|A new study shows that, from 1500 until 2000, about a third of floods in southwestern Netherlands were deliberately caused by humans during wartimes. Some of these inundations resulted in significant changes to the landscape, being as damaging as floods caused by heavy rainfall or storm surges. The work, by Dutch researcher Adriaan de Kraker, is published in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, a journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).
During the Eighty Years’ War, as the Spanish army fought to recapture territory in what is now northern Belgium and southwestern Netherlands in the late sixteenth century, the Dutch rebels led by William of Orange decided to use the low-lying, flood-prone landscape to their advantage. In an attempt to liberate Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp from Spanish dominance and defend their territory, the rebels destroyed seawalls at strategic places from 1584 to 1586 to cause deliberate, large-scale floods.
»The plan got completely out of hand«, says De Kraker, an assistant professor at the VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands. »It came at the expense of the countryside of northern Flanders, now Zeeland Flanders, some two thirds of which was flooded.«
Floods can result in loss of life and damage homes and businesses, and when the water remains inland for a long time, it can change the landscape through erosion and deposition, forming new tidal channels and creeks. The area flooded during the Eighty Years’ War became part of a strategic line of defence and remained inundated for more than 100 years in some places, with profound consequences for the landscape. After the waters receded, a thick layer of clay covered all remnants of buildings and roads in the area. As sea water was used, soil salinity increased, affecting agricultural yields.
»Strategic flooding is a highly risky tactic. It can only be successful if there’s a well-thought-out backup plan and a plan for fast repairs«, warns De Kraker. However, that was not the case here, he says: »I desperately looked for evidence of backup plans for the repair of the dykes and who was going to pay for the costs incurred. I could find hardly any records of such plans.«
De Kraker has been studying historical floods – occurring from the year 1500 to 2000 – in southwestern Netherlands since the 1980s to find out their causes and outcomes. Mostly below sea level, and dominated by three river estuaries populated with islands and a system of dykes and dams that protect the fertile land from the sea, this region is particularly susceptible to floods.
In his research, De Kraker used documents relating to land ownership and land use, accounts of maintenance of sea defences, and correspondence between stakeholders, such as rebels, Spanish officials, and mayors of besieged towns. He also used aerial photographs of the area, historical maps and maps of soil and landscape changes.
As reported in the new Hydrology and Earth System Sciences article, he noticed the main floods in the area in the past 500 years could be grouped into those caused by storm surges (21 events) and those happening during wartimes (11 events). The former had natural causes and the latter were created by humans, but De Kraker says human action played a major role in both.
The most damaging flood occurred in the winter of 1953, when strong winds blew for two days causing a long-lasting storm surge, which resulted in extremely high water levels. Over 1800 people died, 100 000 were evacuated and damages reached the equivalent of 700 million euros. While the cause of this flood was natural, De Kraker says human factors contributed to the extent of the damage. He reports that officials were slow at responding to the event, failing to take mitigation measures such as raising the dykes fast enough. Weak building construction and inadequate rescue procedures contributed to the material damage and human toll.
The study also shows floods in the Netherlands were used as a weapon as recently as the 1940s. »Strategic flooding during the Second World War undertaken by the Germans remained purely defensive, while the Allied flooding of the former island of Walcheren in the southwest of the country sped up the Allied offensive«, says De Kraker.
Photograph: Tech. Sgt. Paul Flipse/U.S. Air Force photo
Global warming is changing the way the US trains for and goes to war – affecting war games, weapons systems, training exercises, and military installations – according to the Pentagon.
The defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, will tell a high-level meeting of military leaders on Monday that the Pentagon is undertaking sweeping changes to operation systems and installations to keep up with a growing threat of rising seas, droughts, and natural disasters caused by climate change.
“A changing climate will have real impacts on our military and the way it executes its missions,” Hagel wrote in his introduction to a Pentagon report out today. “We are considering the impacts of climate change in our war games and defence planning scenarios.”
The Pentagon’s strategic planners have for years viewed climate change as a “threat multiplier”– worsening old conflicts and potentially provoking new clashes over migration and shortages of food and water in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and opening up new military challenges in a melting Arctic.
But with Monday’s report, climate change moved from potential threat to an immediate factor in a wide range of operational and budgeting decisions.
“It makes it a reality that climate change indeed is a risk today, and we need to plan, programme and budget for it now and into the future,” said Sherri Goodman, chief executive of the military advisory board, a group of former generals and other high-ranking officers that studies US national security.
The report – unveiled at a meeting of more than 30 defence ministers from the Americas and Europe – also signalled US intention to take a lead role at international climate negotiations in Lima in December.
From now on, the military will factor climate change into a host of day-to-day decisions, a senior defence official told a conference call with reporters.
“It’s about being baked into things we are already doing, and incorporated into all the other things we are doing,” he said.
Those decisions could include war games, training exercises, and purchasing decisions – which could all be affected by conditions such as sea-level rise, heat waves, and drought.
War games scenarios would now factor in floods or storms instead of assuming optimal conditions, said Goodman. “You could make the game more complex with sea-level rise, and extreme weather events.”
She said the navy would have to test sonar and other systems under the changing ocean chemistry. The military will have to adapt to hotter temperatures.
One of the biggest and most costly decisions ahead is the location of some 7,000 US military sites.
As the report acknowledged, US military installations and personnel are already exposed to climate change. The Hampton Roads area in Virginia – which houses the biggest concentration of US forces – already floods during high tides and severe storms, and could see an additional 1.5 feet of sea level rise in the next 20 years.
Meanwhile, military bases in the south-west are coping with water and electricity shortages, under recurring droughts. Arctic land-based installations are shifting because of melting permafrost, while retreating sea ice is changing naval requirements.
The Pentagon is not planning a wholesale relocation of bases, the officials told the call. But they said the military was already bringing in sandbags and moving generators out of basements in low-lying areas. It was also shelving ideas for new construction on flood plains.
Other potential changes include cuts to outdoor training exercises – because of heat waves, or increased weapons maintenance costs and repairs because of heat and dust.
“As we think about changing weather patterns we have to think hard about where operations might be conducted and whether we need to change the assumptions about what kind of air breathing conditions … what kind of sea state we might expect in an operating environment, and what impact they might have.”
The report said troops could also be at greater risk of infectious diseases, which spread more rapidly in hotter temperatures.
Hagel in comments to reporters at the weekend said the Pentagon anticipated an increase in humanitarian missions, because of natural disasters and recurring famines.
He also said the Arctic presented a growing military challenge.
“We see an Arctic that is melting, meaning that most likely a new sea lane will emerge,” he said. “We know that there are significant minerals and natural deposits of oil and natural gas there. That means that nations will compete for those natural resources. That’s never been an issue before. You couldn’t get up there and get anything out of there. We have to manage through what those conditions and new realities are going to bring in the way of potential threats.”
The Pentagon was first instructed by Congress in 2007 to incorporate climate change into its long-term security planning.
But Republicans in Congress have gone on to block the military from preparing for a warmer future, cutting funds for intelligence gathering or testing low-carbon jet fuels.
Officials told the call that planning for the future would help bring down climate-related costs.
“There is a lot you can do to mitigate risk and lower the cost of risks if you acknowledge the risk exists,” the officials said.
Date: June 30, 2014
Source: Washington State University
Summary: Traditional healing therapies are the treatment of choice for many Native American veterans, — half of whom say usual PTSD treatments don’t work — according to a recent survey. In the Arizona desert, wounded warriors from the Hopi Nation can join in a ceremony called Wiping Away the Tears. The traditional cleansing ritual helps dispel a chronic “ghost sickness” that can haunt survivors of battle.
Native American veterans battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder find relief and healing through an alternative treatment called the Sweat Lodge ceremony offered at the Spokane Veterans Administration Hospital.
In the Arizona desert, wounded warriors from the Hopi Nation can join in a ceremony called Wiping Away the Tears. The traditional cleansing ritual helps dispel a chronic “ghost sickness” that can haunt survivors of battle.
These and other traditional healing therapies are the treatment of choice for many Native American veterans, — half of whom say usual PTSD treatments don’t work — according to a recent survey conducted at Washington State University. The findings will be presented at the American Psychological Association conference in Washington D.C. this August.
The study is available online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/nativeveterans.
Led by Greg Urquhart and Matthew Hale, both Native veterans and graduate students in the College of Education, the ongoing study examines the attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs of Native American veterans concerning PTSD and its various treatment options. Their goal is to give Native veterans a voice in shaping the types of therapies available in future programs.
“Across the board, Native vets don’t feel represented. Their voices have been silenced and ignored for so long that they were happy to provide feedback on our survey,” said Hale.
Historically, Native Americans have served in the military at higher rates than all other U.S. populations. Veterans are traditionally honored as warriors and esteemed in the tribal community.
A 2012 report by the Department of Veterans Affairs showed that the percentage of Native veterans under age 65 outnumbers similar percentages for veterans of all other racial groups combined.
The WSU survey provides a first-hand look at the veterans’ needs, but more importantly, reveals the unique preferences they have as Native American veterans, said Phyllis Erdman, executive associate dean for academic affairs at the college and mentor for the study.
Urquhart said many Native veterans are reluctant to seek treatment for PTSD because typical western therapy options don’t represent the Native cultural worldview.
“The traditional Native view of health and spirituality is intertwined,” he explained. “Spirit, mind, and body are all one — you can’t parcel one out from the other — so spirituality is a huge component of healing and one not often included in western medicine, although there have been a few studies on the positive effects of prayer.”
For many years, the U.S. government banned Native religious ceremonies, which subsequently limited their use in PTSD programs, said Urquhart. Seeking to remedy the situation, many Veterans Administration hospitals now offer traditional Native practices including talking circles, vision quests, songs, drumming, stories, sweat lodge ceremonies, gourd dances and more. Elders or traditional medicine men are also on staff to help patients process their physical and emotional trauma.
“PTSD is a big issue and it’s not going away anytime soon,” said Hale who identifies as Cherokee and was a mental health technician in the Air Force.
Urquhart, who is also Cherokee and developed mild symptoms of PTSD after a tour as a cavalry scout in Iraq, said there have been very few studies on Native veterans and PTSD. He and Hale designed their survey to be broader and more inclusive than any previous assessments. It is the first to address the use of equine therapy as a possible adjunct to both western treatments and Native ceremonial approaches.
Standard treatments disappointing
So far, 253 veterans from all five branches of the military have completed the survey, which includes 40 questions, most of them yes or no answers. It also includes an open-ended section where participants can add comments. The views reflect a diverse Native population ranging from those living on reservations to others who live in cities.
The majority of survey takers felt that “most people who suffer from PTSD do not receive adequate treatment,” said Urquhart. For Native veterans who did seek standard treatment, the results were often disappointing. Sixty percent of survey respondents who had attempted PTSD therapy reported “no improvement” or “very unsatisfied.”
Individual counseling reportedly had no impact on their PTSD or made the symptoms worse for 49 percent of participants. On the other hand, spiritual or religious guidance was seen as successful or highly successful by 72 percent of Native respondents. Animal assisted therapy — equine, canine, or other animals — was also highly endorsed.
“The unique thing about equine therapy is that it’s not a traditional western, sit-down-with-a-therapist type program. It’s therapeutic but doesn’t have the stigma of many therapies previously imposed on Native Americans,” said Urquhart.
Strongly supportive of such efforts, Erdman is expanding the long-running WSU Palouse Area Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) program to include a section open to all veterans called PATH to Success: A Warrior’s Journey.
Giving veterans a voice
Urquhart, Hale, and teammate, Nasreen Shah say their research is gaining wide support in Native communities throughout the nation.
The team plans to distribute the survey results to all U.S. tribes, tribal governments, Native urban groups, and veteran warrior societies. They also hope the departments of Veterans Affairs and Indian Health Services will take notice and continue to incorporate more traditional healing methods into their programs.
As one Iroquois Navy veteran commented on the survey, “Traditional/spiritual healing can be very effective together with in depth education and background in modern treatment methods.”
A Nahua Army veteran agreed, writing, “Healing ceremonies are absolutely essential, as is story telling in front of supportive audiences. We need rituals to welcome back the warriors.”
Jan. 6, 2014 — Today’s emerging military technologies — including unmanned aerial vehicles, directed-energy weapons, lethal autonomous robots, and cyber weapons like Stuxnet — raise the prospect of upheavals in military practices so fundamental that they challenge long-established laws of war. Weapons that make their own decisions about targeting and killing humans, for example, have ethical and legal implications obvious and frightening enough to have entered popular culture (for example, in the Terminator films).
The current international laws of war were developed over many centuries and long before the current era of fast-paced technological change. Military ethics and technology expert Braden Allenby says the proper response to the growing mismatch between long-established international law and emerging military technology “is neither the wholesale rejection of the laws of war nor the comfortable assumption that only minor tweaks to them are necessary.” Rather, he argues, the rules of engagement should be reconsidered through deliberate and focused international discussion that includes a wide range of cultural and institutional perspectives.
Allenby’s article anchors a special issue on the threat of emerging military technologies in the latest Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BOS), published by SAGE.
History is replete with paradigm shifts in warfare technology, from the introduction of gunpowder, which arguably gave rise to nation states, to the air-land-battle technologies used during the Desert Storm offensive in Kuwait and Iraq in 1991, which caused 20,000 to 30,000 Iraqi casualties and left only 200 US coalition troops dead. But today’s accelerating advances across the technological frontier and dramatic increases in the numbers of social institutions at play around the world are blurring boundaries between military and civil entities and state and non-state actors. And because the United States has an acknowledged primacy in terms of conventional forces, the nations and groups that compete with it increasingly think in terms of asymmetric warfare, raising issues that lie beyond established norms of military conduct and may require new legal thinking and institutions to address.
“The impact of emerging technologies on the laws of war might be viewed as a case study and an important learning opportunity for humankind as it struggles to adapt to the complexity that it has already wrought, but has yet to learn to manage,” Allenby writes.
Other articles in the Bulletin’s January/February special issue on emerging military technologies include “The enhanced warfighter” by Ken Ford, which looks at the ethics and practicalities of performance enhancement for military personnel, and Michael C. Horowitz’s overview of the near-term future of US war-fighting technology, “Coming next in military tech.” The issue also offers two views of the use of advanced robotics: “Stopping killer robots,” Mark Gubrud’s argument in favor of an international ban on lethal autonomous weapons, and “Robot to the rescue,” Gill Pratt’s account of a US Defense Department initiative aiming to develop robots that will improve response to disasters, like the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, that involve highly toxic environments.
