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Erin Trieb saw soldiers who’d made it through Afghanistan wrestle with life in New York—and she wants to be sure the rest of us see them, too. Allison Yarrow reports.
Erin Trieb hopes her photos of soldiers can help save some of them from the horrors that follow too many of them home from war—and that followed her, too.
One hundred and fifty-four American soldiers committed suicide in the first 155 days of 2012—claiming 50 percent more lives than combat fatalities in Afghanistan over the same span. PTSD is often the culprit or a contributor, and it’s what galvanized Trieb to tell the stories of the troops who suffer—because she also believes she suffered from it herself.
The 30-year-old Texan says she caught the photo bug early, when her grandfather gifted her the vintage Graflex Speed Graphic camera that he had used to document the heroic efforts of the Red Cross during the Second World War. After graduating college, she spent eight months in Israel capturing the frenetic wind down of the second intifada, where she says she and other female photographers experienced brazen sexual assaults. Trieb recalls Palestinians awaiting the media’s arrival before becoming aggressors and throwing rocks, and felt that she and other photographers were responsible for literally triggering conflicts.
“Other journalists get off on it. To produce images like that was not genuine,” she says. “I had to step back and realize the country wasn’t for me.”
She returned to Texas, where her photographs of Kinky Friedman’s quixotic gubernatorial campaign in 2006 won her awards and subsequent calls from national news organizations like Newsweek and The New York Times.
One day before Mark Bissonnette’s controversial tell-all on the bin Laden raid is released, his colleagues have published their own e-book response to what they call the “greatest betrayal.”
After dominating headlines for much of the past month, No Easy Day, the book written under a pseudonym by former Navy SEAL Mark Bissonnette about the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, will be released Tuesday, Sept. 4. One day before the controversial book hits shelves, a group of Special Operations veterans are releasing their own e-book in response to Bissonnette’s account.
'No Easy Op: The Unclassified Analysis of the Book Detailing the Killing of OBL' by Jack Murphy, Bill Janson, Iassen Donov, Brandon Webb, SOFREP Media. SOFREP. $5.
No Easy Op: The Unclassified Analysis of the Mission That Killed OBL, is a product of SOFREP (Special Operations Forces Situation Report), a group of former commandos devoted to releasing accurate information related to the Special Ops community. It examines Bissonnette’s version of events, his motives, the consequences of him publishing the book (the Pentagon has threatened legal action over the possible publication of unclassified information), and what it says about the current culture of operatives.
According to the e-book, “Bissonnette was treated very poorly upon his departure … once he openly shared that he was considering getting out of the Navy to pursue other interests.” Bissonnette was essentially given a plane ticket back to Virginia and nothing else—not much of a thank-you for his “honesty and 14 years of service.” This information, say the authors, makes his reason for writing undeniably clear. “What do you do when you find yourself pissed off at your former employer, out of a job, and in need of a paycheck? You start cashing in chips.”
Bissonnette Will Be Disowned
How the bin Laden raid author sneaked past the Pentagon.
Navy SEALS are taught to practice OPSEC, elaborate operational security tactics to preserve the element of surprise in carrying out missions. Former commando Matt Bissonnette seems to have put that training to good use in the publication of his controversial tell-all book about the assault that killed Osama bin Laden. Bissonnette, who was a member of the SEAL team that snuffed out the terrorist mastermind, and his publisher went to unusual lengths to conceal the existence of the project until the publisher announced it last month.
The SEALS train hard and stay quiet. But a new tell-all by a member involved in the bin Laden raid is testing the group’s code of silence. (Clockwise fom left: no credit; Lance Iversen / San Francisco Chronicle-Corbis; Aamir Qureshi / AFP-Getty Images)
For the Pentagon it was tantamount to a sneak attack. Officials were taken by complete surprise when details of the sensational account began appearing in the media. Adding to the pressure was the fact that Bissonnette’s account of the bin Laden raid was at odds with the Obama White House’s version in some key respects, notably whether the terrorist mastermind represented a genuine threat to the commandos when they killed him. Last week officials scrambled to get a copy of the book to see whether Bissonnette’s account, No Easy Day (written under the pseudonym Mark Owen), revealed classified information. But by the time government vetters got their hands on it, thousands of copies had already been shipped to stores and the title stood atop Amazon’s sales list.
