Evan Wright on Misconceptions and Missing the Mark

Question:   In your opinion, where are we missing the mark in fighting this war?

Evan Wright:  Sure, and I think we’re using less artillery today but the... it’s just kind of a weird...It also is about the media as I analyzed it that because so much of our news comes from television and television is image driven TV editors like to do shows about the air force because they always have stock footage of planes taking off, it looks cool, and as you’re competing as a news program on cable with all other forms of entertainment and you want to stop... get viewers to stop on your channel it helps to show sexy images of like Top Gun pictures of planes flying. So TV news coverage of the war focuses a lot on what the air force does and the reality is... when we were invading Iraq is for the marine corps especially through the march up through Mesopotamia they used artillery heavily. And artillery is not as sexy to film as aircraft and so one of the examples I cite is when we got to Nasiriyah marines took fire there, the army had some soldiers captured and killed, and so it turned in to this kind of cluster fuck.  But.. and the marines responded. It was tactically sound. The dumped I think... I’m citing from memory of my book which was based on interviews of the artillery battalion. I think we dropped- the Americans dropped two to three thousand rounds of artillery into Nasiriyah in a very short period of time. That’s an enormous amount of ordnance to be dropping into a city of four hundred thousand people and that those stories were never covered as far as I know by the... or never adequately covered by the television news reporters.                    

Question:  What are other misperceptions that Americans have about our military?

Evan Wright:  Yeah. Well, first of all, there are several misperceptions and in a way the title of the mini series, Generation Kill, almost... the title itself would perpetuate some of those misconceptions and one of the misconceptions is that the soldiers or marines who are there willingly are psychopaths who just want to kill people. And if you listen to marines, as viewers would in the first episode of Generation Kill, all they talk about is killing and how it’d be fun to have been the pilot that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima ‘cause he killed a lot of people, etc., but that’s all talk. What I actually found is that many of the soldiers, and I found this in my multiple trips to the Middle East, they’re... they view themselves as professionals and they actually... they’re stoked to go in to combat often but they actually don’t want to kill civilians. And so when you read about the Hadithas and the Abu Ghraibs where they’re abusing troops, captives, I actually believe that those are the aberrations of the U.S. military. I’ve actually found that most of the troops at the troop level, the trigger pullers, they take a lot of care to avoid killing civilians, but the other reality is no matter how careful the military is in warfare that’s what happens.        

Question:  Regarding Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, were you there?

Evan Wright:  No. I went back afterwards but not at the time.

Question:  How did it affect marine morale?

Evan Wright:  I think that Gitmo is sort of not an issue that’s as important to the Iraqis but the Abu Ghraib is... whatever people think of it in America or in the U.S. military, there’s people in the U.S. military who complain because they think it was overly emphasized in the Western media. I disagree but the sad reality is Gitmo- Abu Ghraib gave the insurgents their single greatest weapon for rallying their troops to fight the Americans, and so that’s one thing that I think about it. It was probably the single most devastating act that the Americans committed in Iraq in terms of weakening their ability to occupy the country or whatever they want to call it that we’re doing over there, and I think a lot of troops were disappointed. You know what’s weird?  I was actually... Just strangely enough, I was at a fitness center at Camp Pendleton, which is the home of the First Marine Division, and I happened to be visiting a marine friend of mine, Eric Kocher, who you’re going to interview later, who had been severely injured in an ambush over there. He came home, he was recovering, and he was going to the gym, and I went to the gym with him and this was right as all the TVs in this Camp Pendleton marine corps gym were showing the first images of Abu Ghraib. And I remember I was standing on a little treadmill next to some troops and they were just looking at this, shaking their heads at the images of Abu Ghraib, going...and some of them were saying, “This is terrible. What the fuck have we done?”  The marines were saying, “What the fuck have these army soldiers done to really undermine any credibility America had over in Iraq?” There’s something else about Abu Ghraib that’s really interesting to me, having been back to Iraq and spent a lot of time with Iraqi civilians and Iraqi military forces that are trying to work with the Americans. The one thing about Abu Ghraib that I think Americans don’t get at home is that, much as it totally offended the Muslim world and Iraqis and horrified them with the humiliations of Arabs at the hands of American troops, the thing that Americans don’t often get is that in addition to those stories the other story that’s much more prevalent in Iraq is that of U.S. troops working side by side with Iraqis and especially under the surge. What Petraeus did is he sent out all these small units of Americans. Instead of being on these big bases, he was sending platoons of forty guys to live in these remote outposts with forty Iraqi policemen or forty Iraqi soldiers. And these Americans and these Iraqis live side by side, they eat the same food often, they depend on each other for their lives, and these are the stories that I see- that I saw every day when I was back in Iraq last summer as the surge was kicking in. And I think that Americans don’t quite understand how, even if the Iraqis don’t like us, even if they’re really disturbed by Abu Ghraib, they feel a sense of dependency on us right now because if we pull out they recognize in the short term that their lives will be much worse, much more chaotic. And I think that’s not understood and I’m not making an argument that we should stay there. I’m just pointing out that that’s the reality. I think it’s becoming clear and also because the violence has gone down so much in Iraq that some aspects of the surge, at least in the short term, have actually worked, and I actually think our political leaders... that reality hasn’t yet caught up with the debate that we’re having in this country. The fact that the surge was technically and interestingly enough... Harry Reid... I remember ‘cause I was working on this story. He declared the surge a failure I think back in May of 2007 and that was an interesting time ‘cause the surge actually hadn’t gone into effect yet all the way. It wasn’t until June that all the troops got there and so you saw leaders, more on the Democratic side, declaring the surge a failure and then I think they were anticipating that it would be, but in fact it kind of succeeded insofar as it was billed by... As Petraeus and others said it would succeed, it kind of did succeed and so now I think that’s a reality that hasn’t sunk in yet. So I don’t know what it means ‘cause I’m not an expert on the future but it’s an interesting dilemma for the Democratic party, which has kind of run and for good reason they’ve run on the fact that hey, Iraq is a total failure; we got to get out of there. Well, now elements of it have succeeded. Can you make the same argument?  I don’t know.  I have to say this ‘cause I’ve spent so much time over there, but the other argument that I would hear... When Obama and others talked about drawing down troops from Iraq they would say, “We’ll leave behind a small force of Americans.”  Sometimes they’d have a number like five thousand or twenty thousand who would remain in Iraq as advisers and that’s an interesting... it sounds interesting to say that, but the reality is if you just drew down to five thousand Americans in Iraq and then you started to have say a mass slaughter of Sunnis by Shia and this is occurring say ten miles from a base where Americans live, and these images of absolute horror and civil war are broadcast on the international media, how is it going to look when you have five thousand Americans living in that neighborhood unable to prevent it from happening and just sort of being on their bases ‘cause that would be the reality?  I’m not saying that would necessarily happen but the idea of drawing down to 5,000 troops or whatever number people have is sometimes... I think a lot of Americans hear that and it sounds like a really great idea but I’ve always... whenever I hear that I think how the hell is that going to work?  Either you stay for a long time and slowly draw them down or you just pull out at once and let the chips fall where they may.

Question:  What are the future implications of this?

Evan Wright:  I think it’s becoming clear and also because the violence has gone down so much in Iraq that some aspects of the surge, at least in the short term, have actually worked, and I actually think our political leaders- that reality hasn’t yet caught up with the debate that we’re having in this country. The fact that the surge was technically and interestingly enough... Harry Reid...I remember ‘cause I was working on this story. He declared the surge a failure I think back in May of 2007 and that was an interesting time ‘cause the surge actually hadn’t gone into effect yet all the way. It wasn’t until June that all the troops got there and so you saw leaders, more on the Democratic side, declaring the surge a failure and then I think they were anticipating that it would be, but in fact it kind of succeeded insofar as it was billed by...as Petraeus and others said it would succeed, it kind of did succeed and so now I think that’s a reality that hasn’t sunk in yet. So I don’t know what it means ‘cause I’m not an expert on the future but it’s an interesting dilemma for the Democratic party, which has kind of run and for good reason they’ve run on the fact that hey, Iraq is a total failure; we got to get out of there. Well, now elements of it have succeeded. Can you make the same argument?  I don’t know.  I have to say this ‘cause I’ve spent so much time over there, but the other argument that I would hear..when Obama and others talked about drawing down troops from Iraq they would say, “We’ll leave behind a small force of Americans.”  Sometimes they’d have a number like 5,000 or 20,000 who would remain in Iraq as advisers and that’s an interesting...it sounds interesting to say that, but the reality is if you just drew down to 5,000 Americans in Iraq and then you started to have say a mass slaughter of Sunnis by Shia and this is occurring say ten miles from a base where Americans live, and these images of absolute horror and civil war are broadcast on the international media, how is it going to look when you have 5,000 Americans living in that neighborhood unable to prevent it from happening and just sort of being on their bases ‘cause that would be the reality?  I’m not saying that would necessarily happen but the idea of drawing down to 5,000 troops or whatever number people have is sometimes...I think a lot of Americans hear that and it sounds like a really great idea but I’ve always...whenever I hear that I think how the hell is that going to work?  Either you stay for a long time and slowly draw them down or you just pull out at once and let the chips fall where they may.

Question:   What should we be doing for our veterans?

Evan Wright:  Well, it’s just a perception thing. I think that we tend to view vets in one of two ways. Either they’re heroes and the right wing version is they’re all out there fighting for Mom and apple pie and the left wing version is more convoluted. It’s that they’re all heroes but they’re all victims ‘cause they were all tricked in to signing up and they don’t want to be in Iraq and we should support them by pulling them out. And the truth is some guys feel...and women feel duped in to signing up or they signed up to get college money and now they’re in Iraq getting blown up on bases or by IEDs, but the troops that I’ve covered more are the infantry in both the army and the marines. And those are guys who signed up because they wanted to be warriors and they wanted to serve their country and it’s not- not all of them support the policies in Iraq but in their minds they did not join the military to support a particular policy or a particular President. They signed up to be professional soldiers and do what they’re told to do by their leaders, by the civilian leaders who control the military. So when we say, “Let’s support the troops by pulling them out of this war,” there’s a lot of troops who are-- who kind of say, “Well, how are you supporting us?  We’ve been over here. We’ve given our blood, sweat, tears. We’ve lost our brothers over here and now you’re saying just take us home and let’s lose the war.”  The-- I’m passing on their viewpoint. I’m not trying to make some right wing argument but there’s a lot of troops who feel this way and so they don’t feel supported when they’re portrayed as victims or when they’re portrayed as these sad sacks fighting a stupid...a futile war that they should be pulled out of. And I don’t know if that makes any sense but I don’t think...even if you think we should pull them out and you think we should end the war, you should...people should recognize that that’s a very devastating thing to tell the troops that have been over there for five years now fighting on the country’s behalf as they see it. It’s not so simple as oh, they’ll all be happy if they come home.  A lot of them won’t be.  A lot of troops keep reenlisting in- especially in the marine corps. They keep meeting or exceeding their recruitment goals and their reenlistment goals because a lot of troops want to go over there and keep serving until there is a resolution in Iraq.

Recorded on: 7/17/08

 

 

 

Evan Wright explains common misconceptions held by the public and offers his insight regarding American missteps and future implications.

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