care and returning vets not getting what they need or deserve, the U.S. government is giving insurgents/terrorists roughly $24 million a month to rat out other insurgents and terrorists. Did I miss something?
Imagine if the mayor and police chief of Chicago or Los Angeles came forth with a program for limiting gang violence by paying gang members to join the police and stop their violent activity. Imagine what the reaction of the surge supporters would be. Imagine what the payouts to the insurgent groups in Iraq could have been used for in this country (does New Orleans still resonate with anyone?). What happens when the money to pay these groups in Iraq runs out, or, better still, what happens if a group such as Al Qaeda or the Iranians comes in with an offer of more money? What kind of allies will these insurgents be, whose allegiance must be bought and paid for?
Jeffrey J. Sieburg
On 'Trying Times for Trinity': "Patriotism after 9/11 has become McCarthy-style patriotism, something our forefathers would abhor. To dismiss Barack Obama as a left-wing radical is to dismiss a Lincoln or an FDR America deserves."
L. A. Keene,
Economic Management Failures
"Mismanagement 101" (March 24) highlights the effect of mismanagement on our sorry economic situation. In my opinion, here is the cause: many of the CEOs of banks and businesses are the offspring of the " '60s generation" of rebels. Their kids grew up with a passion to achieve fame and fortune by whatever means. Risky accounting practices and selfish motives drove some financial institutions to offer—if not push—credit to unworthy clients, both individual as well as corporate. Ignorance and indifference on the part of federal government officials concerning sound monetary policy have brought the value of the dollar to a new low, and no one in charge seems to have a clue about how to fix it.
Arthur L. Pengelley
Controversy Over Obama
The controversy over whether Sen. Barack Obama should have walked out on his pastor, Jeremiah Wright Jr., when he heard him make "un-American" and inflammatory remarks from the pulpit is ongoing ("Trying Times for Trinity," March 24). As a retired minister with more than 40 years in the ministry, and one who has had people walk out on him, I say, no! People seldom learn and grow by listening only to those with whom they agree. If a teacher teaches only what his/her students agree with, there is no teaching and no learning. Did I mention that I am white and once served a black congregation? That experience taught me much about the deep hurt and anger within the black community. I understand where the Reverend Wright is coming from. He does not have an option. He must remind us that as Americans our past is littered with terrible injustice. And, if we are going to change and grow, we must listen. No, Senator Obama is going to the right church, and if he is destined to be our next president, I hope he listens well.
Rodney W. Spitler
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. owes America an apology. I'm a 54-year-old white male, and for the first time in a long time I have a candidate to support who challenges us to think about who we are as a nation, and how we should proceed in trying to fulfill the ideals set forth by our Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence. Because Wright chose to ignore the simple rule of communication, "it's not so much what you say, but how you say it," he has jeopardized the hope that I, and millions of others, have for the candidacy of Barack Obama. He should be ashamed.
E-Mailing Can Be Part of the Cure
Rich Thomas's March 24 My Turn essay, "An Electronic Cure for Despair," is so true. As someone battling pancreatic cancer, I can attest to the wonderful, spirit-lifting force of e-mails from loved ones, friends and colleagues. When I was too weak to write myself, my wife would keep everyone in the picture on my progress, as well as all the daily cares of a couple battling this disease. The responses were overwhelming and contributed so much to my improvement.
I am glad that Rich Thomas and his wife both were helped during her illness by electronic words of encouragement. Please know that there are at least two very user-friendly, beneficial and sophisticated Web sites that make such comfort available to those in like circumstances: caring.org and carepages.com. We have been able to receive updates of those in distress and send back our encouragement using these sites, which enable the easy transfer of pictures as well.
Sun Safety and Melanoma
"Don't Forget Your Vitamins" (Tip Sheet, March 24) perpetuates confusion about sun safety. The article should not be interpreted as permission to sunbathe unprotected as there is clear, evidence-based data about the harmful effects of UVA and UVB rays. Sadly, approximately 65 percent of melanomas—the most serious form of skin cancer and one of the fastest-growing cancers in the United States—is attributed to UV exposure. The Melanoma Research Foundation recommends generously applying sunscreen to all exposed skin using at least SPF 15 and reapplying every two hours or after swimming or sweating. Those concerned about vitamin D deficiency should speak with their doctor before seeking the sun as a solution.
Allan Halpern, M.D., Melanoma Research Foundation