“We were caught completely off guard,” conceded one senior Pentagon official, who says national-security personnel are obligated to submit manuscripts containing sensitive information for prepublication review (Bissonnette’s lawyer says the regs merely “invite” authors to show vetters but don’t require it). Late last week, Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson sent a letter to Bissonnette in a last-ditch bid to minimize the damage. The threat of legal action was aimed at pressuring Bissonnette and his publisher, Dutton, to submit to the Pentagon’s demands for prepublication review. In the past, the DOD has succeeded in halting distribution of books, even in some cases pulping printed copies. But in the case of No Easy Day, it is likely too late to prevent the book from receiving wide public exposure. “At this point the onus is on the SEAL and his publisher to put the genie back in the bottle,” says one senior Pentagon official, declining to explain how that would be possible.
The Pentagon has not disclosed whether it believes No Easy Day divulges classified secrets, though one official told Newsweek “you can bet we wouldn’t have sent the letter if we didn’t think there were serious security breaches.”
Making the situation all the more awkward: the administration itself may have opened the door. The White House has drawn fire for putting out its own cinematic version of the bin Laden raid. The move rankled critics, who say it smacks of end-zone dancing and could compromise future missions. Several SEALS were motivated to back a super-PAC ad faulting Obama’s leadership. All the attention would seem at odds with the culture of the SEALS, who pride themselves on a code of omertà. But if the organization hates the spotlight, you wouldn’t know it from their recent behavior. This spring, they helped produce a wide-release movie called Act of Valor—no Oscar threat, but a good way to recruit successors to Matt Bissonnette.
Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette’s account, 'No Easy Day,' describes the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in ways that repeatedly contradict the Obama administration’s version of the story.
Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette, writing under the pseudonym Mark Owen (with Keven Maurer) in the forthcoming, No Easy Day, describes his participation in the raid on Abbottabad in 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden. Bissonnette’s story directly contradicts the Obama administration’s version of the raid on several key points. The book is to be published next week by Dutton.
Bin Laden Was Already Dead
Bissonnette writes that as the Navy SEALS walked up the stairs of bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, they saw “a man peeking out of the door.” The Associated Press reported that bin Laden disappeared inside a bedroom after hearing suppressed gunfire. When the SEALS followed him inside, they found bin Laden on the floor in blood with a hole through the right side of his head. The SEALs then shot bin Laden’s twitching body several times until he became motionless. The Obama administration had previously claimed that the SEALS had shot bin Laden because they had assumed he was reaching for a weapon. A White House spokesman said in an email, “'As President Obama said on the night that justice was brought to Osama bin Laden, "We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country."'
Bin Laden Was Unarmed
Despite widespread media reports that bin Laden brandished a weapon and resisted when the SEALs entered the room, Owen writes that bin Laden was actually unarmed, according to the Daily News. Bissonnette’s assertion that bin Laden did not make any effort to defend himself contradicts the White House’s account of the raid, according to Forbes. There was no 40-minute gunfight, he writes, and the SEALs were not fired at as they approached the compound.
He Wasn’t Prepared for an Attack
After searching bin Laden’s bedroom, Bissonnette writes that he only found two guns, an AK-47 and a Makarov pistol, and both had empty chambers, according to The Huffington Post. “He hadn’t even prepared a defense,” he writes. “He had no intention of fighting.” Bissonnette claims that, in his experience, it’s common for top leaders to be unprepared for a raid. “In all of my deployments, we routinely saw this phenomenon. The higher up the food chain the targeted individual was, the bigger a pussy he was.”
Two Women Confirmed bin Laden’s Identity
When the team members entered the bedroom where bin Laden had been shot, they discovered a group of women wailing over his blood-drenched body. According to Bissonnette, bin Laden was wearing a sleeveless white T-shirt, loose tan pants, and a tan tunic. The SEALs then began examining his face to ensure it was bin Laden, before finally interrogating a young girl and one of the women who were crowding around bin Laden’s body—both women, Bissonnette writes, confirmed his identity.
A Soldier Sat on bin Laden’s Chest
Bissonette also claims that bin Laden’s body was not treated with quite the same level of respect that President Obama promised it had received. Although bin Laden was given a full Muslim burial at sea, Bissonnette reveals that one of the SEALs sat on bin Laden’s chest on the floor of the cramped helicopter during the flight out of the compound. The helicopter was crowded with about 24 SEALs because one of the helicopters had crashed in Abbottabad before the raid began. Troops must sometimes sit on their own war dead in crowded helicopters, so this is not an entirely uncommon practice.
