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FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

On Love, Loss and Forgetting in Junger's "War" or What Pablo Neruda has to do with the US in Afghanistan

Sebastian Junger's eye for detail is equal to his hunger for authenticity in his writing.  Nowhere is this more evident than in his 2010 'memoir' WAR.  Admittedly I am late to the game in reviewing Junger's story of the time he spent embedded in the violent and dangerous Korengal valley but it's not like the US will ever leaving Afghanistan right?

More importantly, Junger's book is not about Afghanistan or the Taliban--these are merely the backdrop for his penetrating examination of the men who go to war (in fact, the larger geo-political questions go (thankfully) unaddressed).

In dividing WAR into three books--fear, killing and love--Junger lays out his hypothesis that these three emotions (or actions) encompass war for the young men of the United States--or more precisely address the ultimate question of why young men fight and die in war.


The goal of this post, however, is not to give a traditional review of a book but instead show you a twitterfied book review.  Below you will see screen captures of the comments that I posted on twitter throughout my reading of the story.  Enjoy!

You can read my review of Marlantes' Matterhorn here

Perhaps there's no better praise of Junger's skill than that as I read through the War's final lines, I was immediately reminded two lines from Pablo Neruda's sorrowful ode to the pain and incomprehensibility of lost love.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her
Love is so short, forgetting is so long   

This tension (this war) between love, loss, self-deception and forgetting is ultimately what one walks away with reading Junger's masterful War.

Finally, it is worth noting that in considering Afghanistan and its bloody Korengal valley, another line from Neruda's poem rings equally true:

Another's. She will be another's. As she was before my kisses.

Here's Neruda's poem in its entirety.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
Write, for example, 'The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.'
The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.
She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.
To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.
What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.
This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.
The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.
I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tries to find the wind to touch her hearing.
Another's. She will be another's. As she was before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.
I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

FAO Pro Tip #2 or You're only a handshake away

I posted my first FAO Pro tip here--the ever essential VAPORUB.  

Of near equal importance are these anti-bacterial wipes: Wet Ones Antibacterial Hand Wipes Singles, 24-Count (Pack of 5)   These should be standard issue when you in-process through AFRICOM (or whatever your COCOM) on the way to the continent.  I wish I had had more common sense my first six months on the job and used these religiously as my darling and wise wife counseled.  

As a FAO you shake more hands than you'd ever imagine--couple this with myriad receptions that favor finger foods and you have a lethal intestinal combination just waiting to erupt.  Nowadays I make sure to always carry a couple of these in my pocket to prevent another night curled up in anguish on the bathroom tile (see future blog post "Ode to a toilet bowl").

In this era of fiscal incertitude, the Department of Defense could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost workdays by spending $60 to buy a two-year supply of Wet Wipes for every FAO headed downrange.   If that prevents even one sick day during a two year tour they would pay for themselves many times over.  

Or, you could just click the image below and buy yourself a five-pack for $11 that will last you a year.  


Monday, November 10, 2014

Happy Birthday Marine Corps!

Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever? Happy birthday Marine Corps!

Following is an updated repost from my yearly Marine Corps birthday post:
I had the great pleasure to attend the 239th Marine Corps Birthday Ball this past Saturday here in Antananarivo, Madagascar with my stunning wife.   Madagascar is about as far as you can get from the United States and it is reassuring that even here we come under their protection.


"Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?"
-commonly attributed to Sergeant Major Dan Daly, born November 11th (he respectfully waited for the Marine Corps birthday before entering the world) 
While I ended up joining the Navy (6 weeks of Leatherneck during the summer after my junior year at the Naval Academy was enough for me to know that I was not cut out for the Marines), I have always had a profound respect and admiration for the Marine Corps.  There is no greater, ruthless and expedient fighting force on the planet.

       My father is a Marine (and my grandfather, grandmother, an uncle, and a cousin).  I always felt a point of personal pride to call myself a Marine Corps B.R.A.T. growing up.  Those of you my age may recall the movie entitled The BRAT Patrol (1986 starring Sean Astin) in which the kids of military service members save the world (more or less).  Of course BRAT stands for Born Raised And Trapped.  I can remember running around the neighborhood as an 9 year old singing the BRAT Patrol songs and conducting "missions" with my fellow USMC BRATs.  Following is a link to the movie for those of you who are curious:
"The BRAT Patrol" youtube excerpt (first ten minutes of the film)
IMDB link: The BRAT Patrol

I'll close out this column with two quotes, one from a modern day Marine maestro of quotable quotes (incidentally, only in the Marine
Corps could you have a flag officer says this types of things and still remain a flag officer).  

"I come in peace, I didn't bring artillery.  But I am pleading with you with tears in my eyes:  If you fuck with me, I'll kill you all.
- Marine General James Mattis, to Iraqi tribal leaders

and the other from my favorite Marine Corps Commandant (yes, Marine kids have favorite Commandants...I had a poster of this one) 
General Louis 'Lou', 'Iron-lung Lou' Wilson (Medal of Honor recipient).  As Commandant he was instrumental in bringing the Marine Corps
out of the abyss of Vietnam, raising standards for recruitment and retention.  He reportedly gave this toast at a Marine Corps ball.  And having a 
plethora of Marine buddies I can personally vouch for the veracity of the sentiments he expresses in his closing lines:

The wonderful love of a beautiful maid,
The love of a staunch true man,
The love of a baby, unafraid,
Have existed since time began.

But the greatest of loves, The quintessence of loves.
even greater than that of a mother,
Is the tender, passionate, infinite love,
of one drunken Marine for another.