- Braden R. Allenby. Are new technologies undermining the laws of war? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 2014
Driving into Iraq just after the 2003 invasion felt like driving into the future. We convoyed all day, all night, past Army checkpoints and burned-out tanks, till in the blue dawn Baghdad rose from the desert like a vision of hell: Flames licked the bruised sky from the tops of refinery towers, cyclopean monuments bulged and leaned against the horizon, broken overpasses swooped and fell over ruined suburbs, bombed factories, and narrow ancient streets.
Civilizations have marched blindly toward disaster because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today.
With “shock and awe,” our military had unleashed the end of the world on a city of six million — a city about the same size as Houston or Washington. The infrastructure was totaled: water, power, traffic, markets and security fell to anarchy and local rule. The city’s secular middle class was disappearing, squeezed out between gangsters, profiteers, fundamentalists and soldiers. The government was going down, walls were going up, tribal lines were being drawn, and brutal hierarchies savagely established.
I was a private in the United States Army. This strange, precarious world was my new home. If I survived.
Two and a half years later, safe and lazy back in Fort Sill, Okla., I thought I had made it out. Then I watched on television as Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. This time it was the weather that brought shock and awe, but I saw the same chaos and urban collapse I’d seen in Baghdad, the same failure of planning and the same tide of anarchy. The 82nd Airborne hit the ground, took over strategic points and patrolled streets now under de facto martial law. My unit was put on alert to prepare for riot control operations. The grim future I’d seen in Baghdad was coming home: not terrorism, not even W.M.D.’s, but a civilization in collapse, with a crippled infrastructure, unable to recuperate from shocks to its system.
And today, with recovery still going on more than a year after Sandy and many critics arguing that the Eastern seaboard is no more prepared for a huge weather event than we were last November, it’s clear that future’s not going away.
This March, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of the United States Pacific Command, told security and foreign policy specialists in Cambridge, Mass., that global climate change was the greatest threat the United States faced — more dangerous than terrorism, Chinese hackers and North Korean nuclear missiles. Upheaval from increased temperatures, rising seas and radical destabilization “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen…” he said, “that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’
Locklear’s not alone. Tom Donilon, the national security adviser,said much the same thing in April, speaking to an audience at Columbia’s new Center on Global Energy Policy. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told the Senate in March that “Extreme weather events (floods, droughts, heat waves) will increasingly disrupt food and energy markets, exacerbating state weakness, forcing human migrations, and triggering riots, civil disobedience, and vandalism.”
On the civilian side, the World Bank’s recent report, “Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience,” offers a dire prognosis for the effects of global warming, which climatologists now predict will raise global temperatures by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit within a generation and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit within 90 years. Projections from researchers at the University of Hawaii find us dealing with “historically unprecedented” climates as soon as 2047. The climate scientist James Hansen, formerly with NASA, has argued that we face an “apocalyptic” future. This grim view is seconded by researchers worldwide, including Anders Levermann, Paul and Anne Ehrlich,Lonnie Thompson and many, many, many others.
This chorus of Jeremiahs predicts a radically transformed global climate forcing widespread upheaval — not possibly, not potentially, but inevitably. We have passed the point of no return. From the point of view of policy experts, climate scientists and national security officials, the question is no longer whether global warming exists or how we might stop it, but how we are going to deal with it.
There’s a word for this new era we live in: the Anthropocene. This term, taken up by geologists, pondered by intellectuals and discussed in the pages of publications such as The Economist and the The New York Times, represents the idea that we have entered a new epoch in Earth’s geological history, one characterized by the arrival of the human species as a geological force. The biologist Eugene F. Stoermer and the Nobel-Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen advanced the term in 2000, and it has steadily gained acceptance as evidence has increasingly mounted that the changes wrought by global warming will affect not just the world’s climate and biological diversity, but its very geology — and not just for a few centuries, but for millenniums. The geophysicist David Archer’s 2009 book, “The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate,” lays out a clear and concise argument for how huge concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and melting ice will radically transform the planet, beyond freak storms and warmer summers, beyond any foreseeable future.
The Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London — the scientists responsible for pinning the “golden spikes” that demarcate geological epochs such as the Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Holocene — have adopted the Anthropocene as a term deserving further consideration, “significant on the scale of Earth history.” Working groups are discussing what level of geological time-scale it might be (an “epoch” like the Holocene, or merely an “age” like the Calabrian), and at what date we might say it began. The beginning of the Great Acceleration, in the middle of the 20th century? The beginning of the Industrial Revolution, around 1800? The advent of agriculture?
Every day I went out on mission in Iraq, I looked down the barrel of the future and saw a dark, empty hole.
The challenge the Anthropocene poses is a challenge not just to national security, to food and energy markets, or to our “way of life” — though these challenges are all real, profound, and inescapable. The greatest challenge the Anthropocene poses may be to our sense of what it means to be human. Within 100 years — within three to five generations — we will face average temperatures 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today, rising seas at least three to 10 feet higher, and worldwide shifts in crop belts, growing seasons and population centers. Within a thousand years, unless we stop emitting greenhouse gases wholesale right now, humans will be living in a climate the Earth hasn’t seen since the Pliocene, three million years ago, when oceans were 75 feet higher than they are today. We face the imminent collapse of the agricultural, shipping and energy networks upon which the global economy depends, a large-scale die-off in the biosphere that’s already well on its way, and our own possible extinction. If homo sapiens (or some genetically modified variant) survives the next millenniums, it will be survival in a world unrecognizably different from the one we have inhabited.
Geological time scales, civilizational collapse and species extinction give rise to profound problems that humanities scholars and academic philosophers, with their taste for fine-grained analysis, esoteric debates and archival marginalia, might seem remarkably ill suited to address. After all, how will thinking about Kant help us trap carbon dioxide? Can arguments between object-oriented ontology and historical materialism protect honeybees from colony collapse disorder? Are ancient Greek philosophers, medieval theologians, and contemporary metaphysicians going to keep Bangladesh from being inundated by rising oceans?
Of course not. But the biggest problems the Anthropocene poses are precisely those that have always been at the root of humanistic and philosophical questioning: “What does it mean to be human?” and “What does it mean to live?” In the epoch of the Anthropocene, the question of individual mortality — “What does my life mean in the face of death?” — is universalized and framed in scales that boggle the imagination. What does human existence mean against 100,000 years of climate change? What does one life mean in the face of species death or the collapse of global civilization? How do we make meaningful choices in the shadow of our inevitable end?
These questions have no logical or empirical answers. They are philosophical problems par excellence. Many thinkers, including Cicero, Montaigne, Karl Jaspers, and The Stone’s own Simon Critchley, have argued that studying philosophy is learning how to die. If that’s true, then we have entered humanity’s most philosophical age — for this is precisely the problem of the Anthropocene. The rub is that now we have to learn how to die not as individuals, but as a civilization.
Learning how to die isn’t easy. In Iraq, at the beginning, I was terrified by the idea. Baghdad seemed incredibly dangerous, even though statistically I was pretty safe. We got shot at and mortared, and I.E.D.’s laced every highway, but I had good armor, we had a great medic, and we were part of the most powerful military the world had ever seen. The odds were good I would come home. Maybe wounded, but probably alive. Every day I went out on mission, though, I looked down the barrel of the future and saw a dark, empty hole.
“For the soldier death is the future, the future his profession assigns him,” wrote Simone Weil in her remarkable meditation on war, “The Iliad or the Poem of Force.” “Yet the idea of man’s having death for a future is abhorrent to nature. Once the experience of war makes visible the possibility of death that lies locked up in each moment, our thoughts cannot travel from one day to the next without meeting death’s face.” That was the face I saw in the mirror, and its gaze nearly paralyzed me.
I found my way forward through an 18th-century Samurai manual, Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s “Hagakure,” which commanded: “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily.” Instead of fearing my end, I owned it. Every morning, after doing maintenance on my Humvee, I’d imagine getting blown up by an I.E.D., shot by a sniper, burned to death, run over by a tank, torn apart by dogs, captured and beheaded, and succumbing to dysentery. Then, before we rolled out through the gate, I’d tell myself that I didn’t need to worry, because I was already dead. The only thing that mattered was that I did my best to make sure everyone else came back alive. “If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead,” wrote Tsunetomo, “he gains freedom in the Way.”
I got through my tour in Iraq one day at a time, meditating each morning on my inevitable end. When I left Iraq and came back stateside, I thought I’d left that future behind. Then I saw it come home in the chaos that was unleashed after Katrina hit New Orleans. And then I saw it again when Sandy battered New York and New Jersey: Government agencies failed to move quickly enough, and volunteer groups like Team Rubicon had to step in to manage disaster relief.
Now, when I look into our future — into the Anthropocene — I see water rising up to wash out lower Manhattan. I see food riots, hurricanes, and climate refugees. I see 82nd Airborne soldiers shooting looters. I see grid failure, wrecked harbors, Fukushima waste, and plagues. I see Baghdad. I see the Rockaways. I see a strange, precarious world.
Our new home.
The human psyche naturally rebels against the idea of its end. Likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly toward disaster, because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent. Across the world today, our actions testify to our belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning the seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air, ignoring the ominous silence of our coal mine canaries in favor of the unending robotic tweets of our new digital imaginarium. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.
The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.
The choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less and less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can’t sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.
If we want to learn to live in the Anthropocene, we must first learn how to die.
Aug. 29, 2013 — While some researchers have claimed that war between nations is in decline, a new analysis suggests we shouldn’t be too quick to celebrate a more peaceful world.
The study finds that there is no clear trend indicating that nations are less eager to wage war, said Bear Braumoeller, author of the study and associate professor of political science at The Ohio State University.
Conflict does appear to be less common than it had been in the past, he said. But that’s due more to an inability to fight than to an unwillingness to do so.
“As empires fragment, the world has split up into countries that are smaller, weaker and farther apart, so they are less able to fight each other,” Braumoeller said.
“Once you control for their ability to fight each other, the proclivity to go to war hasn’t really changed over the last two centuries.”
Braumoeller presented his research Aug. 29 in Chicago at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.
Several researchers have claimed in recent years that war is in decline, most notably Steven Pinker in his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
As evidence, Pinker points to a decline in war deaths per capita. But Braumoeller said he believes that is a flawed measure.
“That accurately reflects the average citizen’s risk from death in war, but countries’ calculations in war are more complicated than that,” he said.
Moreover, since population grows exponentially, it would be hard for war deaths to keep up with the booming number of people in the world.
Because we cannot predict whether wars will be quick and easy or long and drawn-out (“Remember ‘Mission Accomplished?'” Braumoeller says) a better measure of how warlike we as humans are is to start with how often countries use force — such as missile strikes or armed border skirmishes — against other countries, he said.
“Any one of these uses of force could conceivably start a war, so their frequency is a good indication of how war prone we are at any particular time,” he said.
Braumoeller used the Correlates of War Militarized Interstate Dispute database, which scholars from around the world study to measure uses of force up to and including war.
The data shows that the uses of force held more or less constant through World War I, but then increased steadily thereafter.
This trend is consistent with the growth in the number of countries over the course of the last two centuries.
But just looking at the number of conflicts per pair of countries is misleading, he said, because countries won’t go to war if they aren’t “politically relevant” to each other.
Military power and geography play a big role in relevance; it is unlikely that a small, weak country in South America would start a war with a small, weak country in Africa.
Once Braumoeller took into account both the number of countries and their political relevance to one another, the results showed essentially no change to the trend of the use of force over the last 200 years.
While researchers such as Pinker have suggested that countries are actually less inclined to fight than they once were, Braumoeller said these results suggest a different reason for the recent decline in war.
“With countries being smaller, weaker and more distant from each other, they certainly have less ability to fight. But we as humans shouldn’t get credit for being more peaceful just because we’re not as able fight as we once were,” he said.
“There is no indication that we actually have less proclivity to wage war.”
Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, special representative to foreign secretary, says governments can’t afford to wait for 100% certainty
The Guardian, Sunday 30 June 2013 18.19 BST
Flooding in Thailand in 2011. Photograph: Narong Sangnak/EPA
Climate change poses as grave a threat to the UK’s security and economic resilience as terrorism and cyber-attacks, according to a senior military commander who was appointed as William Hague’s climate envoy this year.
In his first interview since taking up the post, Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti said climate change was “one of the greatest risks we face in the 21st century”, particularly because it presented a global threat. “By virtue of our interdependencies around the world, it will affect all of us,” he said.
He argued that climate change was a potent threat multiplier at choke points in the global trade network, such as the Straits of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s traded oil and gas is shipped.
Morisetti left a 37-year naval career to become the foreign secretary’s special representative for climate change, and represents the growing influence of hard-headed military thinking in the global warming debate.
The link between climate change and global security risks is on the agenda of the UK’s presidency of the G8, including a meeting to be chaired by Morissetti in July that will include assessment of hotspots where climate stress is driving migration.
Morisetti’s central message was simple and stark: “The areas of greatest global stress and greatest impacts of climate change are broadly coincidental.”
He said governments could not afford to wait until they had all the information they might like. “If you wait for 100% certainty on the battlefield, you’ll be in a pretty sticky state,” he said.
The increased threat posed by climate change arises because droughts, storms and floods are exacerbating water, food, population and security tensions in conflict-prone regions.
“Just because it is happening 2,000 miles away does not mean it is not going to affect the UK in a globalised world, whether it is because food prices go up, or because increased instability in an area – perhaps around the Middle East or elsewhere – causes instability in fuel prices,” Morisetti said.
“In fact it is already doing so,” he added, noting that Toyota’s UK car plants had been forced to switch to a three-day week after extreme floods in Thailand cut the supply chain. Computer firms in California and Poland were left short of microchips by the same floods.
Morisetti is far from the only military figure emphasising the climate threat to security. America’s top officer tackling the threat from North Korea and China has said the biggest long-term security issue in the region is climate change.
In a recent interview, Admiral Samuel J Locklear III, who led the US naval action in Libya that helped topple Muammar Gaddafi, said a significant event related to the warming planet was “the most likely thing that is going to happen that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about”.
There is a reason why the military are so clear-headed about the climate threat, according to Professor John Schellnhuber, a scientist who briefed the UN security council on the issue in February and formerly advised the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.
“The military do not deal with ideology. They cannot afford to: they are responsible for the lives of people and billions of pounds of investment in equipment,” he said. “When the climate change deniers took their stance after the Copenhagen summit in 2009, it is very interesting that the military people were never shaken from the idea that we are about to enter a very difficult period.”
He added: “This danger of the creation of violent conflicts is the strongest argument why we should keep climate change under control, because the international system is not stable, and the slightest thing, like the food riots in the Middle East, could make the whole system explode.”
The military has been quietly making known its concern about the climate threat to security for some time. General Wesley Clark, who commanded the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo war, said in 2005: “Stopping global warming is not just about saving the environment, it’s about securing America for our children and our children’s children, as well.”
In the same year Chuck Hagel, now Obama’s defence secretary, said: “I don’t think you can separate environmental policy from economic policy or energy policy.”
Morisetti said there was also a direct link between climate change and the military because of the latter’s huge reliance on fossil fuels. “In Afghanistan, where we have had to import all our energy into the country along a single route that has been disrupted, the US military have calculated that for every 24 convoys there has been a casualty. There is a cost associated in bringing in that energy in both blood and treasure.
“So to drive up efficiency and to use alternative fuels, wind, solar, makes eminent sense to the military,” he said, noting that the use of solar blankets in Afghanistan meant fewer fuel resupply missions. “The principles of delivering your outputs more effectively, reducing your risks and reducing your costs reads across far more widely than just the military: most businesses would be looking for that too.”
Morisetti’s former employer, the Ministry of Defence, agrees that the climate threat is a serious one. The last edition of the Global Strategic Trends analysis published by the MoD’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre concludes: “Climate change will amplify existing social, political and resource stresses, shifting the tipping point at which conflict ignites … Out to 2040, there are few convincing reasons to suggest that the world will become more peaceful.”
Schellnhuber was also clear about the consequences of failing to curb global warming. “The last 11,000 years – the Holocene – was characterised by the extreme stability of global climate. It is the only period when human civilisation could have developed at all,” he said. “But I don’t think a global, interconnected world can be managed in peace if climate change means we are leaving the Holocene. Let’s pray we will have a Lincoln or a Gorbachev to lead us.”
Budget hawks’ plans to cut funding for political and social science aren’t just short-sighted and simple-minded — they’ll actually hurt national security.
BY SCOTT ATRAN | MARCH 15, 2013
With the automatic sequestration cuts geared up to slash billions of dollars from domestic programs, military funding, social services, and government-sponsored scientific research — including about a 6 percent reduction for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) — policymakers and professionals are scrambling to stave off the worst by resetting priorities. In a major speech last month, House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), proposed outright to defund political and social science: “Funds currently spent by the government on social science — including on politics of all things — would be better spent on curing diseases,” he said, echoing a similar proposal he made in 2009. Florida Governor Rick Scott has made a similar push, proposing to divert state funds from disciplines like anthropology and psychology “to degrees where people can get jobs,” especially in technology and medicine. Those are fighting words, but they’re also simple-minded.
Social science may sound like a frivolous expenditure to legislative budget hawks, but far from trimming fat, defunding these programs would fundamentally undercut core national interests. Like it or not, social science research informs everything from national security to technology development to healthcare and economic management. For example, we can’t decide which drugs to take, unless their risks and benefits are properly assessed, and we can’t know how much faith to have in a given science or engineering project, unless we know how much to trust expert judgment. Likewise, we can’t fully prepare to stop our adversaries, unless we understand the limits of our own ability to see why others see the world differently. Despite hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars poured into the global war on terrorism, radicalization against our country’s core interests continues to spread — and social science offers better ways than war to turn the tide.
In support of Rep. Cantor’s push to defund political and social science, a recent article in theAtlantic notes that “money [that] could have gone to towards life-saving cancer research” instead went to NSF-sponsored projects that “lack real-world impact” such as “the $750,000 spent studying the ‘sacred values‘ involved in cultural conflict.” Perhaps the use of words like “sacred” or “culture” incites such scorn, but as often occurs in many denunciations of social science, scant attention is actually paid to what the science proposes or produces. In fact, the results of this particular project — which I direct — have figured into numerous briefings to the National Security Staff at the White House, Senate and House committees, the Department of State and Britain’s Parliament, and the Israeli Knesset (including the prime minister and defense minister). In addition, the research offices of the Department of Defense have also supported my team’s work, which figures prominently in recent strategy assessments that focus on al Qaeda and broader problems of radicalization and political violence.
Let me try to explain just exactly what it is that we do. My research team conducts laboratory experiments, including brain imaging studies — supported by field work with political leaders, revolutionaries, terrorists, and others — that show sacred values to be core determinants of personal and social identity (“who I am” and “who we are”). Humans process these identities as moral rules, duties, and obligations that defy the utilitarian and instrumental calculations ofrealpolitik or the marketplace. Simply put, people defending a sacred value will not trade its incarnation (Israel’s settlements, Iran’s nuclear fuel rods, America’s guns) for any number of iPads, or even for peace.
The sacred values of “devoted actors,” it turns out, generate actions independent of calculated risks, costs, and consequences — a direct contradiction of prevailing “rational actor” models of politics and economics, which focus on material interests. Devoted actors, in contrast, act because they sincerely and deeply believe “it’s the right thing to do,” regardless of risks or rewards. Practically, this means that such actors often harness deep and abiding social and political commitments to confront much stronger foes. Think of the American revolutionaries, who were willing to sacrifice “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” in the fight for liberty against the greatest military power of the age — or modern suicide bombers willing to sacrifice everything for their cause.
Sacred values — as when land becomes “Holy Land” — sustain the commitment of revolutionaries and some terrorist groups to resist, and often overcome, more numerous and better-equipped militaries and police that function with measured rewards like better pay or promotion. Our research with political leaders and general populations also shows that sacred values — not political games or economics — underscore intractable conflicts like those between the Israelis and the Palestinians that defy the rational give-and-take of business-like negotiation. Field experiments in Israel, Palestine, Nigeria, and the United States indicate that commitment to such values can motivate and sustain wars beyond reasonable costs and casualties.
So what are the practical implications of these findings? Perhaps most importantly, our research explains why efforts to broker peace that rely on money or other material incentives are doomed when core values clash. In our studies with colleagues in Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, Iran, the Levant, and North Africa, we found that offers of material incentives to compromise on sacred values often backfire, actually increasing anger and violence toward a deal. For example, a 2010 study of attitudes toward Iran’s nuclear program found that most Iranians do not view the country’s nuclear program as sacred. But for about 13 percent of the population, the program has been made sacred through religious rhetoric. This group, which tends to be close to the regime, now believes a nuclear program is bound up with the national identity and with Islam itself. As a result, offering these people material rewards or punishments to abandon the program only increases their anger and support for it. Predictably, new sanctions, or heightened perception of sanctions, generate even more belligerent statements and actions by the regime to increase the pace, industrial capacity, and level of uranium enrichment. Of course, majority discontent with sanctions may yet force the regime to change course, or to double down on repression.
Understanding how this process plays out over time is a key to helping friends, thwarting enemies, and managing conflict. The ultimate goal of such research is to help save lives, resources, and national treasure. And by generating psychological knowledge about how culturally diverse individuals and groups advance values and interests that are potentially compatible or fundamentally antagonistic to our own, it can help keep the nation’s citizens, soldiers, and potential allies out of harm’s way. Our related research on the spiritual and material aspects of environmental disputes between Native American and majority-culture populations in North America andCentral America has also revealed surprising but practical ways to reduce conflict andsustainably manage forest commons and wildlife.
The would-be defunders of social science denounce an ivory tower that seems to exist only in their imagination — willfully ignoring evidence-based reasoning and results in order to advance a political agenda. Only $11 million of the NSF’s $7 billion-plus budget goes to political science research. It is exceedingly doubtful that getting rid of the entire NSF political science budget, which is equal to 0.5 percent of the cost of a single B-2 bomber, would really help to produce life-saving cancer research, where testing for even a single drug can cost more to develop than a B-2. Not that we must choose between either, mind you.
Social science is in fact moving the “hard” sciences forward. Consider the irony: a close collaborator on the “sacred values” project, Robert Axelrod, former president of the American Political Science Association, recently produced a potentially groundbreaking cancer study based on social science modeling of cancer cells as cooperative agents in competition with communities of healthy cells. Independent work by cancer researchers in the United States and abroad hasestablished that the cooperation among tumor cells that Axelrod and colleagues proposed does in fact take place in cell lines derived from human cancers, which has significant implications for the development of effective treatments.
Research from other fields of social science, including social and cognitive psychology and anthropology, continue to have deep implications for an enormous range of human problems: including how to better design and navigate transportation and communication networks, or manage airline crews and cockpits; on programming robots for industry and defense; on modeling computer systems and cybersecurity; on reconfiguring emergency medical care and diagnoses; in building effective responses to economic uncertainty; and enhancing industrial competitiveness and innovation. For example, perhaps the greatest long-term menace to the security of U.S. industry and defense is cyberwarfare, where the most insidious and hard-to-manage threat may stem not from hardware or software vulnerabilities but from “wetware,” the inclinations and biases of socially interacting human brains — as in just doing a friend a favor (like “click this link” or “can I borrow your flash drive?”). In recognition of that fact, Axelrod has suggested to the White House and Defense Department an “honor code” encouraging individuals to not only maintain cybersecurity themselves, but also not to lapse into doing favors for friends and to report such lapses in others.
Elected officials have the mandate to set priorities for research funding in the national interest. Ever since Abraham Lincoln established the National Academy of Sciences, however, a clear priority has been to allow scientific inquiry fairly free rein — to doubt, challenge, and ultimately change received wisdom if based on solid logic and evidence. What Rep. Cantor and like-minded colleagues seem to be saying is that this is fine, but only in the fields they consider expedient: in technology, medicine, and business. (Though possibly they mean to make an exception for the lucrative social science of polling, which can help to sell almost anything — even terrible ideas like defunding the rest of social science.)
It’s stunning to think that these influential politicians and the people who support them don’t want evidence-based reasoning and research to inform decisions concerning the nature and needs of our society — despite the fact that the vast majority of federal and state legislation deals with social issues, rather than technology or defense. To be sure, there is significant waste and wrongheadedness in the social sciences, as there is in any science (in fact, in any evolutionary process that progresses by trial and error), including, most recently, billions spent on possibly misleading use of mice in cancer research.
But those who would defund social science seriously underestimate the relationship between the wide-ranging freedom of scientific research and its pointed impact, and between theory and practice: Where disciplined imagination sweeps broadly to discover, say, that devoted actors do not respond to material incentives or disincentives (e.g., sanctions) in the same way that rational actors do, or that communities of people and body cells may share deep underlying organizational principles and responses to threats from outside aggressors, such knowledge can have a profound influence on our lives and wellbeing.
Even before they revolted in 1776, the American colonists may have already enjoyed the world’s highest standard of living. But they wanted something different: a free and progressive society, which money couldn’t buy. “Money has never made man happy, nor will it,” gibed Ben Franklin, but “if a man empties his purse into his head no one can take it away from him; an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” He founded America’s first learned society “to improve the common stock of knowledge,” which called for inquiry into many practical matters as well as “all philosophical Experiments that Light into the Nature of Things … and multiply the Conveniences or Pleasures of Life.” George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, James Madison, and John Marshall all joined Franklin’s society and took part in the political, social, and economic revolution it helped spawn. Like the Founding Fathers, we want our descendants to be able to envision great futures for our country and a better world for all. For that, our children need the broad understanding of how the world works that the social sciences can provide — not just a technical education for well-paying jobs.
Joël van Houdt for The New York Times. Colonel Daowood, left, considered his next move on the Chak Valley road.
By LUKE MOGELSON
Published: January 17, 2013 96 Comments
The village was abandoned. Streets deserted. Houses empty. Behind the central mosque rose a steep escarpment. Behind the escarpment mountains upon mountains. Up there — above the timberline, among the peaks — a white Taliban flag whipped in the wind. Several Afghan soldiers were admiring it when a stunted and contorted person emerged from an alley. Dressed in rags, he waved a hennaed fist at them and wailed. Tears streamed down his face. Most of the soldiers ignored him. Some laughed uncomfortably. A few jabbed their rifles at his chest and simulated shooting. The man carried on undeterred — reproaching them in strange tongues.
A truck pulled up, and Lt. Col. Mohammad Daowood, the battalion commander, stepped out. Everyone waited to see what he would do. Daowood is a man alive to his environment and adept at adjusting his behavior by severe or subtle degrees. He can transform, instantaneously, from empathetic ally to vicious disciplinarian. To be with him is to be in constant suspense over the direction of his mood. At the same time, there is a calculation to his temper. You feel it is always deliberately, never capriciously, employed. This only adds to his authority and makes it impossible to imagine him in a situation of which he is not the master. A flicker of recognition in the deranged man’s eyes suggested that he intuited this. He approached Daowood almost bashfully; only as he closed within striking range did he seem to regain his lunatic energy, emitting a low, threatening moan. We waited for Daowood to hit him. Instead, Daowood began to clap and sing. Instantly, the man’s face reorganized itself. Tearful indignation became pure, childish joy. He started to dance.
This continued for a surprisingly long time. The commander clapping and singing. The deranged man lost in a kind of ecstatic, whirling performance, waving his prayer cap in the air, stamping his feet. When at last Daowood stopped, the man was his. He stood there — breathless and obsequious — waiting for what came next. Daowood mimed the motion of wrapping a turban on his head. Where are the Taliban? Eager to please, the man beamed and pointed across the valley.
Several hours later, as I shared the bed of a pickup truck with an Afghan soldier who manned a machine gun mounted on the roof of the cab, it became evident that we were lost. The rest of the company was nowhere to be seen, though we could hear them, not far off, exchanging rocket and automatic-weapons fire with insurgents who had fled into the mountains and were hiding behind protective crags, shooting down. The driver sped up one narrow rutted path after another. The paths were hemmed in by rock walls — a labyrinth of cul-de-sacs — and the driver grew more panicked and reckless with each dead end. Aside from the occasional night raid, no Afghan or American forces had been to this place in more than a decade. Men stood on top of the walls, watching.
“Where are we going?” I asked the machine-gunner.
He offered the words I had heard time and again — so often, and so predictably, they could be the battalion motto. The words were invoked in response to such questions as: What is the plan? Who is shooting? Where will we sleep tonight? How many dead?
The words are “Mulam nes” — “It isn’t clear.”
Finally the driver stopped and asked a bearded man in a black turban for directions. The man — a Talib? — kindly pointed the way.
Soon we arrived on a bare ridge and found Colonel Daowood almost alone. Two young soldiers stood nearby with rifles. Daowood sat on a rock. A teenage boy knelt before him, kowtowing, wrists cuffed behind his back. Daowood was doing something to his head. As we got closer, we saw that he held scissors and was roughly shearing the boy’s hair. A neat pile of long black locks lay on the ground between Daowood’s feet.
When Daowood noticed us, he smiled and winked. Then he went back to work, screaming in the boy’s ear, “Now do you like being a Talib?”
“No,” the boy whimpered.
“No, no, no.”
Daowood lifted him to his feet and examined with satisfaction the ugly patchwork of uneven tufts and bald scalp. He removed the boy’s handcuffs and said, “Go.”
The boy ran away, forgetting his shoes.
While Daowood was giving the haircut, our driver, who it turned out was a company commander, yelled at a pair of intrepid young soldiers who had taken it upon themselves to scale the mountain and capture the Taliban’s flag. We were leaving soon, and the commander wanted them to come back down. The young soldiers, however, were too high. They couldn’t hear him. The commander yelled and yelled. If only they had radios. If only he had a radio. In lieu of one, the commander drew his sidearm, aimed in the general vicinity of the soldiers, then shot two bullets.
The soldiers ducked, peered down. The commander waved.
It was the third day of a four-day operation being conducted by the Afghan National Army (A.N.A.) in Chak District, Wardak Province. There were no U.S. forces in sight. Every so often, a pair of American attack helicopters circled overhead; otherwise, the Afghans — roughly 400 of them — were on their own. For the A.N.A. — which every day assumes a greater share of responsibility for the security of Afghanistan — the operation was an ambitious undertaking and a test of its ability to function independently. For years now, the U.S. military’s priority in Afghanistan has been shifting from effectively prosecuting the present war to preparing Afghans for a future one in which our role is minimal. But even as American troops return home and American bases across the country close, such a future continues to feel difficult to envision. How will the A.N.A. fare when it is truly on its own? Predictions vary, tending toward the pessimistic. To the extent that assessments of the competency and preparedness of the A.N.A. take into consideration on-the-ground observations, however, they are usually limited to the perspective of American forces working in concert with Afghan units.
After a week with Daowood’s battalion, what I found is that the A.N.A. looks very different when there are no Americans around.
So does the war.
The operation to Chak District was nearly over before it began. Just hours before departure, during a briefing at Combat Outpost Dash-e Towp, the battalion headquarters, Daowood told his subordinate officers: “The only thing we’re waiting on is the fuel. If we don’t receive the fuel, we will not be able to do the operation.” A cohort of American advisers stood in the back of the room, silently listening. In the past, they probably would have offered to provide the fuel themselves. But that paradigm has changed. Increasingly, A.N.A. units must rely on their own supply lines, however inefficient they may be. Nevertheless, as the officers rose from their chairs, an Afghan captain pulled aside one of the advisers and told him the battalion lacked batteries for the metal detectors used to find improvised explosive devices. The adviser sighed. “Come over to our side,” he said, “and we’ll see what we can do.”
The American side of Dash-e Towp is separated from the Afghan side by a tall wall and a door that can be opened only with a code to which the Afghans do not have access. Whereas a close partnership between coalition and Afghan forces was for years considered a cornerstone of the overall military strategy (shohna ba shohna — shoulder to shoulder — went the ubiquitous NATO slogan), recently the Americans have distanced and even sequestered themselves from their erstwhile comrades. The about-face is a response to a rash of insider or “green on blue” attacks that killed more than 60 foreign troops in 2012 (and wounded 94), accounting for 22 percent of all coalition combat deaths. The Americans claim that many of the killings result from cultural differences; the Taliban claim to have infiltrated the security forces; the Afghan government claims “foreign spy agencies” are to blame. Whatever their provenance, the attacks have eroded trust to such a degree that NATO has begun designating some personnel as “guardian angels.” It is the guardian angel’s job to protect the NATO soldier from the Afghan soldier whom it is the NATO soldier’s job to train.
Other concerns abound. When the time comes, for instance, will Afghanistan’s army be able to maintain its own equipment and facilities? Evacuate and treat its own casualties? Overcome ethnic divisions within its ranks? Furnish its units with essential rations like food and fuel? Retain sufficient numbers despite alarmingly high attrition rates? Implement a uniform training doctrine despite alarmingly low literacy rates? Today, according to the Pentagon, exactly one Afghan brigade is capable of operating without any help from the coalition. For better or worse, come Dec. 31, 2014, the other 22 will likely have to do the same.
In anticipation of this reality, the A.N.A. has begun a countrywide realignment of troops that is transforming the battlefield. “Look at the situation,” Gen. Sher Mohamad Karimi, the chief of army staff, told me recently in Kabul. “One hundred and forty thousand international troops, with all the power that they have — the aircraft, the artillery, the tanks, the support — all of that now is going. You cannot expect the Afghan Army to do exactly what the international troops were doing.” As coalition forces diminish, that is, the A.N.A. must decide not only how to fill the gaps but also which gaps to forgo filling. For years, to secure roads and rural areas, Afghan soldiers have manned hundreds of check posts throughout the provinces. Now the A.N.A. plans to relinquish almost all of these in favor of consolidating its forces in significantly fewer locations. General Karimi claims there are two reasons for doing this. First: the Afghans simply lack the wherewithal to keep the more remote posts adequately provisioned. Second: the A.N.A. must move away from defending static positions, toward executing offensive operations. Theoretically, the police will take over check posts as the army quits them. But this will not always be the case; it may seldom be the case. And when vacated posts are not assumed by the police — as has happened in Wardak — it will be hard not to see the ongoing “realignment of troops” as anything other than an old-fashioned retreat.
Chak was one of the first districts in Afghanistan to undergo this change. When Daowood’s battalion woke around 3 a.m. and headed out from Dash-e Towp, the convoy included several large flatbed trailers hauling backhoes and bulldozers that would be used to destroy five of the six A.N.A. check posts in the area. (The last time abandoned posts were left standing in Wardak Province, the Taliban moved into them.) The sun was just starting to rise when the battalion arrived at the first one: a compact fortress of gravel-filled Hesco barriers perched on a squat hill that overlooked the entrance to the district. It was easy to see, from here, why the Taliban liked Chak. Parallel ranges form a wide valley with a river snaking down its middle. Apple orchards and trees with white trunks and bright yellow leaves crowd the basin. Dark canyons branch into the mountains. A single road follows the river deeper into the valley, connecting the lawless foothills of the Hindu Kush to Highway 1, a critical transit route that bridges Kabul and Kandahar, northern and southern Afghanistan.
After being reconstructed by an American firm at an estimated cost of $300 million, Highway 1 was extolled by the U.S. ambassador, in 2005, as “a symbol of Afghan renewal and progress.” Since then it has become one of the most dangerous roads on earth, scarred by bomb blasts, the site of frequent ambushes and executions by insurgent marauders, strewed with the charred carcasses of fuel tankers set alight on their way to NATO bases. As Daowood looked out from the top of the hill, he explained that Chak was an ideal staging ground for attacks on the highway and that the check posts were the only way to protect it. “When we had these check posts, there was good security,” Daowood said. “The people were happy. Of course, when we leave them, the Taliban will come back. As soon as we’re gone, they will own this whole area.”
Already, Daowood said, the road following the river was known to accommodate large quantities of remotely detonated bombs. As the colonel ordered the convoy to start forward, I watched two minesweepers testing out their metal detectors. The devices looked antique: Vietnam-era green with thick black wires connected to bulky plastic headphones. It was the sort of technology that made you remember ham radios, and I confess I was skeptical of their ability to clear the way. But after only a half-mile or so, one of the minesweepers stopped. A skinny, bearded soldier jumped out of a Humvee wielding a pickax. The minesweeper pointed at a spot. The soldier with the pickax attacked it. Soon he called to Daowood: “Found it!”
When C-4 explosive was packed around the bomb and exploded from what was deemed a safe remove, the blast proved much larger than anyone expected. Dirt rained down on those of us who were crouched behind a tree 100 meters away. The crater rendered the road impassable, obliging the Afghans to spend the next half-hour filling it with stones. By the time we started moving again, the minesweepers had begun working on another bomb just around the bend. I found the skinny, bearded soldier standing to the side with his pickax lightly balanced on his shoulder, smoking an immense joint.
His name was Shafiullah. He wore a pair of blue latex medical gloves and a metal helmet several sizes too big that sat low and loose over wide, wild eyes: preternaturally alert eyes bugging from their sockets as if to get a little closer to whatever they were looking at. “Did you see that last one?” Shafiullah wanted to know.
“It was big.”
He nodded rapidly, the helmet bucking forward and backward on his head, now threatening to fly off, now jerked into place by its leather chinstrap.
“Very big! Very nice!” He took another toke, held the doobie upright and became suddenly, deeply engrossed in its glowing tip.
“What are the gloves for?” I asked.
“The human body carries an electrical charge. When you work on the bombs, if you’re not careful, you can ignite them with the electricity in your fingers.”
“Do you always smoke hash before you work on the bombs?”
More vigorous nodding. “It takes away the fear.”
Shafiullah told me he joined the army about five years ago, when he turned 18. He served for three years as a regular infantry soldier in the violent Pakistani border regions before volunteering to become an explosive-ordnance-disposal technician. “I always wanted to be one,” he said. “I love when someone calls me an engineer.” About a year ago, after graduating from a six-month training program taught by French and American soldiers, Shafiullah was deployed to Wardak. Since then, he estimated, he had disposed of roughly 50 bombs. “Thanks to God I’ve never been hurt,” he said.
I asked if any of the other engineers were less fortunate. Shafiullah said that he belonged to a team of 20 technicians and that during the past three months two were killed and eight badly injured. He also said that nine of his friends from the training course were now dead or maimed. Back on the road, one of the minesweepers called for the pickax. Shafiullah took a last drag before joining them. A few minutes later, the valley echoed with a tremendous boom.
The shooting started soon after: rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades. It was too far ahead to see exactly what was happening. Later I learned that a group of insurgents ambushed the lead element in the convoy, strafing a narrow stretch in the road from within a dense stand of trees. The soldiers responded forcefully — with more and bigger weapons — killing six people in the village where the attack originated. A little while later, not far from the first shootout, there was another. This time an Afghan soldier fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a group of gunmen, killing seven. According to the soldiers, all the dead were Taliban.
By the time I reached the site with Colonel Daowood, the convoy had already moved on, resuming its lurching penetration of the valley. Perhaps not coincidentally, the ambushes occurred near a small gas station that was the target of an American airstrike the night before. The owner of the gas station — a Taliban leader named Gulam Ali, who Daowood said commanded several hundred insurgents in Chak — was killed by a missile. Two old fuel pumps still stood out front, but the row of shops behind them was ruined: windows shattered, charred metal bars curled back like the melted tines of a plastic fork. Each shop offered its own little diorama of destruction. Hundreds of pill bottles scattered on a pharmacy floor; emptied shelves hanging vertically in a general store; an iron and a sewing machine standing improbably upright on a tailor’s wooden table, among burned and tattered rolls of cloth.
Next to the gas station was Gulam Ali’s home and headquarters: an immaculate compound centered on a courtyard with rosebushes and a deep freshwater well. An exterior staircase ascended to the bedroom. Inside I was surprised to find the walls pasted with posters illustrating idyllic scenes from some future civilization, in which sleek modern buildings were harmoniously incorporated into rugged natural landscapes. Or maybe it was Switzerland — hard to say. Either way, it was odd to imagine Gulam Ali privately meditating on them. Nor did the inspirational quotes at the top of each poster lessen the oddness. “We love life,” one italicized blurb instructed, “not because we are used to living, but because we are used to loving.” And, “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
When I returned to the courtyard, Daowood announced that he was going to the village where the 13 insurgents had just been killed. “It’s Gulam Ali’s village,” he explained. “I want to pay my respects.” He headed into the trees with no protection other than the two teenage bodyguards who accompanied him everywhere. He wore no helmet or body armor (“I don’t like them; they give me a headache”), and he carried no weapon. Instead he walked with his hands clasped behind his back, casually flipping a string of turquoise prayer beads. When we reached the compound that belonged to Gulam Ali’s parents, where his relatives had gathered to mourn, Daowood told me to wait outside — the presence of a foreigner would offend the family. When he emerged several minutes later, I was happy to be leaving the place. But as we made our way back to the main road, we encountered dozens of men congregated on a low knoll among the plain stone markers and colored flags of the village graveyard. It was a funeral for the Taliban, and the men regarded us with something less than brotherly affection. Daowood said, “Keep walking.” Then he addressed the funeral. “The aircraft are coming back tonight!” he shouted. “The American Special Forces are coming! Leave this area! Don’t stay here! If you stay, you might get killed!”
Immediately, the ceremony began to scatter, the men fleeing down the slope as swiftly as they could without betraying panic. “The helicopters are coming!” Daowood went on. “The Special Forces will be here soon!”
At the time, the colonel’s prompt dissolution of what appeared to be a potentially dangerous situation seemed to me as deft and inspired as his handling of the deranged man would a couple of days later. But something else was going on as well. Expressing his condolences to Gulam Ali’s family, warning the people about a possible airstrike and night raid — it was all part of Daowood’s game. The more time I spent with him, the clearer it became that Daowood was practicing his own version of counterinsurgency, one that involved endearing himself to locals by characterizing as common enemies not only the Taliban but also the Americans and the Afghan government. In almost every village we visited, I watched Daowood rail against Kabul’s political elite to rapt audiences of disgruntled farmers. Once, in a place known to abet insurgents, the colonel told a crowd: “All the high-ranking officials in the government are thieves. They don’t care about the country, the people. They take money from the foreigners and put it in their pockets. They make themselves fat. They go abroad, sleep in big houses, buy expensive cars and never think about the people. They have done nothing for this country.”
As with Daowood’s occasional flights of rage, it was tough to tell just how much of this was theater and how much true belief. My sense was that Daowood was genuinely conflicted: a committed soldier who spent 10 years of his life in the service of a government he was profoundly disenchanted with. And he wasn’t alone. Most soldiers I spoke to conspicuously avoided expressing any fondness for — much less allegiance to — their government. Of course, this is the same with other soldiers in other armies (imagine a U.S. Marine explaining his compulsion to enlist by citing a feeling of fidelity to the Bush or Obama administrations), but the nascency of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan makes its political leadership and national character uniquely synonymous. Put another way, in a government that has had only one president, you can’t distinguish between corrupt individuals and a broken system. All of which raises the question: In such a country, how can you be both a detractor and a patriot, as Daowood and some of his men seemed clearly to be? The Marine ostensibly fights on behalf of American principles and institutions that transcend elected officials; on behalf of what did the colonel and these soldiers fight? Most of them, when I asked, answered with the word “watan,” or “homeland.” But what does the notion of a homeland mean for someone who has seen his ruled by monarchists, dictators, communists, mujahedeen, Islamic fundamentalists and Karzai?
When it grew dark, we occupied a half-built mud house on the outskirts of a small mountain village, and Colonel Daowood told us his story. The owner of the property had killed a chicken and prepared for us a large pot of soup. Daowood and his entourage huddled around the iridescent mantles of a kerosene lamp, passing the ladle around, hugging their wool field blankets against a near-freezing night.
Daowood’s military career began three decades ago, when he fought the Russians in the tall mountains and narrow valleys of his native Paghman District. After the Soviet-backed government collapsed in 1992, rival mujahedeen groups turned viciously upon one another. While Kabul became the epicenter of a ferocious civil war, Paghman, just 20 minutes west of the city, remained relatively peaceful. Daowood stayed home, preferring not to enter a fray that was decimating the capital and its residents, with no end in sight. But in 1996, when the Taliban entered Kabul and ejected with unexpected ease each of its warring factions, Daowood took his wife and children to Panjshir Valley, an anti-Taliban stronghold where the warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud had retreated in preparation for a longer, harder fight. Although Massoud and his men were Tajiks and Daowood was a Pashtun (the ethnicity of the Taliban) — and although the recent civil war inflamed ethnic animosities — Daowood was received with open arms. Massoud gave his family a house and put Daowood in charge of 100 men.
More war followed for Daowood. Years of land mines and rockets, ambushes and close calls. Years of night operations in the orchards of the vast Shomali Plain — a verdant land between Panjshir and Kabul. Years, finally, of much spilled blood but little ground lost or gained. And then came the year everything changed. When Daowood talks about that time — after he and his comrades routed the Taliban with the help of American air power and special operators — he grins the way you might at a memory of your naïver self. It’s the optimism of those days that both embarrasses and saddens him, the feeling that Afghanistan had been born anew.
Daowood was among the tens of thousands of fighters in the so-called Northern Alliance — a loose confederation of anti-Taliban militias loyal to Massoud and other commanders. Although Massoud himself was assassinated two days before 9/11, his successor, Mohammed Qasim Fahim, supposedly a drug trafficker, was installed as the defense minister for Hamid Karzai’s interim government. Under Fahim, a majority of the Northern Alliance, including Daowood and his 100 men, became the first incarnation of the new Afghan military. While the United States remained committed to the “light footprint” approach championed by Bush and Rumsfeld — eschewing any commitment of resources that might be construed as “nation-building” — Fahim presided over the creation of a force that soon came to resemble the factionalism of the past far more than the nationalism of a future so eagerly anticipated by people like Daowood. As the International Crisis Group put it: “Units became organs of patronage, rewarding allies and supporters with officer commissions. The result was a weak chain of command over a mix of militias plagued by high desertion rates and low operational capacity.”
Whatever power-jockeying and cronyism afflicted the fledgling military, the civilian government under President Karzai was looking even worse. After two years, weary and bitter, Daowood resigned. “It was the corruption,” he explained. “It ruined everything. Everything was destroyed.” While Daowood embraced a new life back in Paghman — managing his family’s land and enjoying the company of his wife and sons — a resurgent Taliban began to exploit a growing disillusionment with the government and a meager deployment of security forces outside the capital. By 2006, there was no denying it: The insurgency had evolved from a lingering nuisance to a legitimate threat.
One day, an old friend from Panjshir, who was serving as a corps commander in the A.N.A., visited Daowood at his farm in Paghman. “We argued a lot,” Daowood recalled. “I didn’t want to be in the army anymore. I didn’t want to fight for this government. When I explained this to him, my friend told me: ‘If good men don’t participate, the criminals will take over. We have to reclaim this country from them.’ ” In the end, Daowood was convinced. Once more he left Paghman. Once more he took up arms.
When Daowood finished his story, I asked whether he really believed that the system was reformable. He thought for a while. Finally, he offered another reason for fighting — one that rang somewhat truer. “The government only steals money,” he told me. “At least they aren’t against education or women or human rights or rule of law.”
The next morning, some soldiers found a Taliban flag and brought it to Daowood. It wasn’t much: Arabic script scrawled in blue ballpoint pen on a square of white bedsheet tied with twine to a stick. Daowood slashed it with his knife and tried setting it on fire. The cloth was slow to catch. While the soldiers fussed with cardboard and kindling, Daowood received a call from the American advisers at Dash-e Towp. They wanted to remind him to begin tearing down the check posts. Daowood was incredulous; he still couldn’t believe it. “What nonsense is this?” he said when he hung up. “Do they want to hand Afghanistan to the Taliban?” The other soldiers looked just as galled. They sullenly watched the flag absorb a green lick of flame, shrivel and burn. “After these check posts are destroyed, we won’t be able to enter this valley,” Daowood said.
All the Afghans in Wardak, it seemed, shared Daowood’s contempt for the decision to close the check posts. When I met with Wardak’s provincial governor, Abdul Majid Khogyani, in Kabul, he told me: “I was a strong opponent of this idea. The police commander of Wardak and the National Directorate of Security chief were also against it. We know this will not work. The result of this strategy is that the Taliban have become stronger. Without the check posts, the Taliban will easily penetrate these areas. And once that happens, it is very difficult to clear them out again.” Majid was convinced that the realignment of troops had been forced on the A.N.A. command by NATO — a suspicion held by many Afghan officers I spoke to. “The local population are asking why NATO would deliberately provide the Taliban with such an opportunity,” the governor said. NATO has declined to comment on its involvement.
In Chak Valley, only one A.N.A. position would remain — the most distant outpost from the highway, manned by a contingent of roughly 100. That afternoon, when the convoy reached this last outpost, a fresh company relieved the bedraggled-looking men who had been stationed there for the past 12 months, collaborating with a U.S. Special Forces team, struggling to gain a foothold. Every one of them painted a similarly bleak picture of near-daily fighting against a more numerous guerrilla army. Mile after mile of mountains and forest was owned wholly by the insurgents. Out in that big wilderness, there was even a Taliban weapons bazaar, where insurgent fighters bought and sold Kalashnikovs and rockets and machine guns and grenades.
The question hovered like a bad smell: How would the Afghan soldiers who remained deep in Chak survive (or perhaps more accurately: What would they be able to accomplish beyond merely surviving?) once every check post between them and Highway 1 was razed? Severing entirely their already embattled position from the foot of the valley would be simple enough. After all, there was only one way in and out. As if to highlight this uncomfortable fact, a local informant called Daowood as soon as the convoy started to make its way back in the direction from which it had come. A number of bombs, the informant warned, were buried somewhere up ahead.
Shafiullah and his team headed to the front, and the procession of Humvees and trucks slowed to a crawl. Right away, the engineers found a copper wire attached to a massive I.E.D. buried two feet underground. A few minutes later, they found another. And then another. As soon as Shafiullah blew up the third bomb, Colonel Daowood’s informant called back to say that there were probably “many more,” though he was uncertain where. By now it was dark, and we still had miles to travel before reaching the relative security of an open area nearer the highway, where the battalion was supposed to bed down. Fifty feet or so ahead of the lead vehicle Shafiullah knelt in the dim beams of the headlights scratching at the dirt with his pickax. After a while there was some hollering and a disorderly hustle toward the rear. The explosion that followed was so powerful that bits of earth lashed our backs in a warm wave.
No one was hurt, and the convoy started forward again. Then it stopped again. While Shafiullah went back to work, I joined a group of soldiers sitting on the remains of an old Soviet tank. Someone produced a joint. The mood was jolly. It turned out the soldiers belonged to the company stationed since last winter at the remotest outpost in Chak. They were glad to be rotating out — even if it meant swapping one deadly place for another. Most of them were Pashtuns from eastern Afghanistan who served for many years and had wives and children to whom they sent their salaries and saw once every several months. The soldiers hoped to get some leave when they returned to Dash-e Towp — but visiting home, they said, was a mission in itself. Stretches of the highway between Dash-e Towp and Kabul were treacherous; many soldiers had been abducted and murdered by insurgents on their way to see their families. In the past you could dress in the traditionalshalwar kameez, hire a taxi and pose as a civilian. But now the Taliban had spies who alerted them when soldiers headed out. The only option was to catch a ride on a convoy, and those could be rare. Recently, the soldiers said, one of their lieutenants lost his infant son to an illness: though he was from Kapisa Province — a short drive north by car — it took him 20 days to get back.
Eventually Shafiullah found and detonated the fourth bomb, and the soldiers on the tank — high as kites by then — returned to the road and continued on. It was 1 in the morning by the time they reached their destination. On the way, they had to stop again and again for Shafiullah’s team to excavate and blow up I.E.D.’s — 11 in total. At some point after midnight the engineers got sloppy, igniting the C-4 on one bomb before Shafiullah could escape the blast radius. The pressure wave collapsed a mud-brick wall he was walking by, crushing his ankle. When I saw Shafiullah the next morning, his pant leg was in tatters and he was limping. His leg looked badly swollen. He hadn’t seen a medic yet and didn’t plan to.
The ground froze solid during the night and Shafiullah — who like most of the men in the battalion was never issued a sleeping bag — got no more than a cold hour’s rest. Nevertheless, while he waited in line to collect his breakfast (a plastic bag containing a hard piece of bread and a boiled egg and a mini-carton of coffee creamer), he seemed in high spirits. “I told you I’d never been hurt before, and now I’m hurt,” Shafiullah said with a laugh. “I was close! But God saved me.”
This was the day that Daowood brought his men up the mountain to a village called Ali Shah and found it deserted except for the deranged man who danced for him. Among the Afghan soldiers, Ali Shah was infamous — an insurgent sanctuary where no government forces had dared to venture in more than a decade. (“Even the women are Taliban!” one sergeant told me.) Daowood had received intelligence that there would be a wedding in the village that day with several insurgent commanders in attendance. He said he wanted to pace the operation to crash the wedding in time for lunch.
When Daowood asked where the Taliban went, the deranged man pointed to a distant hillside where a large group of villagers had gathered outside a mosque. Daowood and his men jumped in their trucks and headed that way. I rode in the back of a Toyota pickup with a middle-aged machine-gunner named Fazil. It turned out that Fazil was the lieutenant the soldiers on the tank had mentioned the night before — the one who had been unable to get home in time for his son’s burial. As we talked, there was something deeply familiar about the way Fazil described his village in Kapisa Province. He might have been a U.S. Marine reminiscing about the family ranch in Texas. The river was wide and clear, bountiful with fish. The people were kind; the air was fresh; the fruit was sweet.
Fazil’s education in the peculiarities of war began when he was 12, during the jihad. One day, while he was with his father and uncle at the local bazaar, a foot patrol of Russian commandos — or Russian soldiers who Fazil assumed were commandos because of the ski masks they were wearing — opened fire on the villagers. Fazil’s uncle bled out and died on the ground in front of him; Fazil’s father also took a bullet but survived. Several years later, a jet from the Soviet-backed government launched a missile at Fazil’s home that killed both of his parents; shortly thereafter, Fazil joined the mujahedeen in Panjshir led by Massoud. During a battle with Soviet fighters, Fazil was shot in the leg and had to be taken to a hospital in Kabul. There the government asked him to switch sides. Fazil agreed and for a year fought for the national army against his former comrades. When I asked how he could volunteer for the same force that killed his parents, Fazil said: “The mujahedeen knew I was with the government the whole time. I was giving them information.” After the government collapsed, Fazil went back to Panjshir and rejoined with Massoud.
This capacity for switching sides, betraying sides, playing sides, often simultaneously, always baffled the foreign forces in Afghanistan. The complex logic of Afghanistan’s ever-shifting allegiances is simply inscrutable to most outsiders; we have never really understood whom we’re fighting or why they’re fighting us. I once went on a mission in a volatile eastern province with a platoon of American soldiers and a member of the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System — a historian with a doctorate and an assault rifle whose job it was to map which anti-Soviet mujahedeen groups the elders in the area identified with. Some Afghan troops were there as well, and I remember the mystified looks on their faces as this soldier-professor grilled (through an interpreter) one graybeard after another about the commanders they fought under 20 years ago.
Daowood’s method was different. When a fighting-age male struck him as suspicious, the colonel would use his thumbs and index fingers to pull open both of the man’s eyelids. Then he would lean close and stare searchingly. Usually, after several seconds, as though he had suddenly found precisely what he was looking for, Daowood would declare, in mock surprise, “He’s Taliban!”
It was a joke, of course — one that mostly made fun of the Americans. A few years ago, the coalition embarked on an ambitious enterprise to record in an electronic database the biometric information of hundreds of thousands of Afghan citizens, and a hallmark of American patrols has subsequently been the lining up of villagers to digitally register their eyes and fingerprints. Daowood’s faux iris scan was in part an acknowledgment of the A.N.A.’s inferior technology. But it was also a dig at the coalition’s somewhat desperate reliance on technology. Where Daowood’s interactions with villagers were always intimate, it is hard to imagine a more clinical and alienating dynamic between two people than that of the NATO service member aiming his Hand-held Interagency Identity Detection Equipment at the face of a rural Afghan farmer. In such moments, the difference in the field between the U.S. and Afghan soldier is far starker than that of the foreigner and the native. It is more akin to the difference in the ocean between a scuba diver and a fish.
For example: it never occurred to me that Daowood was being entirely serious when he said he wanted to arrive at the wedding in time for lunch. But as soon as we reached the gathering on the hillside in Ali Shah, we were invited into a house and served generous plates of stewed lamb and rice. Daowood dutifully commenced his anti-establishment diatribe, telling me, in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear: “These are good people, all of them. If the government worked for them, if the government helped them, they wouldn’t fight us. The government officials should come to places like this. They know nothing of the people’s lives outside of Kabul.” When one villager added that “the ministers put all the money in their own accounts, they build themselves nice houses and buy nice cars,” Daowood nodded in sympathetic agreement.
Just outside, meanwhile, some soldiers standing guard discovered a canvas sack full of rocket-propelled grenades stashed behind a boulder. A group of men were spotted fleeing into the mountains, and the day’s fighting began.
Late that night, after the rest of the battalion went to sleep, Daowood set off into a Taliban-controlled village on foot, accompanied by four guards. He wanted to meet with a local Talib, who was also a paid informant. He never said so explicitly — “he’s an old friend” and “he gives me information” was all he allowed — but I had the sense this was the man who warned Daowood about the bombs in the road. There was not much of a moon and just enough starlight to see the ground beneath our feet. As we made our way over a steep hill, along a creek, through a field and into winding streets, a chorus of dogs began to howl, and the four soldiers Daowood dragged along grew nervous. “Don’t worry,” Daowood kept telling them. “We’re close.”
When we reached the Talib’s house, a young boy ushered us into a long narrow room dimly lighted by a gas lantern. Pink lace curtains hung over the windows; plush cushions lined the walls; gaudily decorative carpets covered the floor. The informant was a middle-aged man affecting the usual beard and turban. He embraced Daowood and gestured for us to sit. The boy brought tea and then platters of rice and meat and bread. After a while, Daowood said: “We’re closing the check posts tomorrow. We’re pulling out of here.”
“That will be fine,” the man said. “The aircraft were searching here last night.”
“Just stay inside,” Daowood told him.
His phone rang. When he hung up, Daowood announced, “There’s going to be an ambush tomorrow.” And to the informant: “Tomorrow we’re going to search this area.”
The informant nodded. “There won’t be any problem.”
The next day, there was in fact an ambush — even while the bulldozers and backhoes were leveling the check posts. We were heading up a tight canyon, along the banks of a shallow stream, when rockets and machine guns echoed up ahead. By now, most of the soldiers were ragged with fatigue. Over the past four days, they had walked some 30 miles, stayed up shivering through frigid nights, eaten little more than bread and rice. And they had fought and killed people, too. As Daowood rushed ahead at a brisk pace toward the gunfire, we passed one soldier after another sitting on the side of the trail, leaning against a rock, flushed and spent. “Don’t stop!” Daowood urged them. “You’re in the enemy’s country now! Move like a lion!”
And for the most part — even if not exactly lionlike — the soldiers got up and pushed on.
It’s too early to tell what the Afghan National Army will look like on Dec. 31, 2014. No doubt its level of readiness for the uncertain future will vary hugely from region to region, unit to unit. But it is a mistake to dismiss or disparage the Afghan soldier, as is often done by foreigners in Afghanistan. After the ambush (three insurgents were injured; no soldiers), I walked toward the highway, which we could see through the bare trees at the foot of the valley, alongside a young medic from Daykundi Province named Abdul Karim. Like most of the people from Daykundi, Karim was Hazara, one of Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities. Because they follow the Shia branch of Islam, and because their distinct facial features make them easily recognizable, Hazaras are uniquely vulnerable to militant Sunni fundamentalists. In Afghanistan, this has certainly been true with the Taliban, who, during their rise to power, massacred Hazaras by the thousands. “For my people,” Karim told me, “it is important to serve in this army.” Almost all of the men in his family, he said, enlisted as soon as they were old enough. Twenty-eight of Karim’s brothers and cousins wore the uniform.
There might have been a time early in the war when most American soldiers and Marines genuinely believed that they were fighting to protect their homeland, their watan. But those days are over now; they have been for a while. You can feel it just as surely as you can feel that for soldiers like Karim they will never end.
Almost as soon as we got back to Dash-e Towp, I overheard some U.S. officers loudly complaining about the inability of Afghan soldiers to make appointments on time. Afghan soldiers do have difficulty making appointments on time, it’s true. They also don’t like to stand in straight lines or dress according to regulation or march in step or do so many of the things intrinsic to a Western notion of professional soldiering. When a lieutenant calls a formation of Afghan privates to attention, they will inevitably resemble, as my drill sergeant used to say, “a soup sandwich.” But they will also accept a much higher level of risk than any coalition force ever has. Their ranks are filled with tough and brave men who run toward the fight without body armor or helmets or armored vehicles and sleep on the frozen ground without sleeping bags and dig up I.E.D.’s with a pickax and often go hungry and seldom complain.
It was dark by the time Daowood returned to the base; he wanted to be the last man in. When I visited him in his room, he was sitting on the floor, drinking tea. A small TV played quietly in the corner, and as we talked I heard a broadcaster mention the news: yesterday, Barack Obama was re-elected president. I pointed this out to Daowood, who wasn’t much interested. “They’re all the same to us,” he said. Then, seeing I was taking notes, he added, “We just want someone who will help Afghanistan.” But the colonel seemed to know that in the end that job would be his.
Editor: Joel Lovell
A version of this article appeared in print on January 20, 2013, on page MM28 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Which Way Did the Taliban Go?.
ScienceDaily (Aug. 27, 2012) — In order to catch a thief, you have to think like one.
UT Dallas computer scientists are trying to stay one step ahead of cyber attackers by creating their own monster. Their monster can cloak itself as it steals and reconfigures information in a computer program.
In part because of the potentially destructive nature of their technology, creators have named this software system Frankenstein, after the monster-creating scientist in author Mary Shelley’s novel,Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus.
“Shelley’s story is an example of a horror that can result from science, and similarly, we intend our creation as a warning that we need better detections for these types of intrusions,” said Dr. Kevin Hamlen, associate professor of computer science at UT Dallas who created the software, along with his doctoral student Vishwath Mohan. “Criminals may already know how to create this kind of software, so we examined the science behind the danger this represents, in hopes of creating counter measures.”
Frankenstein is not a computer virus, which is a program that can multiply and take over other machines. But, it could be used in cyber warfare to provide cover for a virus or another type of malware, or malicious software.
In order to avoid antivirus software, malware typically mutates every time it copies itself onto another machine. Antivirus software figures out the pattern of change and continues to scan for sequences of code that are known to be suspicious.
Frankenstein evades this scanning mechanism. It takes code from programs already on a computer and repurposes it, stringing it together to accomplish the malware’s malicious task with new instructions.
“We wanted to build something that learns as it propagates,” Hamlen said. “Frankenstein takes from what is already there and reinvents itself.”
“Just as Shelley’s monster was stitched from body parts, our Frankenstein also stitches software from original program parts, so no red flags are raised,” he said. “It looks completely different, but its code is consistent with something normal.”
Hamlen said Frankenstein could be used to aid government counter terrorism efforts by providing cover for infiltration of terrorist computer networks. Hamlen is part of the Cyber Security Research and Education Center in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.
The UT Dallas research is the first published example describing this type of stealth technology, Hamlen said.
“As a proof-of-concept, we tested Frankenstein on some simple algorithms that are completely benign,” Hamlen said. “We did not create damage to anyone’s systems.”
The next step, Hamlen said, is to create more complex versions of the software.
Frankenstein was described in a paper published online (https://www.usenix.org/conference/woot12/frankenstein-stitching-malware-benign-binaries) in conjunction with a presentation at a recent USENIX Workshop on Offensive Technologies.
The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
Monday, July 30, 2012 – 10:00 PM
From a suburban sidewalk in southern California, Jad and Robert witness the carnage of a gruesome turf war. Though the tiny warriors doing battle clock in at just a fraction of an inch, they have evolved a surprising, successful, and rather unsettling strategy of ironclad loyalty, absolute intolerance, and brutal violence.
David Holway, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist from UC San Diego, takes us to a driveway in Escondido, California where a grisly battle rages. In this quiet suburban spot, two groups of ants are putting on a chilling display of dismemberment and death. According to David, this battle line marks the edge of an enormous super-colony of Argentine ants. Think of that anthill in your backyard, and stretch it out across five continents.
Argentine ants are not good neighbors. When they meet ants from another colony, any other colony, they fight to the death, and tear the other ants to pieces. While other kinds of ants sometimes take slaves or even have sex with ants from different colonies, the Argentine ants don’t fool around. If you’re not part of the colony, you’re dead.
According to evolutionary biologist Neil Tsutsui and ecologist Mark Moffett, the flood plains of northern Argentina offer a clue as to how these ants came to dominate the planet. Because of the frequent flooding, the homeland of Linepithema humile is basically a bootcamp for badass ants. One day, a couple ants from one of these families of Argentine ants made their way onto a boat and landed in New Orleans in the late 1800s. Over the last century, these Argentine ants wreaked havoc across the southern U.S. and a significant chunk of coastal California.
In fact, Melissa Thomas, an Australian entomologist, reveals that these Argentine ants are even more well-heeled than we expected – they’ve made to every continent except Antarctica. No matter how many thousands of miles separate individual ants, when researchers place two of them together – whether they’re plucked from Australia, Japan, Hawaii … even Easter Island – they recognize each other as belonging to the same super-colony.
But the really mind-blowing thing about these little guys is the surprising success of their us-versus-them death-dealing. Jad and Robert wrestle with what to make of this ant regime, whether it will last, and what, if anything, it might mean for other warlike organisms with global ambitions.
ScienceDaily (Aug. 2, 2012) — Our planet’s changing climate is devastating communities in Africa through droughts, floods and myriad other disasters.
Using detailed regional climate models and geographic information systems, researchers with the Climate Change and African Political Stability (CCAPS) program developed an online mapping tool that analyzes how climate and other forces interact to threaten the security of African communities.
The program was piloted by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at The University of Texas at Austin in 2009 after receiving a $7.6 million five-year grant from the Minerva Initiative with the Department of Defense, according to Francis J. Gavin, professor of international affairs and director of the Strauss Center.
“The first goal was to look at whether we could more effectively identify what were the causes and locations of vulnerability in Africa, not just climate, but other kinds of vulnerability,” Gavin said.
CCAPS comprises nine research teams focusing on various aspects of climate change, their relationship to different types of conflict, the government structures that exist to mitigate them, and the effectiveness of international aid in intervening. Although most CCAPS researchers are based at The University of Texas at Austin, the Strauss Center also works closely with Trinity College Dublin, the College of William and Mary, and the University of North Texas.
“In the beginning these all began as related, but not intimately connected, topics” Gavin said, “and one of the really impressive things about the project is how all these different streams have come together.”
Africa is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to its reliance on rain-fed agriculture and the inability of many of its governments to help communities in times of need.
The region is of increasing importance for U.S. national security, according to Gavin, because of the growth of its population, economic strength and resource importance, and also due to concerns about non-state actors, weakening governments and humanitarian disasters.
Although these issues are too complex to yield a direct causal link between climate change and security concerns, he said, understanding the levels of vulnerability that exist is crucial in comprehending the full effect of this changing paradigm.
The vulnerability mapping program within CCAPS is led by Joshua Busby, assistant professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.
To determine the vulnerability of a given location based on changing climate conditions, Busby and his team looked at four different sources: 1) the degree of physical exposure to climate hazards, 2) population size, 3) household or community resilience, and 4) the quality of governance or presence of political violence.
The first source records the different types of climate hazards which could occur in the area, including droughts, floods, wildfires, storms and coastal inundation. However, their presence alone is not enough to qualify a region as vulnerable.
The second source — population size — determines the number of people who will be impacted by these climate hazards. More people create more demand for resources, potentially making the entire population more vulnerable.
The third source looks at how resilient a community is to adverse effects, analyzing the quality of their education and health, as well as whether they have easy access to food, water and health care.
“If exposure is really bad, it may exceed the capacity of local communities to protect themselves,” Busby said, “and then it comes down to whether or not the governments are going to be willing or able to help them.”
The final source accounts for the effectiveness of a given government, the amount of accountability present, how integrated it is with the international community, how politically stable it is, and whether there is any political violence present.
Busby and his team combined the four sources of vulnerability and gave them each equal weight, adding them together to form a composite map. Their scores were then divided into a ranking of five equal parts, or quintiles, going from the 20 percent of regions with the lowest vulnerability to the 20 percent with the highest.
The researchers gathered information for the tool from a variety of sources, including historic models of physical exposure from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), population estimates from LandScan, as well as household surveys and governance assessments from the World Bank’s World Development and Worldwide Governance Indicators.
This data reflects past and present vulnerability, but to understand which places in Africa would be most vulnerable to future climate change, Busby and his team relied on the regional climate model simulations designed by Edward Vizy and Kerry Cook, both members of the CCAPS team from the Jackson School of Geosciences.
Vizy and Cook ran three, 20-year nested simulations of the African continent’s climate at the regional scales of 90 and 30 kilometers, using a derivation of the Weather Research and Forecasting Model of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. One was a control simulation representative of the years 1989-2008, and the others represented the climate as it may exist in 2041-2060 and 2081-2100.
“We’re adjusting the control simulation’s CO2 concentration, model boundary conditions, and sea surface temperatures to increased greenhouse gas forcing scenario conditions derived from atmosphere-ocean global climate models. We re-run the simulation to understand how the climate will operate under a different, warmer state at spatial resolutions needed for regional impact analyses,” Vizy said.
Each simulation took two months to complete on the Rangersupercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC).
“We couldn’t run these simulations without the high-performance computing resources at TACC, it would just take too long. If it takes two months running with 200 processors, I can’t fathom doing it with one processor,” Vizy said.
Researchers input data from these vulnerability maps into an online mapping tool developed by the CCAPS program to integrate its various lines of climate, conflict and aid research. CCAPS’s current mapping tool is based on a prototype developed by the team to assess conflict patterns in Africa with the help of researchers at the TACC/ACES Visualization Laboratory (Vislab), according to Ashley Moran, program manager of CCAPS.
“The mapping tool is a key part of our effort to produce new research that could support policy making and the work of practitioners and governments in Africa,” Moran said. “We want to communicate this research in ways that are of maximum use to policymakers and researchers.”
The initial prototype of the mapping tool used the ArcGIS platform to project data onto maps. Working with its partner Development Gateway, CCAPS expanded the system to incorporate conflict, vulnerability, governance and aid research data.
After completing the first version of their model, Busby and his team carried out the process of ground truthing their maps by visiting local officials and experts in several African countries, such as Kenya and South Africa.
“The experience of talking with local experts was tremendously gratifying,” Busby said. “They gave us confidence that the things we’re doing in a computer lab setting in Austin do pick up on some of the ground-level expert opinions.”
Busby and his team complemented their maps with local perspectives on the kind of impact climate was already having, leading to new insights that could help perfect the model. For example, local experts felt the model did not address areas with chronic water scarcity, an issue the researchers then corrected upon returning home.
According to Busby, the vulnerability maps serve as focal points which can give way to further analysis about the issues they illustrate.
Some of the countries most vulnerable to climate change include Somalia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Sudan and parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Knowing this allows local policymakers to develop security strategies for the future, including early warning systems against floods, investments in drought-resistant agriculture, and alternative livelihoods that might facilitate resource sharing and help prevent future conflicts. The next iteration of the online mapping tool to be released later this year will also incorporate the future projections of climate exposure from the models developed by Vizy and Cook.
The CCAPS team publishes their research in journals likeClimate Dynamics and The International Studies Review, carries out regular consultations with the U.S. government and governments in Africa, and participates in conferences sponsored by concerned organizations, such as the United Nations and the United States Africa Command.
“What this project has showed us is that many of the real challenges of the 21st century aren’t always in traditional state-to-state interactions, but are transnational in nature and require new ways of dealing with,” Gavin said.
26/07/2012 – 03h00
Janio de Freitas
Mais duas explicações estão lançadas em socorro à recusa do governo brasileiro, agora mesmo na ONU, de votar a favor da transparência no comércio internacional de armas.
Diz um dos dois argumentos que já está em prática, na indústria bélica, a inscrição indelével, a laser e em cada arma e projétil, indicando sua procedência. Assim será possível saber, quando de violações das normas internacionais e transgressão dos direitos humanos, o país que forneceu as armas em uso.
Belo e carinhoso consolo, sem dúvida, para as crianças que perderem seus pais e para os pais que perderem seus filhos estilhaçados por armamentos, agora sim, de procedência inapagável. Para usufruir do consolo, porém, resta ainda um pequeno problema que a inventividade dos engenheiros da matança, por certo, vai resolver.
Fatos atuais ajudam a expor a questão pendente. Há 24 horas noticia-se, inclusive com fotos e vídeos, o recurso do ditador sírio Bashar Assad ao bombardeio aéreo de cidades do seu país.
É um reforço mais drástico e preciso aos tiros de canhões, no entanto continuados. E às metralhas pesadas e também canhões dos tanques.
A população civil vê e ouve os aviões, e vê as bombas em direção a suas casas, suas famílias, à vizinhança. Não vê os canhões e não é certo que ouça os seus estrondos, mas ouve o silvo fino e feroz de suas balas cortando o ar. Todas essas peças assassinas com sua procedência devidamente identificada. Ainda a tinta ou talvez já a laser.
A população vê e ouve os sinais do sofrimento e da morte. Mas lerá a inscrição dos petardos em seu voo? E depois de bombas, balas e foguetes destruídos por sua própria explosão, onde estarão as inscrições para a comprometedora “identificação de quem os forneceu”? É provável que parte deles até ostentasse o nosso “made in Brazil”. Impossível afirmar ou negar: sabemos estar entre os exportadores de bombas terríveis, mas estamos proibidos de saber para quem as exportamos.
Não se sabe se o outro argumento foi criado pelo mesmo vácuo mental que invocou a “inscrição identificadora”, ou se foi um dos prodígios intelectuais que a adotam no Itamaraty, nas Forças Armadas, no jornalismo. A suposição de que os outros também padecemos de idiotia é a mesma, nos dois argumentos.
Eis o segundo: o sigilo das exportações de armas é necessário porque os compradores querem segredo do tipo e quantidade de seus armamentos.
Antes de tudo: nem sempre. Com a ideia fixa (da qual emanava certo cheiro de charuto cubano) de que os Estados Unidos usariam a Colômbia para atacar a Venezuela, Hugo Chávez tratou de alardear suas grandes compras militares. Se houve, o risco arrefeceu e foi silenciado pelo novo presidente colombiano, Juan Manuel Santos, mais lúcido do que o antecessor Uribe.
Acima de tudo, a conveniência militar alheia não é problema a ser resolvido pelo Brasil. Ainda mais se o pretendente a comprador é uma ameaça a relações normais com seus vizinhos ou à liberdade e aos direitos humanos em seu país.
Esta regra essencial no Estado de Direito é transgredida pelo Brasil, com suas exportações de bombas condenadas e outras armas para o Oriente Médio e para ditaduras africanas. E ainda em operações triangulares: a exportação para a ditadura de Robert Mugabe, do Zimbábue, no governo Fernando Henrique, foi tornar mais feroz a terrível guerra civil no Congo. Mas, nas organizações internacionais, e em casa mesmo, o governo brasileiro mostrava-se muito condoído com o genocídio congolês.
Monday, July 23, 2012
By NANCY GIBBS; MARK THOMPSON
Leslie McCaddon sensed that the enemy had returned when she overheard her husband on the phone with their 8-year-old daughter. “Do me a favor,” he told the little girl. “Give your mommy a hug and tell her that I love her.”
She knew for certain when she got his message a few minutes later. “This is the hardest e-mail I’ve ever written,” Dr. Michael McCaddon wrote. “Please always tell my children how much I love them, and most importantly, never, ever let them find out how I died … I love you. Mike”
She grabbed a phone, sounded every alarm, but by the time his co-workers found his body hanging in the hospital call room, it was too late.
Leslie knew her husband, an Army doctor, had battled depression for years. For Rebecca Morrison, the news came more suddenly. The wife of an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot, she was just beginning to reckon with her husband Ian’s stress and strain. Rebecca urged Ian to see the flight surgeon, call the Pentagon’s crisis hotline. He did–and waited on the line for more than 45 minutes. His final text to his wife: “STILL on hold.” Rebecca found him that night in their bedroom. He had shot himself in the neck.
Grand Praire, TX. Rebecca Morrison with some of her husband Ian’s belongings in her parents homes. Ian, an AH-64 Apache Helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army committed suicide on March 21, 2012. Ian chose ‘Ike’ for Rebecca. Peter van Agtmael/Magnum for TIME.
Both Army captains died on March 21, a continent apart. The next day, and the next day, and the next, more soldiers would die by their own hand, one every day on average, about as many as are dying on the battlefield. These are active-duty personnel, still under the military’s control and protection. Among all veterans, a suicide occurs every 80 minutes, round the clock.
Have suicides spiked because of the strain of fighting two wars? Morrison flew 70 missions in Iraq over nine months but never engaged the enemy directly. McCaddon was an ob-gyn resident at an Army hospital in Hawaii who had never been to Iraq or Afghanistan. Do the pride and protocols of a warrior culture keep service members from seeking therapy? In the three days before he died, Morrison went looking for help six times, all in vain. When Leslie McCaddon alerted commanders about her husband’s anguish, it was dismissed as the result of a lovers’ quarrel; she, not the Army, was the problem.
This is the ultimate asymmetrical war, and the Pentagon is losing. “This issue–suicides–is perhaps the most frustrating challenge that I’ve come across since becoming Secretary of Defense,” Leon Panetta said June 22. The U.S. military seldom meets an enemy it cannot target, cannot crush, cannot put a fence around or drive a tank across. But it has not been able to defeat or contain the epidemic of suicides among its troops, even as the wars wind down and the evidence mounts that the problem has become dire. While veterans account for about 10% of all U.S. adults, they account for 20% of U.S. suicides. Well trained, highly disciplined, bonded to their comrades, soldiers used to be less likely than civilians to kill themselves–but not anymore.
More U.S. military personnel have died by suicide since the war in Afghanistan began than have died fighting there. The rate jumped 80% from 2004 to 2008, and while it leveled off in 2010 and 2011, it has soared 18% this year. Suicide has passed road accidents as the leading noncombat cause of death among U.S. troops. While it’s hard to come by historical data on military suicides–the Army has been keeping suicide statistics only since the early 1980s–there’s no denying that the current numbers constitute a crisis.
The specific triggers for suicide are unique to each service member. The stresses layered on by war–the frequent deployments, the often brutal choices, the loss of comrades, the family separation–play a role. So do battle injuries, especially traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And the constant presence of pain and death can lessen one’s fear of them.
But combat trauma alone can’t account for the trend. Nearly a third of the suicides from 2005 to 2010 were among troops who had never deployed; 43% had deployed only once. Only 8.5% had deployed three or four times. Enlisted service members are more likely to kill themselves than officers, and 18-to-24-year-olds more likely than older troops. Two-thirds do it by gunshot; 1 in 5 hangs himself. And it’s almost always him: nearly 95% of cases are male. A majority are married.
No program, outreach or initiative has worked against the surge in Army suicides, and no one knows why nothing works. The Pentagon allocates about $2 billion–nearly 4% of its $53 billion annual medical bill–to mental health. That simply isn’t enough money, says Peter Chiarelli, who recently retired as the Army’s second in command. And those who seek help are often treated too briefly.
Army officials declined to discuss specific cases. But Kim Ruocco directs suicideprevention programs at the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS. She knows what Leslie McCaddon and Rebecca Morrison have endured; her husband, Marine Major John Ruocco, an AH-1 Cobra helicopter-gunship pilot, hanged himself in 2005. These were highly valued, well-educated officers with families, with futures, with few visible wounds or scars; whatever one imagines might be driving the military suicide rate, it defies easy explanation. “I was with them within hours of the deaths,” Ruocco says of the two new Army widows. “I experienced it through their eyes.” Their stories, she says, are true. And they are telling them now, they say, because someone has to start asking the right questions.
The Bomb Grunt
Michael McCaddon was an Army brat born into a uniquely edgy corner of the service: his father served in an ordnance-disposal unit, and after his parents divorced, his mother married another bomb-squad member. McCaddon entered the family business, enlisting at 17. “When I joined the Army I was 5’10” and weighed 129 lbs,” he blogged years later. “I had a great body … for a girl.” But basic training made him stronger and tougher; he pushed to get the top scores on physical-fitness tests; he took up skydiving, snorkeling, hiking. If you plan to specialize in a field in which a single mistake can cost you and your comrades their lives, it helps to have high standards. “Ever since I was new to the Army, I made it my personal goal to do as well as I can,” he recalled. “I thought of it as kind of a representation of my being, my honor, who I was.”
The Army trained him to take apart bombs. He and his team were among the first on the scene of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, combing the ruins for any other devices, and he traveled occasionally to help the Secret Service protect then First Lady Hillary Clinton. He met Leslie in 1994 during a break in her college psychology studies. They started dating, sometimes across continents–he did two tours in Bosnia. During a Stateside break in January 2001, he married Leslie in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. They had three children in four years, and McCaddon, by then an active-duty officer, moved with his family to Vilseck, Germany, where he helped run an Army dental office.
He was still ambitious–two of Leslie’s pregnancies had been difficult, so he decided to apply to the military’s medical school and specialize in obstetrics. But then, while he was back in Washington for his interview, came a living nightmare: his oldest son, who was 3, was diagnosed with leukemia. Just before entering med school, McCaddon prepared for his son’s chemotherapy by shaving his head in solidarity so the little boy wouldn’t feel so strange. McCaddon may not have been a warrior, but he was a fighter. “I became known as a hard-charger,” he wrote. “I was given difficult tasks, and moved through the ranks quickly.” He pushed people who didn’t give 100%; he pushed himself.
The Apache Pilot
Ian Morrison was born at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, son of a Marine. An honor student at Thomas McKean High School in Wilmington, Del., he sang in the chorus, ran cross-country and was a co-captain of the swimming team before heading to West Point. He had a wicked sense of humor and a sweet soul; he met Rebecca on a Christian singles website in 2006 and spent three months charming her over the phone. One night he gave her his credit-card information. “Buy me a ticket, because I’m going to come see you,” he told her before flying to Houston. “The minute I picked him up,” she recalls, “we later said we both knew it was the real deal.” He proposed at West Point when she flew in for his graduation.
Morrison spent the next two years at Fort Rucker in Alabama, learning to fly the two-seat, 165-m.p.h. Apache helicopter, the Army’s most lethal aircraft. He and his roommate, fellow West Pointer Sean McBride, divided their time among training, Walmart, church, Seinfeld and video games, fueled by macaroni and cheese with chopped-up hot dogs. Morrison and Rebecca were married two days after Christmas 2008 near Dallas. The Army assigned him to an aviation unit at Fort Hood, so they bought a three-bedroom house on an acre of land just outside the town of Copperas Cove, Texas. They supported six African children through World Vision and were planning to have some kids of their own. “We had named our kids,” Rebecca says.
Morrison was surprised when the Army ordered him to Iraq on short notice late in 2010. Like all young Army officers, he saluted and began packing.
Triggers and Traps
One theory of suicide holds that people who feel useful, who feel as if they belong and serve a larger cause, are less likely to kill themselves. That would explain why active-duty troops historically had lower suicide rates than civilians. But now experts who study the patterns wonder whether prolonged service during wartime may weaken that protective function.
Service members who have bonded with their units, sharing important duties, can have trouble once they are at a post back home, away from the routines and rituals that arise in a close-knit company. The isolation often increases once troops leave active duty or National Guardsmen and reservists return to their parallel lives. The military frequently cites relationship issues as a predecessor to suicides; that irritates survivors to no end. “I’m not as quick to blame the Army as the Army is to blame me,” Leslie McCaddon says. “The message I get from the Army is that our marital problems caused Mike to kill himself. But they never ask why there were marriage problems to begin with.”
As McCaddon made his way through med school in Maryland, he encountered ghosts from his past. He was reaching the age at which his biological father had died by suicide, which statistically increased his own risk. But he wasn’t scared by it, Leslie says; he told associates about it. What did bother him was that he was gaining weight, the physical-training tests were getting harder for him, and the course work was challenging to juggle with a young family. He hid the strain, “but inside it is killing me,” he blogged. He called Leslie a hero “for not kicking me out of the house on the several times I’ve given her reason.” And he told her he sometimes thought of suicide.
“But he would tell everyone else that he was fine,” Leslie says. “He was afraid they’d kick him out of medical school if he was really honest about how depressed he was.” McCaddon sought counseling from a retired Army psychiatrist and seemed to be turning a corner in May 2010, when he graduated and got his first choice for a residency, at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu.
“He loved being a soldier,” Leslie said, “and he was going to do everything he could to protect that relationship.”
Leslie had relationships to protect as well. He was increasingly hard on her at home; he was also hard on the kids and on himself. “He was always an amazing father–he loved his children–but he started lashing out at them,” Leslie recalls. “He wasn’t getting enough sleep, and he was under a lot of stress.” Leslie began exploring options but very, very carefully; she had a bomb-disposal problem as well. “When I was reaching out for help, people were saying, Be careful how you phrase this, because it could affect your husband’s career,” she says. “That was terrifying to me. It made me think that by advocating for him I’d be making things worse.”
The Pilot’s Pain
Captain Morrison headed to Iraq in early 2011. Once there, he and Rebecca Skyped nearly every day between his flight assignments. When he took R&R leave in early September, they visited family in Dallas, then San Antonio, and caught concerts by Def Leppard and Heart.
There were no signs of trouble. “He was so mentally stable–he worked out every day, we ate good food, and we always had good communication,” his wife says. “Most people would say he was kind of quiet, but with me he was loud and obnoxious and open.”
Morrison never engaged the enemy in direct combat; still, some 70 missions over Iraq took their toll. His base was routinely mortared. After one mission, he and several other pilots were walking back to their hangar when a rocket shot right past them and almost hit him; he and his comrades ran and dived into a bunker, he told Rebecca once he was safely home. He impressed his commander–“Excellent performance!” his superior raved in a formal review of the man his buddies called Captain Brad Pitt. “Unlimited potential … continue to place in position of greater responsibility.”
It was not the war that turned out to be hard; it was the peace. Morrison returned to Fort Hood late last year and spent his month off with Rebecca riding their horses, attending church and working out. He seemed unnerved by slack time at home. “He said it was really easy to fall into a routine in Iraq–they got up at the exact same time, they ate, they worked out, they flew forever and then they came back, and he’d talk to me, and then they did it all over again,” Rebecca says. “When he came back to Texas, it was really difficult for him to adjust.”
Morrison was due to be reassigned, so he and his wife needed to sell their house, but it just sat on the market. His anxiety grew; he was restless, unable to sleep, and they thought he might be suffering from PTSD. The couple agreed that he should see a doctor. Military wives, especially those studying mental health, have heard the stories, know the risks, learn the questions: Is their spouse drinking more, driving recklessly, withdrawing from friends, feeling trapped? Be direct, they are told. “I looked him right in the face and asked, ‘Do you feel like you want to hurt or kill yourself?'” Rebecca recalls. “He looked me right in the face and said, ‘Absolutely not–no way–I don’t feel like that at all. All I want to do is figure out how to stop this anxiety.'”
When troops return from deployment, they are required to do self-assessments of their experience: Did they see people killed during their tour? Did they feel they had been at risk of dying? Were they interested in getting counseling for stress or alcohol use or other issues? But a 2008 study found that when soldiers answer questions anonymously, they are two to four times as likely to report depression or suicidal thoughts. Independent investigations have turned up reports of soldiers being told by commanders to airbrush their answers or else risk their careers. A report by the Center for a New American Security cited commanders who refuse to grant a military burial after a suicide for fear that doing so would “endorse or glamorize” it.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and all the services have launched resiliency-training programs and emergency hotlines, offering slogans like “Never leave a Marine behind” and “Never let your buddy fight alone” that try to speak the language of the unit. Last year the Pentagon released a video game meant to allow soldiers to explore the causes and symptoms of PTSD from the privacy of their homes. “We want people to feel like they are encouraged to get help,” says Jackie Garrick, who runs the new Defense Suicide Prevention Office. “There are a myriad of ways you can access help and support if you need it.”
But faith in that commitment was shaken this year when Army Major General Dana Pittard, commander of the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, complained on his official blog that he was “personally fed up” with “absolutely selfish” troops who kill themselves, leaving him and others to “clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us,” he continued. He later said he wanted to “retract” what he called his “hurtful statement,” but he didn’t apologize for what he said. Many soldiers and family members believe Pittard’s attitude is salted throughout the U.S. military.
Just a Lovers’ Quarrel
In August 2010, Leslie went to McCaddon’s commanding officer at the hospital. She didn’t tell Michael. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. She recalls sitting in the commander’s office, haltingly laying out her concerns–McCaddon’s history of depression, his struggle to meet his high standards while doing right by his family. She was hoping that maybe the commander would order him into counseling and defuse the stigma somehow: he’d just be following orders. She watched the officer, a female colonel, detonate before her eyes. “No one at the medical school told me he had a history of depression, of being suicidal,” Leslie recalls her shouting. “I have a right to know this. He’s one of my residents. Why didn’t anyone tell me?” The commander was furious–not at Leslie, exactly, but at finding herself not in command of the facts.
The colonel called several colleagues into the room and then summoned McCaddon as well. Leslie registered the shock and fear on his face when he saw his wife sitting with his bosses. “I was shaking,” she says. “I told him I continued to be concerned that his depression was affecting our family and that I was really concerned for his safety but also for the well-being of our children and myself.”
The commander encouraged McCaddon to get help but wouldn’t order him to do it. He left the room, livid, and Leslie burst into tears. “Honey, don’t worry,” Leslie remembers the commander saying. “My first marriage was a wreck too.”
Can’t you make him get some help? Leslie pleaded again, but the colonel pushed back. McCaddon was doing fine at work, with no signs of a problem. “‘Leslie, I know this is going to be hard to hear, but this just doesn’t sound like an Army issue to me,'” McCaddon’s wife recalls the colonel saying. “‘It sounds like a family issue to me.'” Leslie felt her blood run cold. “No one was going to believe me so long as things were going fine at work.”
McCaddon did try to see an Army psychiatrist, but a month or more could pass without his finding the time. “I’d say, ‘He’s in the Army,'” Leslie recalls telling the doctor, “‘and you make him do everything else, so you should be able to make him go to mental-health counseling.'” But McCaddon was not about to detour from rounds to lie on the couch. He barely ate while on his shift. “Everybody here is under stress,” he stormed at Leslie. “I can’t just walk out for an hour a week–I’m not going to leave them when we’re already short-staffed.”
The marriage was cracking. Back in Massachusetts, Leslie’s mother was not well. Leslie and the kids moved home so she could take care of her. She and Michael talked about divorce.
The Waiting Room
Early on Monday, March 19, Ian Morrison showed up at a Fort Hood health clinic, where he sat waiting in his uniform, with his aviation badge, for three hours. Finally someone saw him. “‘I’m sorry you had to wait all this time,'” Rebecca says he was told. “‘But we can’t see you. We can’t prescribe you anything.'” He had to see the doctor assigned to his unit. When Morrison arrived at the flight surgeon’s office, he told Rebecca, the doctor was upset that Morrison hadn’t shown up at the regular daily sick call a couple of hours earlier.
“He told me this guy was so dismissive and rude to him. ‘You need to follow procedure. You should have been here hours ago,'” Rebecca says. “Ian wanted to tell the doctor he was anxious, depressed and couldn’t sleep, but this guy shut him down.” Morrison acknowledged only his sleeplessness, leading the doctor to give him 10 sleeping pills with orders to return the next week. He’d be grounded for the time being.
But that didn’t seem to affect his mood. Morrison toasted his wife’s success on a big exam that day–she was close to earning her master’s in psychology–by cooking a steak dinner and drawing a bubble bath for her that night. “He was dancing around and playing music and celebrating for me,” she remembers. “He seemed really hopeful.” He took a pill before bed but told Rebecca in the morning that he hadn’t slept.
On Tuesday, March 20, Morrison tried to enroll in an Army sleep study but was told he couldn’t join for a month. “Well, I’ll just keep taking Ambien and then go see the flight surgeon,” he told the woman involved with the study. She asked if he felt like hurting himself. “No, ma’am, you don’t have to worry about me at all,” he said. “I would never do that.” That day, Morrison typed an entry in his journal: “These are the things I know that I can’t change: whether or not the house sells, the state of the economy, and the world … these are things that I know to be true: I’m going to be alive tomorrow, I will continue to breathe and get through this, and God is sovereign over my life.”
Rebecca awoke the next morning to find her husband doing yoga. “I’m self-medicating,” he told her. She knew what that meant. “You couldn’t sleep again, huh?” Rebecca asked.
“No,” Morrison said. “I’m going back to the doctor today.” Given the lack of success with the medication, she told him that was probably a good idea. She left the house, heading for the elementary school on post where she taught second grade.
A System Overwhelmed
The Army reported in January that there was no way to tell how well its suicide-prevention programs were working, but it estimated that without such interventions, the number of suicides could have been four times as high. Since 2009, the Pentagon’s ranks of mental-health professionals have grown by 35%, nearing 10,000. But there is a national shortage of such personnel, which means the Army is competing with the VA and other services–not to mention the civilian world–to hire the people it needs. The Army has only 80% of the psychiatrists and 88% of the social workers and behavioral-health nurses recommended by the VA. Frequent moves from post to post mean that soldiers change therapists often, if they can find one, and mental-health records are not always transferred.
Military mental-health professionals complain that the Army seemed to have put its suicide-prevention efforts on the back burner after Chiarelli, a suicide fighter, left the service in January. “My husband did not want to die,” Rebecca says. “Ian tried to get help–six times in all … Think about all the guys who don’t even try to get help because of the stigma. Ian was so past the stigma, he didn’t care. He just wanted to be healthy.”
The Breaking Point
On March 15, McCaddon gave a medical presentation that got rave reviews. Then he called Massachusetts to speak to his children and sent Leslie that last e-mail. He regretted his failures as a husband, as a father. Don’t tell the children how I died, he begged her. “Know that I love you and my biggest regret in life will always be failing to cherish that, and instead forsaking it.” Leslie read the e-mail in horror. “In the back of my mind, I’m saying to myself, He’s at work–he’s safe,” she recalls. “It never occurred to me that he would do what he did at work.” But she immediately dialed the hospital’s delivery center. She had just received a suicide note from her husband, she told the doctor who answered, and they needed to find him immediately. The hospital staff fanned out.
“They’ve sent people to the roof, the basement, to your house. We’re looking everywhere,” a midwife told Leslie in a call minutes later. As they talked, Leslie suddenly heard people screaming and crying in the background. Then she heard them call a Code Blue. They had found him hanging from a noose in a call room. It had been less than 30 minutes since McCaddon had sent his final e-mail to his wife. Among the voices Leslie thought she recognized was that of McCaddon’s commander, whose words came rushing back. “Does it seem like a family issue to her now?” Leslie remembers thinking. “Because it looks like it happened on her watch.”
It took 15 minutes for the first responders to bring back a heartbeat. By then he had been without oxygen for too long. Leslie flew to Hawaii, and Captain McCaddon was taken off life support late Tuesday, March 20. He was pronounced dead early the next day.
That same day, Wednesday, March 21, Morrison saw a different Army doctor, who in a single 20-minute session diagnosed him with clinical depression. He got prescriptions for an antidepressant and a med to treat anxiety but hadn’t taken either when he called his wife. Rebecca encouraged him to stop by the resiliency center on post to see if he might get some mental-health counseling there. Just before noon, Morrison texted Rebecca, saying he was “Hopeful :)” about it. She wanted to know what they told him. “Will have to come back,” he responded. “Wait is about 2 hrs.” He needed to get back to his office.
Rebecca was still concerned. At about 4 p.m., she urged her husband to call a military hotline that boasted, “Immediate help 24/7–contact a consultant now.” He promised he would. “I said, ‘Perfect. Call them, and I’ll talk to you later,'” Rebecca says. “He was like, ‘O.K., bye.'”
That was the last time she ever talked to him. Their final communication was one more text about 45 minutes later. “STILL on hold,” he wrote to her. Rebecca responded moments later: “Can’t say you’re not trying.”
Morrison called Rebecca at 7:04 p.m., according to her cell phone, but she was leading a group-therapy session and missed it. He didn’t leave a message.
Two and a half hours later, she returned home from her grad-school counseling class. She threw her books down when she entered the living room and called his name. No answer. She saw his boots by the door; the mail was there, so she knew he had to be home. “I walked into our bedroom, and he was lying on the floor with his head on a pillow, on my side of the bed.” He was still in his uniform.
Rebecca stammers, talking softly and slowly through her sobs. “He had shot himself in the neck,” she says. “There was no note or anything. He was fully dressed, and I ran over to him and checked his pulse … and he had no pulse. I just ran out of the house screaming, ‘Call 911!’ and ran to the neighbors.”
The Next Mission
At a suicide-prevention conference in June, Panetta laid down a charge: “We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that the system itself is working to help soldiers. Not to hide this issue, not to make the wrong judgments about this issue, but to face facts and deal with the problems up front and make sure that we provide the right diagnosis and that we follow up on that kind of diagnosis.”
But what makes preventing suicide so confounding is that even therapy often fails. “Over 50% of the soldiers who committed suicide in the four years that I was vice [chief] had seen a behavioral-health specialist,” recalls Chiarelli. “It was a common thing to hear about someone who had committed suicide who went in to see a behavioral-health specialist and was dead within 24, 48 or 72 hours–and to hear he had a diagnosis that said, ‘This individual is no danger to himself or anyone else.’ That’s when I realized that something’s the matter.”
There’s the horrific human cost, and there is a literal cost as well. The educations of McCaddon and Morrison cost taxpayers a sum approaching $2 million. “If the Army can’t be reached through the emotional side of it–that I lost my husband–well, they lost a $400,000 West Point education and God knows how much in flight school,” Rebecca says. (The Army says Morrison’s pilot training cost $700,000.) Adds Leslie: “They’d invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into this asset. At the very least, why didn’t they protect their asset?”
Captain McCaddon was buried with full military honors on April 3 in Gloucester, Mass. A pair of officers traveled from Hawaii for the service and presented his family with the Army Commendation Medal “for his selfless and excellent service.” Leslie and their three children also received the U.S. flag that had been draped over his casket and three spent shells fired by the honor guard. They visited his grave on Father’s Day to leave flowers, and each child left a card. After two years of chemotherapy, their oldest child’s leukemia remains in remission.
Captain Morrison was buried in central Texas on March 31. The Army had awarded him several decorations, including the Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star. There were military honors graveside, and a bugler played taps. At his widow’s request, there was no rifle volley fired.