Wait times for veterans get longer, and geographic inequalities increase, according to a new study by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
If you’re a Northern California veteran who has waited a year for a decision on a war-related disability claim, you might consider a move to South Dakota—where the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs typically responds in less than half the time.
Returning home from Afghanistan to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Atlanta? Veterans who live in Lincoln, Neb., and Fargo, N.D., get their benefits faster.
The geographic inequity of VA wait times is fully detailed for the first time in an analysis by the Center for Investigative Reporting. Simply put: Veterans in sparsely populated states often encounter quick resolution of their compensation claims for problems ranging from back injuries to post-traumatic stress disorder, while those in metropolitan areas languish.
Two tours in Iraq left Crystal Colon with a bad back and PTSD. Her second deployment came after her best friend, a fellow soldier, killed himself during training. Colon filed a disability claim with the VA’s Waco, Texas, office in May 2010. But when she moved to Illinois a year later, the agency failed to mail her claim file to Chicago for nearly nine months.
Two years after she filed her claim, Colon is still waiting—and hoping.
Why are so many Afghan soldiers turning their guns on the Americans? And can they be stopped?
The toll keeps rising. By the time this issue of Newsweek went to press, members and civilian employees of Afghanistan’s security forces had killed no fewer than 40 coalition troops this year—at least 10 of the dead, all of them Americans, in the first three weeks of August alone. The count has already passed last year’s total of 35 dead, and it’s reached fully double the figure for all of 2010. But as worried as U.S. commanders are by the growing number of insider attacks—“green-on-blue killings,” they’re sometimes called—Major Hasanzada (as he asks us to call him) says the trend doesn’t surprise him. “I understand why our men are shooting U.S. and NATO soldiers,” the Afghan National Army officer tells Newsweek. “I too have been personally hurt by the way American forces behave towards my soldiers, our villagers, our religion and culture. Too many of them are racist, arrogant, and simply don’t respect us.”
Afghan National Army recruits in a training exercise. (Majid Saeedi / Getty Images)
Those festering resentments are becoming a serious threat to America’s withdrawal plans. A problem that emerged as a few isolated violent incidents in 2005 is now undermining the trust that’s essential if allied forces hope to prepare the Afghans to shoulder their country’s security responsibilities by the 2014 withdrawal deadline. In the past year or so, coalition troops have been working more closely than ever with Afghan troops. In fact, some U.S. commanders partly blame the rising frequency of insider attacks on this closer partnership between coalition and Afghan forces on the ground.
But these days the partnership is strained. The Americans and other coalition members are busy watching their backs, just in case some disgruntled Afghan recruit decides to avenge some insult, whether imagined or real. The threat is anything but imaginary. Several of the men under Major Hasanzada’s command have told him that they too have thought about shooting their foreign trainers and counterparts, he says: “One soldier told me, ‘In my heart I want to empty my bullets into their chests.’ He has not done anything yet, but we are watching him carefully.”
The trouble is that the estrangement is feeding on itself. A 48-year-old Afghan Army colonel confirms that the once cordial relations between Afghan and U.S. troops, both on the frontlines and in the barracks, have deteriorated badly in the past year. A veteran soldier who served under the communist-run government in the 1980s and early 1990s, he says the Americans have worsened the divide recently by shunning the Afghans, largely for fear of insider attacks. “We had a very good understanding with each other for years, but in the past year the Americans seem reluctant to deal with us,” he tells Newsweek. (Since he is not authorized to speak to the press, he asks that we not disclose his location or his unit’s designation.) “Our social relations and professional cooperation are getting worse,” he says.
The colonel looks back fondly on the fraternization and camaraderie he used to enjoy with the Americans. “After duties were done, we used to go to their side of the base, and they used to come to our barracks for talks and meals,” he recalls. “Now we rarely meet except for professional duties.” Major Hasanzada says he also has been aware of the Americans’ retreat: “I think these [insider] attacks have reduced, if not ended, our social relations. I think the Americans do not see any solution except to keep their distance.”
The Special Ops community is stunned by 'No Easy Day,' an unauthorized account of the al Qaeda takedown by one of their own. Now the Navy brass say they might come after the author.
In the closed and close-knit world of current and retired U.S. Special Operations officers, the news that an unauthorized account of the 2011 Navy SEALs raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound was coming to bookstores next month hit like a ton of bricks.
The pending publication of the book, No Easy Day: The First Hand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden, so stirred Admiral William McRaven, chief of the Special Operations Command, that he sent a letter Thursday to special-operations forces warning against using their elite military affiliation for personal gain, according to Pentagon officials who asked not to be named.
In the letter, McRaven said that while it was within the rights of former special-operations soldiers to “write books about their adventures, it is disappointing when these actions either attempt to represent the broader [special-operations forces] community, or expose sensitive information that could threaten the lives of their fellow warriors.”
McRaven also issued a veiled warning to the author: “Every member of the special-operations community with a security clearance signed a non-disclosure agreement that was binding during and after service in the military. If the U.S. Special Operations Command finds that an active-duty, retired or former service member violated that agreement and that exposure of information was detrimental to the safety of U.S. forces, then we will pursue every option available to hold members accountable, including criminal prosecution where appropriate.”
On Internet forums the special-ops community maintains to discuss their craft, the common response, according to two participants, was: “WTF.” “I am on a few list-servs,” said Roger Carstens, a former Army Special Forces officer and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. “This topic has been a heavy and heated discussion with almost everyone asking WTF?”
Dakota Meyer, the first living Marine to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War, talks about war, coming home, his new project to help veterans land jobs—and why time hasn’t healed him.
Dakota Meyer, a United States Marine Corps veteran who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration, for his bravery that saved the lives of U.S. service members and Afghan soldiers facing a savage ambush in eastern Afghanistan. Meyer spoke to Daily Beast editor Harry Siegel on Tuesday about his service, his difficult homecoming—detailed in his book, Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War, including a suicide attempt a year after the battle of Ganjgal—and his new project with Toyota and the Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative to create a personal branding guide to help veterans translate their skills into terms that appeal to civilian employers.
Dakota Meyer is the only person who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to receive the Medal of Honor, and the first living Marine to do so since the Vietnam War. (Luke Sharrett / Getty Images)
I just joined the Marines—it’s just something I wanted to do. It was actually a dare, kind of, a spur-of-the-moment thing. The recruiter challenged me, and I took his challenge and ended up going in the Marine Corps. It was June 18, 2006.
I don’t remember the exact day that I went to Afghanistan, but it was in July 2009. It was a great experience going over there. Meeting the guys, and the Afghan culture, and being so close like I was, it was a great experience, learning their culture and getting to meet so many guys who live in a different world, a different life than I did, getting that experience, as well as getting to fight next to these guys.
The Battle of Ganjgal happened Sept. 8, 2009, which was a Tuesday. I came home; I landed Dec. 5, 2009. It’s a hard transition coming home and going from the battlefield straight back to the States. It’s a hard transition, especially leaving your guys over there.
The only easy day was yesterday—it’s over with. You just never know what’s going to hit you today. But you have to go forward and hold yourself accountable.
After Fallujah, Marine gunner Roman Baca writes about how he found his way back to the world of dance.
Sitting in the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, waiting for the curtain to open on American Ballet Theater’s production of Onegin, I was talking with a ballerina who’s also a budding photographer working on a project showing military families.
Roman Baca in Fallujah, Iraq in 2005.
The two of us were passing time talking about ballet technique and combat patrols, an unlikely pairing, when she said: “I just realized that you are probably the only person with whom I can have an in-depth, professional discussion about both ballet and the military.” Before I could respond, the lights dimmed and the curtain opened. As the opening bars of Tchaikovsky's vivid score resonated through the beautiful theater, my thoughts turned to my beginnings in ballet, my transition into the Marine Corps, and my eventual melding of the two.
I started dancing after my high-school graduation. A friend was a dancer and she would often tell me about the training, the hardships, and her artistic accomplishments on the stage. Intrigued, I attended a performance of hers at a local mall. Seeing her glide across the slick linoleum on the tips of her toes, I realized ballet was something I needed to try. A few months later I stepped into my first ballet shoes.
Male dancers are scarce in ballet, and I soon landed leading roles in musicals, dance concerts and ballets across my home state of New Mexico. I eventually moved to Connecticut to study at a ballet conservatory, where I loved every moment of the rigorous six-days-per-week training. But a few years after graduation, my goal of landing a spot in a full-time ballet company still seemed unattainable and I decided to make a drastic change of direction.
I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, to serve my country and get an education, and became a machine gunner and fire-team leader. In 2005 I was sent to Iraq with my platoon, where we were tasked with patrolling local villages and protecting Camp Fallujah. During my time there, we hunted for insurgents in the dead of night, and we did our best to care for the villages in our orbit, delivering food and water, schoolbooks, and warm clothing in the winter.
Jacqueline Keavney Lader and Don Lader were in the Century 16 theater watching ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ when James Holmes allegedly killed 12 people. The former Marines talk about going back to see the movie to make sure the gunman did not win.
My husband, Don, and I both love movies. We’re self-professed movie buffs, and have been since childhood. Attending midnight-movie releases are a treat, and the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora, Colo., is a short drive away. In the late night hours of July 19th, we arrived at the theater about an hour before our 12:05 a.m. showing. We settled into our usual seats (the eighth row up) to wait for the movie to start. Excited people streamed into the theater, some of them in costume. All of us were excited, my husband and I especially, because we’re big fans of Christopher Nolan’s work. By 11:30 p.m., the house was absolutely packed. Someone stood up and shouted “30 MINUTES!!!” and the crowd clapped and cheered.
A U.S. flag and a sign that reads "We will remember," are shown at sunrise at the memorial to victims of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, Friday, July 27, 2012. It was a week earlier that a gunman opened fire during a late-night showing of "The Dark Knight Rises," killing 12 and injuring dozens. Police have identified the suspected shooter as James Holmes, 24. (Ted S. Warren / AP Photo)
When the movie finally started, the place was completely silent. We were expecting some excellent action scenes, and the movie starts out with a completely over-the-top aerial stunt. About 20 minutes into the movie, my husband and I both noticed a bright sliver of light in the corner of the theater. We watched as a man, dressed in head-to-toe body armor, smoothly walked in through the emergency exit, popped a smoke grenade, and tossed it directly over our heads into the crowd.
Something you should know about us: we both served on active duty with the United States Marines. Marines train with tear gas, and we train with it yearly. Neither of us will ever forget the sound of a tear gas canister popping and hissing—it’s as distinctive as someone opening a can of soda, and it’s loud. The smell of tear gas is as unique as the sound of its canister being deployed. If I lived 100 years I would never forget that smell. It’s quite literally burned into my brain.
I know that Don and I knew something was very wrong the instant that emergency exit opened. For maybe one second I thought we were victims of a simple prank, and I thought “This is not funny.” But my bad gut feeling was confirmed the instant I smelled tear gas, and we hit the floor as the burning sensation of the gas filled our eyes, noses and lungs. As we were on our way down to the ground, the shooter opened fire. Now, this is where Don gets humble: he threw himself over me to shield me from the gunfire. That’s the moment where I knew without a doubt that my husband would get us out of there safely. We heard a break in the shooting (where Don thought the shooter was reloading; we found out later that his semi-automatic rifle had jammed) and Don dragged me off the floor. He screamed out “RUN!” as a command to a friend who had come with us that night, and we sprinted for the exits. We got knocked down and trampled a bit on our way out, but we regained our footing and ran as hard and as fast as we could.
We didn’t stop running until we got to our car, and we peeled out of the parking lot. We stopped just at the entrance of the theater, because we saw a family who seemed to be headed back toward the entrance. I rolled down the windows and shouted “No, don’t go in there, some guy has a gun!” One of the women (the family was two ladies and their young teenage son) frantically told us that she’d left her keys in the theater, and that she had to go back. Don leaned over me in the passenger seat and told her, “Get in the car, now.” With six people safely crammed in our vehicle, Don slammed on the gas pedal. As we were turning onto the main road, about six cop cars with their lights flashing were speeding toward the theater.
As a new U.S. strike kills seven in Pakistan, ex-CIA counterterrorism official Philip Mudd explores the moral questions about where we draw the line—and the next targets we might train drones on.
The impact of drones in the counterterror campaign is hard to overstate: terror groups, like many organizations, develop into global threats not because they can recruit suicide bombers but because they have leaders with vision, capability, commitment, and experience. Tactical leaders might view a local government as their primary adversary; strategic leaders, from Osama bin Laden to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq to Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, have broader horizons. They see the United States and its allies as the root of their problems, and they inspire groups to respond to their vision. Like it or not, they are leaders.
A Predator B unmanned aircraft lands after a mission at the Naval Air Station, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, in Corpus Christi, Texas. (Eric Gay / AP Photo)
In warzones, drones are another tool to eliminate this leadership. Like bullets from rifled weapons that are more accurate for sniper killings than mini-balls from muskets; like tanks that pack more firepower than infantry; like advances in aircraft that proved so devastating against German cities during World War II. Drones, too, are another advance in the way we can strike an adversary with lethal force, a more surgical, high-tech way to kill an enemy in a warzone, but another weapon in the machine of war nonetheless.
Questions about the ethics of drones, in warzones, would seem misdirected. We have a common understanding, rules of war, for battlefields. If you hear an adversary’s voice on a radio and fire a piece of artillery against that position, you have acted within the rules of warfare. If you strike with a drone, the delivery tool is different, but the target and result are the same. It often appears that our focus on drones stems more from fascination with new technology than with any real distinction between what a drone is designed to do—eliminate the enemy—and what a conventional airstrike would accomplish. Drones capture the public’s attention partly because they are a rare example of reality that looks like TV drama.
Beyond the question of whether drones are inherently different weapons, we face a more serious question: What, if anything, is new? The answer raises a much more complicated series of ethical and policy decisions than the technology itself. In an age of non-state threats that are as deadly as al Qaeda, and more pervasive—drug trafficking organizations, human trafficking networks, and pirates off Somalia, to name a few—armed drones give policymakers, and operators, the option of intervening in areas that are not warzones. If we can kill one of the few remaining al Qaeda leaders in the tribal areas of Pakistan, a leader who represents a declining threat, why not the leader of a Mexican drug cartel, whose organization in 2012 will destroy the lives of far more American children than any al Qaeda leader ever will?
Many would be uncomfortable with this scenario, particularly if Mexico’s political leadership had not approved. But what if they had, should we proceed? Would such a strike be an appropriate use of American force? And if not, why is al Qaeda a more appropriate target than the leader of a drug trafficking organization who will damage our way of life in every city and town in this country?
From the fight against Al Qaeda to World War II, double agents are one of war’s most vital and treacherous tools, writes Ben Macintyre.
Sir John Masterman, distinguished Oxford academic, successful sportsman, and veteran spymaster, spent the Second World War running double agents, spies recruited and trained by the Nazis who had been “turned” and persuaded to spy for Britain against the Germans. He found them intriguing, infuriating, and priceless.
“Every double agent is inclined to be vain, moody, and introspective,” Masterman complained. His spies were variously louche, opportunistic, greedy, brave, and idealistic. Many were deeply peculiar, and some operated in that gray area between ingenuity and insanity. Most were to some extent fantasists, and thoroughly unreliable, “persons who have a natural predilection to live in that curious world of espionage and deceit.” Spies are fickle creatures, Masterman reflected, and double agents are doubly so.
Twenty years after the end of the war, to the consternation of his more tight-lipped colleagues in British intelligence, Sir John Masterman revealed just how much double agents had done to ensure the success of the D-Day landings. Allied victory depended, he wrote, on a bunch of disreputable, two-faced liars, managed by honorable, upright British gentlemen like him.
The double agent remains the most prized, the most feared, and the most unreliable weapon in the espionage armory. Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military strategist, stressed the supreme importance of having a spy within the enemy’s spy camp; double agents plied their shadowy trade to remarkable effect during the intelligence duels of the First and Second World Wars, and the Cold War. And double agents continue to play a vital part in the modern intelligence battle that underpins the War on Terror.
In the months leading up to D-Day in June 1944, British intelligence turned a motley team of double agents into a powerful secret weapon that was quite different—and certainly more eccentric—than any used before or since.
Ever since it was published 50 years ago critics have described Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as the great nonconformist novel, but Nathaniel Rich writes that the novel’s true message is about the militarization of American society—and the trauma of war.
When a novel becomes a “classic”—when it is digested by critics and English teachers and study guide authors into bite-size morsels that can be slurped with a spoon—it undergoes a peculiar type of transformation. For one, it ceases to resemble a novel. Even the messiest, most obstreperous books are reduced to a litany of bullet points, or a single bullet point. Moby-Dick: Obsession devours. Crime and Punishment: Guilt corrupts. White Noise: Technology numbs. It can be disorienting to actually read the damn thing, and find out the epitaph is no more descriptive than a chapter title, and a misleading one at that.
Ken Kesey in 1966. (Ted Streshinsky / Corbis)
It’s even worse when the novel is adapted into a film, especially a good film, as is the case with Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Since Milos Forman’s adaptation, the line about the novel has been that is an “antiauthoritarian fable” (Larry McMurtry), a “nonconformists’ bible” (Pauline Kael), “a metaphor of repressive America” (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt). This view is accurate—Kesey is certainly interested in conformity and its discontents—but incomplete. What Kesey has to say is larger, and far more subversive.