General Louis H. Wilson
Commandant of the Marine Corps
Toast given at 203rd Marine Corps Birthday Ball
Camp Lejueune, N.C. 1978

Sunday, November 9, 2014

FAO Pro Tips or Ode to VapoRub

The first in a series of post offering professional tips for Foreign Area Officers.  As a FAO you will likely find yourself doing a fair share of travel on small, regional, aged, dated aircraft of questionable safety and sanitary standards--especially if you cover more than one country such as the case for me.

When there is so much that you CAN'T control--its important to control the things you can.  Below is my ode to that most essential of travel aids: VAPORUB.


As I board the crowded dated plane
i'm oppressed by the stale stank air
stagnant and seeping hot.
a cold bead of sweat
        down my side

As the last passengers are
crammed and shoved inside
I am slapped with such
a stankfunkystink
that I nearly gag

heart racing panic descends
as I am assaulted
my every effort consumes me
to not wrench my disgusted face
in the direction...directions?!
of this ancient sour stench

Surely I hope
surely you are with me
                                          my confidant my savior

ahh yes, yes

you rest silently in my pocket
the smooth small curves of your cylinder body
always at the ready

Quickly I uncap you
my fingers dive in and swing
from your eucalyptus branches
I plunge your menthol rub                             the
into my nostrils                                    to
and                                       soaring
 goes my countenance
as I am enveloped in your
analgesic caress
that blocks out and protects me
from the vile olfactory siege
laid up on me.

I close my eyes and smile
safely ensconced in your
mentholated eucalyptol

Friday, April 4, 2014

11 Things You May Not Know About the Genocide in Rwanda

20 years ago this Sunday the genocide in Rwanda began.  Read more below to find out what you may not know and what you should know. 

Eleven Things You Should Know about the Genocide in Rwanda (and which I didn't know either until I wrote a paper about it):

1. In 100 days, Hutu extremists killed 800,000 men, women and children--507,000 of them Tutsis (77% of the registered Tutsi population).  That's about 11% of their population.  That would be the equivalent of 26 million people being killed in the US over a 3 month period.

2. The U.S. government (USG) acknowledged early on (on 28 April to be exact, when there were at least 100,00 already dead) that people were being slaughtered, but instructed its UN Ambassador to remain in "listening mode" and "not commit the USG to anything."

3. The best and most complete account of the genocide is the Alison Des Forges' (of HRW) Leave None to Tell the Story.

4. A shorter but equally excellent read is Samantha Powers' damning condemnation of the U.S. government's silence (i.e., inaction) in "Bystanders to Genocide" from the Atlantic Monthly.

5.The USG's belated humanitarian response (after the genocide was over) actual enabled many of the killers to escape the country through the refugee camps.

6.  Hutu hate radio broadcasts were used to incite and organize the killings--the USG had the capability to jam these broadcasts but deemed it too expensive.

7.  The NSA archive is a non-profit group run through George Washington University that archives thousands of previously classified documents (obtained through FOIA) that lend a primary source look into look at hundreds of events in our nation's history.

8.  Never again?  It could happen in Syria.

9.  What constitutes "justice" and reconciliation after the genocide is a lot different than you might imagine (See Gourevitch's top-notch New Yorker Article)

10. In 2001, there was a backlog of 100,000 perpetrators waiting to be tried--this is one reason Kagame instituted the gacaca "grass courts."

11.  President Clinton's March 1998 apology in Rwanda may have been technically accurate: "we in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred," however, in reality the U.S. didn't just not do as much as it should have, instead official in the U.S. government willfully and aggressively pressured the international community to not only withdraw peace-keeeping forces but also prevented others from intervening.

Sometimes When It Rains by Gcina Mhlophe

A beautiful poem from the South African poet, storyteller and activist Gcina Mhlophe.

Sometimes When It Rains by Gcina Mhlophe

Sometimes when it rains
I smile to myself
And think of times when as a child
I’d sit by myself
And wonder why people need clothes

Sometimes when it rains
I think of times
When I’d run into the rain
Shouting ‘Nkce—nkce mlanjana
When will I grow
I’ll grow up tomorrow

Sometimes when it rains
I think of times
When I watched goats
Running so fast from the rain
While sheep seemed to enjoy it

Sometimes when it rains
I think of times
When we had to undress
Carry the small bundles of uniforms and books
On our heads
And cross the river after school

Sometimes when it rains
I remember times
When it would rain hard for hours
And fill our drum
So we didn’t have to fetch water
From the river for a day or two

Sometimes when it rains
Rains for many hours without break
I think of people
Who have nowhere to go
No home of their own
And food to eat
Only rain water to drink

Sometimes when it rains
Rains for days without break
I think of mothers
Who give birth in squatter camps
Under plastic shelters
At the mercy of cold angry winds

Sometimes when it rains
I think of ‘illegal’ job seekers
In big cities
Dodging police vans in the rain
Hoping for darkness to come
So they can find some wet corner to hide in

Sometimes when it rains
Rains so hard hail joins in
I think of life prisoners
In all the jails of the world
And wonder if they still love
To see the rainbow at the end of the rain

Sometimes when it rains
With hail stones biting the grass
I can’t help thinking they look like teeth
Many teeth of smiling friends
Then I wish that everyone else
Had something to smile about

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

20 years and 3 days ago, preparations for a slaughter were in motion

20 years and 3 days ago, preparations for a slaughter were in motion.  Machetes were being sharpened and distributed.  Hatred was being stoked on the radio stations.  Somewhere, one person was readying the missile that would take down a plane that would spark a genocidal killing spree.

Sunday April 6th this year will mark the 20th year anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.

As Rwanda continues to rise, rebuild and reconcile a generation later--the lingering and lasting implications of the inaction by the international community (the US in particular) continues to affectMartin Luther King Jr.'s admonition that our foreign policy.  I am reminded of

"In the end,
we will remember
not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends."

Want to know more?  Read here: