20 October 2011
The Battle For Marjah
Released last month, The Battle for Marjah (available here) makes a strong case, at least for me, that Marine Corps officers are superior to Army officers. Delta Force member and retired CSGM Eric Haney once told me Marine generals were vastly superior to Army generals. Well, they gotta come from somewhere.
In the excellent documentary, Restrepo, Afghan villagers visit an Army outpost in the Kandahar Valley where they seek reimbursement for a cow that was accidentally killed, although not accidentally eaten, by paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne. The company commander, a young captain, argues with the villagers over the price of the cow. Dejected, the villagers leave mumbling and tugging their beards. Later, the same captain angrily accuses Afghan villagers of supporting the Taliban in a profanity laden tirade whose tone is that of a parent scolding a child.
I don't know what what the army thinks "Hearts & Minds" is about, but getting into a pissing contest over a $200 difference for a cow ain't it. Not surprisingly, the army abandoned their outpost, the captain was promoted, and he went home. The Taliban? They're still there. In Battle for Marjah, a young Marine lieutenant sees the problem for what it is when an Afghan tells him, "I don't mind Marines. I don't mind Taliban. I just wanna be left alone."
'Hearts and Minds' not only speaks to the simple strategy of winning them over. I always believed it had everything to do with securing personal freedom as well. In Vietnam, my father's SF team taught local villagers to grow strawberries. Those strawberries were then sold to the Army in a country where strawberries were non-existent. The Vietnamese refused to eat Bulgar wheat provided by US AID. So, the team created a fish farm and fed the wheat to the Carp. Even roof tiles made of clay by local villagers were sold to the Army for officer clubs. The upshot was the villagers wanted the V.C. and N.V.A. out, and why not? Not gonna get anything from them except conscripted.
The Marine Corp captain in Marjah seizes an opportunity and works to get shops open and trade resumed at a local market. He's also the first customer, his men after him, paying outta their own pockets. I'm not sure The Battle for Majar is a politically left or right film. It really doesn't matter. Truths come out that rise above political spin, but with an eerie deja vu. We've been here before...and it didn't turn out well.