Kesey is not the first author to write about lunatics who appear saner than those who seek to lock them up. The trope dates back as far as Don Quixote, continues through Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria, or The Wrongs of Woman, Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman,” Vladimir Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading, and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, published a year before Kesey’s novel. The nature of the oppression is different in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, however: the inmates in Kesey’s mental ward, with one or two exceptions, have asked to be locked away. “Guilt,” says Harding, one of the patients, when asked to explain his decision:
"Shame. Fear. Self-belittlement. I discovered at an early age that I was—shall we be kind and say different? I indulged in certain practices that our society regards as shameful. And I got sick. It wasn’t the practices, I don’t think, it was the feeling that the great, deadly, pointing forefinger of society was pointing at me—and the great voice of millions chanting, 'Shame. Shame. Shame.' "
This is a novel about oppression, but it is also about man’s desire—which at times can become a need, even a compulsion—to take orders. Harding’s explanation horrifies Kesey’s hero, Randle Patrick McMurphy, a charismatic huckster whose arrival at the beginning of the novel disrupts the quiet, domineering rule of Nurse Ratched, the ward’s authoritarian overlord. McMurphy tells his fellow patients that, in order to avoid a hard labor prison sentence, he has convinced authorities that he’s a psychopath. “If it gets me outta those damned pea fields I’ll be whatever their little heart desires, be it psychopath or mad dog or werewolf…” McMurphy, despite his swagger, is looking for safety too.
What about the Republicans' role?
There is a curious omission in Mitt Romney’s speech to the VFW today.
He warns against the dire consequences of the massive Pentagon budget cutbacks scheduled to take effect at the end of the year. And that’s an absolutely legitimate issue, prompting concern in both parties.
J.D. Pooley / Getty Images
But here’s the rub that Romney neglects, at least based on excerpts released by the campaign: The Republicans agreed to these cuts. The GOP-controlled House went along as part of a bipartisan deal last summer to prevent the government from sliding into default.
Romney describes the looming threat as “an arbitrary, across-the-board budget reduction that would saddle the military with a trillion dollars in cuts, severely shrink our force structure, and impair our ability to meet and deter threats. Don’t bother trying to find a serious military rationale behind any of this, unless that rationale is wishful thinking. Strategy is not driving President Obama’s massive defense cuts. In fact, his own secretary of Defense warned that these reductions would be ‘devastating.’ And he is right.” (Mindful of his audience, Romney adds that this will hurt VA health care as well.)
Fine. But is Romney saying John Boehner and Mitch McConnell were wrong to agree to this?
Attacks on coalition troops by Afghan cast further doubt on whether the country can protect its citizens after NATO forces pull out, reports John Ryan.
As the US-led coalition in Afghanistan turns over greater responsibility to Afghan forces in advance of the scheduled 2014 end to the war there, American military officials have downplayed the significance of the rising number of so-called “green-on-blue” insider attacks, where uniformed Afghan defectors turn their weapons on their U.S. and NATO counterparts.
Afghan National Army soldiers train at a firing range at the 203 Thunder Corps base in Gardez, Paktia province, Afghanistan. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP Photo)
In May, Afghan security forces, estimated at 350,000 personnel, took over primary responsibility for the security of 75 percent of the nation’s population.
But the spike in attacks on coalition troops by Afghan forces—along with rising numbers of incidents where Afghan police and soldiers open fire on their own number and of Taliban attacks on them—casts further doubt on whether Afghanistan, a country ravaged by more than three decades of war and plagued by corruption, defection and global drug trade, can protect its citizens after NATO forces pull out.
Last year, 24,590 Afghan soldiers quit between January and June, compared with 11,423 who deserted in the same period in 2010, reported The Washington Post.
Afghan forces attacking coalition troops—which Gen. John R. Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, called the “insider threat” at a March briefing—have not eroded public confidence in Afghan forces, and coalition polling shows positive public perceptions of local security units, NATO officials said.
This map, created by the Center for Investigative Reporting, displays 58 VA regional offices and the number of backlogged claims by week on a national, regional and local level. This application will update itself every Monday to show each office's change in pending claims.
From Adm. William McRaven to columnist Nicholas Kristof to Bono, WATCH VIDEO of the summit’s must-see moments.
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