Now here I was, all prepared to write what I think will be the first actual scene in my book — painting Princeton in January of 1781, with General George Washington contemplating taking the trip to confront 11 protesting brigades — when I saw this op-ed piece, entitled “The War As We See it.”
If you didn’t notice from the bylines that the authors were active-duty sergeants, you’d know it from the measured, carefully damning opening:
VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day.
Read the rest: it’s worth it. But when you do, know that actual realities are underneath every understated, precise, somewhat abstract sentence, if not the rage those realities provoked:
At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.