Pacific Tides
My name is Thomas Sturm and I'm a programmer, photographer and writer.

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Lost in the Sand

I just read this astonishing article by Ellen Knickmeyer from the Washington Post who was with US Marines while they were on another futile mission along the Iraqi-Syrian border to root out the insurgents.

Read it here: Looking for Battle, Marines Find That Foes Have Fled

This article is so full of amazing quotes, I don't even know where to begin.

Young, inexperienced and under-educated American Marines are stumbling through the desert, without translators, without the bare minimum of guidance in morals, ethics or local culture.

This is the MTV generation, grown up without a history book in sight. Sent to a fight a war under false pretenses in a land so unimaginably different from their own that they can not recognize their own blunders... they are left in the desert with the dull feeling that somehow, inexplicably, everything seems to go wrong.

They are stuck to fight an enemy they can not see, guided by policies that are based on lies, with no hint of how long their stay in purgatory will last.

They are facing a local population that is dirt poor, but that has inexhaustible supplies of weapons and ammunitions and is tough as nails. Insults - especially religious insults - are taken deathly serious and for thousands of years have led to blood feuds between families. These are not people you want to piss off.

Here are a couple of the hightlights from the article:

With no Arabic speakers among the Marines, no English spoken among the villagers of Arabi, and Lima Company's already sparse crew of Iraqi interpreters reduced when one quit in mid-battle at Ubaydi, there was no way to tell her the mortar round was meant for others, the nuisance gunmen across the Euphrates. Heavy-caliber weapons fire burst out, Marines firing at something else.


Sometimes, the Marines busted up wooden furniture belonging to poor farm families and threw their polyester blankets and clothes in a jumble on the floor. A handful of the hundreds of Marines involved in Operation Matador walked out of homes with a pillow or blanket to cushion the ride in the Amtrac.


At the end of a day of searches, Marines generally commandeer houses for the night, shooing the families out in case the Americans' presence makes the homes targets for attack.

It was clear two years ago that the US military was in way over their head in Iraq. All along there have not been enough interpreters and soldiers have been left completely unprepared for the cultural differences that would await them.

With every passing day of this occupation, more mistakes are being made and violence will cause more violence. It is a race to the bottom that the Iraqis will surely win since they are the ones who at the end have nothing to lose.

It is astonishing that nobody in the US military seems to have studied past guerilla wars. The example that I know best, since I have read and own a rather large collection of books about it, is the war between Japan and China.

Japan had invaded China over a long period of time, slicing off bigger and bigger chunks of the country without much resistance since their weapons technology was far superior to the Chinese. But when they took Beijing and went south and west from there, they became bogged down in a fierce guerilla war with the Communist troops under Mao Tsetung.

The Japanese did not understand enough about the local culture and had zero support from the population. The Communist fighters chose the time and place of every attack and then melted into the countryside without a trace. While the Japanese had air support, tanks and good guns, the guerillas fought with any weapon they could find. One specialty was the burying of mines along all the roads.

After several years of this warfare, the Japanese spent their days hiding out in bases, constantly harassed by small arms fire and afraid to travel from town to town because of the permanent danger of mines and small bands of guerillas roaming the countryside.

Does that sound familiar to anybody?

The Iraq war is a lost war for the US, like the Japanese occupation of China was doomed from the moment that local guerillas figured out how to bring the war machinery to a grinding halt.

It's a tragedy that so many young people have to die for the mistakes and willful shortsightedness of a few old men in Washington. Tens of thousands have died and hundreds of thousands have lost their health and their souls.

The troops have to come home, because right now they are wandering around the Iraqi desert without aim and without hope.

They are truly lost in the sand.

© 1998 - 2024 Thomas Sturm