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Bravery

Afghan War Hero Gets Medal of Honor

Afghan War Hero Gets Medal of Honor Alex Wong / Getty Images

Will attend State of the Union.

Former Army Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha received the Medal of Honor from President Obama Monday, for saving the lives of his fellow soldiers during an insurgent attack in an eastern Afghanistan outpost in 2009. The battle—which lasted for 12 hours and left eight Americans dead and 22 wounded—was one of the Afghan war's deadliest. Romesha will be one of the first lady's guests at Tuesday's State of the Union address.

Read it at The Washington Post

Blinded by the Drones

For John Kael Weston and other men on the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan drone strikes raise many uncomfortable questions. He writes about why we need clearer policy and guidelines for these silent killers—and that we must realize their huge cost in civilian lives.

“Remember the bad guys we killed with the Predator after the Taghaz bombing?”

Afghanistan Marines

A U.S. Marine Cpl. waits for radio transmissions at his platoon’s defensive position during Operation Shahem Tofan in Helmand province. (Cpl. Reece Lodder)

My Marine friend’s call came late one night in mid-2011 from Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania (home to the U.S. Army’s War College) while I was in Leadville, Colorado. He wanted to vent about drones and our nation’s kill strategy from the sky. An incident two years earlier in a remote stretch of yellow desert in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province stuck with him, gnawing at his conscience.

This war-hardened Marine infantry officer could not shake the image of watching a “guilty” man die, as cameras thousands of feet above beamed live streaming video footage to Camp Leatherneck’s command center. The feed showed how the missile severed both legs of one of the men, who then tried to drag and conceal what was left of himself into the new crater that became his grave. Marines watched from half-a-province away as the man bled to death, nowhere to hide. Those in the White House and Pentagon would be pleased: another kill added to the long list. This time a bullseye from a distance made clean, easy, and effective.

“Let’s talk about it,” I replied. If anyone wanted revenge, we did.

The bad guys, after all, were linked (but not indisputably) to a suicide bomber who blew up two Marines and a Navy Corpsman in a market the day after a Marine commanding general and I had visited them. We shook their hands as they began a new mission at the edge of America’s military empire, overstretched and unforgiving to frontline troops on third tours.

NATIONAL CRISIS

Veterans Suicide Rate Rises

Veterans Suicide Rate Rises TIM SLOAN

Eestimated 22 vets kill themselves every day.

An estimated 22 vets in the U.S. kill themselves every day, according to a two-year study by a VA researcher. That's a rise of 20 percent since 2007. The numbers reiterate a concern that freshman Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly recently voiced at Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing: “In 2012, we lost more veterans to suicide than military combat." Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, called the suicide level “unacceptable,” and an “extraordinary tragedy which speaks to ... the need for us to do a much better job assisting our soldiers and their families as they return home.”

Read it at Politico

War on Terror

The Way We Fight

From ancient times to Afghanistan today, guerilla warfare, terrorism, and insurgencies have been the way that we make war. Michael Korda salutes a brilliant and important new book, Max Boot’s ‘Invisible Armies,’ that tells that story.

Much of one’s view of human history, past and present, is dependent on whether one accepts Hobbes’s view of it or Rousseau’s. Rousseau, setting the course for “liberals” of all kinds, and for optimists and revolutionaries of every stamp, wrote: “Man is born free, and everywhere is in chains.” Hobbes on the contrary declared the conservative and pessimistic view of the human past and future: that far from being “born free” the condition of man in his natural state was “… solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” and that without the civilizing effect of the great institutions of the state there would be “no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continued fear and danger of violent death.”

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‘Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present’ By Max Boot. 784 pages. Liveright. $35. (Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty)

Max Boot, in this enormous, brilliant, and important book, leans toward the Hobbesian view, not surprisingly since his subject is war, always the dark side of history. He makes it very clear that the natural state of man has been one of continuous small-scale warfare, going right back to the beginning of humankind, some of these wars ritual, as is still the case among the savages of New Guinea; others small wars for more territory, for the women of other families and tribes (an unconscious way to prevent inbreeding), and for slaves.

The natural way of war is to strike by surprise, and to retreat stealthily back into the wilderness to safety with as few casualties as possible. Primitive people do not “stand and fight”; they hide and kill. Their method of warfare is the ambush: “bushwhacking,” as it was called during pro- and anti-slavery fighting in Kansas before the Civil War, far from being “dishonorable,” is the traditional way of fighting, as is “terror,” in the sense of sudden and unexpected assassinations and horrendous threats of violence designed to break the enemy’s will. The introduction of efficient lethal weapons manufactured to a standard design and furnished by the state, and of such huge advancements in organized warfare as marching in step and of moving in lines or columns, of formalized ranks, uniforms and discipline, produced in the growing national empires of the ancient world—Egypt, Babylon, Greece—the equivalent of professional armies intended to carry out the state’s policy.

These national armies waged long campaigns, necessitating supply lines and the birth of “logistics,” and were intended for the specific purpose of fighting great, decisive battles and inflicting the largest possible number of enemy casualties. They set a high premium on “honor,” and of iron discipline, the one often being confused with the other. (Until very recently, the penalty in all serious armies for disobeying an order in combat or for cowardice was death—death sentences for “cowardice in the face of the enemy” were not uncommon in the British Army in World War I, and the last American soldier to be shot for cowardice was Private Slovick, whose execution was confirmed by General Eisenhower in December 1944.)

By contrast in the “natural” warfare as it was practiced throughout most of human history, running away when the enemy was in superior numbers was the sensible thing to do—the aim was to kill the enemy when he was off his guard, to cut his throat when he was sleeping, not to display courage by advancing in the open in large numbers, but to fight from concealment whenever possible.

WAR

The Petraeus Revolution

The general and others overthrew the old guard and changed the American way of war, but will their revolution stand? John Barry on Fred Kaplan’s new book—and Petraeus’s legacy after his sudden departure.

“Let us admit it fairly, as a business people should.
We have had no end of a lesson: it will do us no end of good.”

AFGHANISTAN FOURTH OF JULY

Former U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus in Kandahar, Afghanistan, July 4, 2011. (Haraz N. Ghanbari/U.S. Navy via Getty)

Rudyard Kipling’s verdict on the Boer War—Britain’s 1899–1902 assault on the Dutch-Afrikaner settlers declaring independence in South Africa—can stand as an interim verdict on America’s expeditions into Iraq and Afghanistan. These are military and political debacles to rival the Boer War. Iraq lurches sullenly toward civil war or dictatorship; the Afghan elite prepare for America’s withdrawal by sending out so much cash that a special channel at Kabul airport handles the stuffed suitcases. 

Where did it all go wrong? Unraveling the decade of America’s wars since 9/11 is already a historical cottage industry. Multiple memoirs, at least three serious efforts at historical reconstruction, half a dozen narrative accounts, a rising pile of combat memories transmuted into novels. It’s an outpouring utterly different from the stunned silence that followed Vietnam, and America is the healthier for it.

Fred Kaplan’s new book goes over this war-torn terrain from a different perspective. Just over 20 years ago, Kaplan produced The Wizards of Armageddon, chronicling the evolution of America’s nuclear weapons strategy after Hiroshima. There is no lack of tomes on this topic, but Kaplan’s account remains essential reading because he reconstructed a debate as a narrative driven by the lives and views of the participants. In The Insurgents, Kaplan does the same for Iraq and Afghanistan—using personal narratives to explore, as his subtitle says, “David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War." Kaplan’s subject is the counterinsurgency strategy midwifed by Petraeus: its creation, adoption, and what Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed about its limitations. For anyone interested in figuring out what went wrong, Kaplan is essential reading.  

Forty years on, the passions of Vietnam have faded into history. Yet they’re seminal in the story Kaplan reconstructs. For the U.S. Army, Vietnam was so traumatic—such a humiliation—that, in its aftermath, the Army leadership of the time drew one overarching lesson: Never Again.   The Army’s job was to prepare for the Big One: the armored showdown against the Soviets on the plains of central Europe. That war, thankfully, never came. But Desert Storm, the expulsion of Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait in 1991, was essentially a dry run: the divisions and air wings came to Saudi Arabia from Europe; the tactics were those of “AirLand Battle,” the fighting doctrine devised for Europe. Afterward, as the collapse of the Soviet Empire brought defense budget cuts to shrink the U.S. Army, the officers retained were those who had done well in that comfortably conventional conflict.

THE GENERAL

McChrystal’s Unrevealing Memoir

After an embarrassing article forced General McChrystal to resign, he kept a low profile until finally telling his side of the story in a new memoir. Eli Lake on the former general’s low-key recounting of the fight against al Qaeda, his fight with Obama, and his happy home life.

Stanley McChrystal is probably the most revered military officer of his generation. He rose through the ranks from being an Army Ranger officer to commanding the Joint Special Operations Command to taking command of coalition forces in Afghanistan.

McChrystal Book

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Then it all came crashing down in the summer of 2010, when Rolling Stone magazine published a profile of him in which men under his command were caught saying insulting things about President Obama and his staff. One might expect the memoir of such a man to dish juicy details on the president, who chose to accept his resignation instead of looking the other way. But that is not the case with My Share of the Task, which takes the high road and barely has a bad word for Obama or other rivals.

Instead McChrystal devotes his memoir to telling the story of an often-secret war against al Qaeda and other terrorists. He tells the story with surprising flair. The general provides visceral details, such as his description of how the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, bled from his nose and ears after a 500-pound bomb exploded the house where he was staying. In other parts of the book, McChrystal explains the origins of the CIA’s post-9/11 relationship with Special Operations Forces.

It turns out that McChrystal actually encountered al Qaeda very early in his career, but he did not quite know it at the time. The year was 1987, and McChrystal was working for a Ranger battalion as part of the once-every-two-year joint military exercise known as Exercise Bright Star with Egypt. As part of the preparations, McChrystal worked with Ali Abdelsoud Mohammed, a special-operations command sergeant who served as an interpreter. “Ali Mohammed was effective, but the atmosphere with the Egyptians was uncomfortably cool, and it was difficult to determine why,” McChrystal wrote. On their walk back to their tent that evening, the Egyptian-born sergeant explained that he had been a major in the Egyptian commandos. Then the next day he was gone. “I never saw him after that,” McChrystal wrote. “Only years later did I hear of his membership in al Qaeda, his September 1998 arrest in Egypt after being subpoenaed in conjunction with the August 1998 embassy bombings in Africa, and his public discussions about al Qaeda as an organization.”

Much of McChrystal’s book is devoted to his hunt for Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born terrorist who lead al Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq. McChrystal discloses in the book that the Joint Special Operations Command almost captured Iraqi master terrorist Zarqawi in February 2004, more than two years before McChrystal’s team did finally find and kill him. A team of Delta Force soldiers had a tip that Zarqawi was visiting a townhouse in the Askari neighborhood of Fallujah that evening. But by the time the Special Operations team got to the townhouse, Zarqawi had already escaped. McChrystal speculates that he may have leapt from a two-story building. McChrystal writes, “On that dusty night in February 2004, while we were disappointed to have missed him, the bloody consequences of our failure were not immediately apparent. On that night, he was not yet Iraq’s bane.”

Jarheads and Girls

Hero Project TV: Arts and Arms

Hero Project TV host and Jarhead author Anthony Swofford sits down with Girls actor and fellow Marine veteran Adam Driver, whose foundation Arts in the Armed Forces engages veterans through performing arts as a means of self-expression.

World War II Veteran Medals

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) hosts this week’s #vetchat.

Every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST, Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a special guest host an hourlong discussion with readers about military and veterans’ issues. This week the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), @TAPS4America, discusses strategies you can use to cope with loss this holiday season. To join the conversation, go to Twitter and tweet with the hashtag #vetchat.

For more information, or if you’d like to host one of the chats, follow or contact @HeroSummit or @HellerJake.

The ACLU hosts this week's #vetchat

Every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST, Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a special guest host an hourlong discussion with readers about military and veterans’ issues. This week, the ACLU discusses their recent lawsuit that challenges the Pentagon's rule barring women from ground combat. To join the conversation, go to Twitter and tweet with the hashtag #vetchat.

For more information, or if you’d like to host one of the chats, follow or contact @HeroSummit or @HellerJake.

U.S. Army soldier

John Moore / Getty Images

Eli Williamson of the McCormick Foundation hosts this week’s #vetchat.

Every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST, Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a special guest host an hourlong discussion with readers about military and veterans’ issues. This week Eli Williamson, director of the veterans’ program at the McCormick Foundation, discusses why all of society’s good will toward veterans isn’t translating into better services for veterans. To join the conversation, go to Twitter and tweet with the hashtag #vetchat.

For more information, or if you’d like to host one of the chats, follow or contact @HeroSummit or @HellerJake.

TWO-TIMED

Failure of Leadership

David Petraeus didn’t merely get caught in a tawdry sex scandal—he failed the soldiers who trusted him with their lives. Iraq war veteran Brian Mockenhaupt, author of the new Byliner Original, The Living and the Dead, calls the former general to account.

In the spring of 2011, I was embedded with a platoon of Marines at Patrol Base Dakota, an abandoned mud-walled farming compound in northern Marjah, in southern Afghanistan. I slept in the courtyard, on a cot under a canopy of camouflage netting, and had just woken up one morning in early May when Sergeant Tom Whorl, the platoon sergeant, stepped from his room and walked toward a row of wooden outhouses. “Hey,” he called to me, “bin Laden’s dead.”

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A US Marine walks to his patrol of Marjah district in Helmand Province on May 25, 2011. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP / Getty Images))

The Marines discussed this for two or three minutes and made a few jokes.

“There should be birds here to take us home,” Sgt. Jake Powell said.

“Yeah,” Cpl. Helmut Eggl said. “War’s over.”

And that was it. Conversation shifted to maps and radio frequencies as the Marines readied for the day’s first patrol into the surrounding farmland and villages, where they had been battling the Taliban since arriving at Patrol Base Dakota four months earlier.

Marines For Life

Friends on the Line

An exclusive excerpt from Brian Mockenhaupt's new Byliner Original, 'The Living and the Dead.'

With a patrol outside the wire, Patrol Base Dakota ran on a skeleton crew: a Marine in each guard post and a team leader manning the Combat Operations Center—a small desk in one of the mud-walled dirt-floored rooms—to relay messages between the patrol and higher-ups. Today the job fell to Lance Corporal Ryan Moore, at nineteen the youngest of the three team leaders in Sgt. Tom Whorl's third squad.

The Living and The Dead

The Living and the Dead, By Brian Mockenhaupt, Byliner Original

Ryan had grown up in Navarre, a town of maybe fifteen hundred in eastern Ohio, moved out at sixteen, and spent his high school years lifting weights, repairing cars, and smoking weed. In the Marine Corps he found his groove. He listened and he worked harder than others, and when he arrived at Camp Lejeune after boot camp and infantry training, Tom noticed and soon put him in charge of three other Marines. Ryan would rather have been outside the wire on this day leading his men through the farmland and villages of southern Afghanistan and trying to kill Taliban, but he knew the importance of his role back at Dakota, should the patrol find trouble.

Before the Marines walked out of the patrol base that morning, Ryan had hugged Corporal Ian Muller. They’d had enough close calls and heard enough terrible stories to know that life out here was utterly unpredictable. Many of the Marines made a point of telling their friends how much they cared about them.

“I love you,” Ryan said.

“I love you, too,” Ian told him.

Every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST, Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a special guest host an hourlong discussion with readers about military and veterans’ issues. This week James Brobyn, executive director of the Travis Manion Foundation, discusses how we can empower veterans when they return home. To join the conversation, go to Twitter and tweet with the hashtag #vetchat.

For more information, or if you’d like to host one of the chats, follow or contact @HeroSummit or @HellerJake.

Highlights 2012

A Real-Life Action Hero

He has sprinted toward turmoil in war zones, jungles, and disaster areas from Iraq to Peru. This past week, Howard “Ford” Sypher did it again—in D.C. Abigail Pesta reports.

Howard “Ford” Sypher specializes in chaos. A former member of the elite Army Rangers, he served three tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. Now a civilian, he and a team of war veterans chase disasters—tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, hurricanes in New York—to help people in the aftermath. He is used to the unexpected.

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Sypher in South Sudan, where refugees battle floods, malnutrition, and disease. (Matthew Brudnok)

And so he was ready for action this week in Washington, D.C., when he came upon a sudden crisis on a busy city street. A car had swerved out of control, plowing into two other cars, then smacking into several people on the sidewalk. One woman was hit so hard, he says, “it blew her shoes and socks off.”

Sypher was in town for Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s inaugural Hero Summit, honoring military leaders and other people of courage. He had spoken at the summit about how veterans are coming together by the thousands through his nonprofit group, Team Rubicon, to serve as volunteers in disaster zones.

He didn’t expect to find himself in the middle of a disaster on the streets of the capital city. But when it happened, he knew what to do.

In a taxi on Friday when the accident occurred, he jumped out and ran to the people lying sprawled on the sidewalk. “I thought I was gonna find people in pieces,” he says. “I expected to find hamburger all over the place. Luckily, no one was dead.”

Highlights 2012

Decorations Decoded

The Hero Project

Hero Summit 2013

The Second Annual Hero Summit

The Second Annual Hero Summit

See who’s attending and what’s on tap at the October 10 event in Washington, D.C.

Syria

Veteran's Perspectives on Syria and Intervention

A Veteran’s Case Against Attacking

A Veteran’s Case Against Attacking

No to Syria. Army veteran Brian Van Reet argues against intervention.

No Guarantees

Taking Out Syrian Chemical Weapons

Syria

How to Use Special Ops In Syria

Syria

Interview With a Syrian Soldier

Syrian Soldier

My Part in This War

The VA

Neglecting Our Veterans

Interactive Map Tracking Wait Time For Veterans’ Disability Claims

Interactive Map Tracking Wait Time For Veterans’ Disability Claims

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.

Watch This

Highlights of the 2012 Hero Summit

Best Moments from the Hero Summit

Best Moments from the Hero Summit

From Adm. William McRaven to columnist Nicholas Kristof to Bono, WATCH VIDEO of the summit’s must-see moments.

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