Combined Battle update brief, Afghan national security forces meeting, 11 of 40 lieutenants arrived, British sync training at kandak level, cannot articulate what you want, man longs for God, can't ask Afghans about life purpose.
I went to the combined battle update brief today. They do their briefs very similar to how we do ours. That is, one week they will do it at the ANA compound and the next week they will to it at the Division compound. The only real difference is that they have a bunch of high-speed kit that allows them to get the words translated for them at the same time and theirs goes on a Wednesday.
Before the BUB I spoke to Col Omar, he is going to Kabul for a ‘week’ he will bring the HUMINT funding with him. This is all bullshit, I’m sure he’s going up there to fuck off and he will not bring shit back with him.
We did the ANSF development G-2 Deep dive. ANSF is a funny animal. It has it’s own designator up here, C-10. They are charged with developing all of the ANA forces, but their role is pretty unclear, they make a bunch of reports, and they talk about long-term goals, but what they actually add to the process is unclear in my opinion. Anyway, after the regular meeting was done we did the ‘deep dive’ meaning they were trying to get to the ground truth about what was going on with all of the Brigades. The Brits are doing the best. They have intel advisors at each of their kandaks, they are much closer to their tashkil as well for intel, although some of their guys are illiterate, they are much better off than we are. They have a nice synchronized training program all the way down to the kandak level. Danny Vassar (RCT-8 Intel Mentor) and Joe Szostak (RCT-8 targeting) were both there as well. After I was done briefing the standard set of issues about how the brigade was doing i.e.
Planning and direction: the General a muj, and doesn’t know what to expect
Collections: HUMINT source money stolen
Production: Human photo copiers.
Danny Vassar said that he was having exactly the same issues and had nothing to add. I’m not the only one.
We talked about potentially testing the guys for literacy, how the Military Intelligence Company is being favored at the expense of the G-2, and the HUMINT money problems. We also talked about how we all could not get the Afghans to do anything if the Corps did not ask them to do it. These were basically all of the issues that I cared about, I am glad that I got in Maj James Blitz’s ear and put them on the table.
When we came out I talked to Danny briefly about some of the problems that he is facing in his AO. He brought up the brand new facility that his guys are moving into and how they have already started to destroy it, again more ass-wiping with rocks. There is also some friction with the advisors about moving the ANA to the new permanent facility. It is going to make the life of the advisors more of a pain and make it more inconvenient, so they are resisting the move. It is another example of “we want to be partnered with the Afghans, so they need to come to us.” The power imbalance here is so dramatic, that these guys don’t even think of themselves as dictatorial imperialists, but they act as bad if not worse than the Brits did 150 years ago. Apparently the same thing happens up here on leatherneck, one of the Marines General’s aids wanted to know if General Malouk had an appointment to meet with him. Col Schmitt did the same deal in the LOO sync meeting last week. The SgtMaj came in and wanted to know if the Col wanted to meet with BGen Shujai, he was already in the building and had come to Col Schmitt, the Col said flatly, ‘no.’ Everyone in the room laughed. What a partner.
I came back, dug into my E-mails, and that is about it. I worked out in the afternoon as well. I spoke to Capt Keith Campbell the Military Intel Company Advisor. It looks like the are going to pull him back over to the G-2 for the Marines. This is really stupid, they are going to need to retrain him, and part of the issue seems to be simply what type of command relationship that he has with everyone around here.
After dinner I watched Idiocracy, a movie about how all of the stupid people keep breeding and the smart people end up dying out after about 500 years. It is mostly bullshit, the effects of education far outweigh genetics, but it was pretty mindless and funny.
I was feeling particularly lazy, so I watched a TED speech after that (I have a couple saved on my computer now thanks to the WiFi at camp Garmsir). It was Malcolm Gladwell talking about the Man who reinvented Spaghetti Sauce. Gladwell is not a very good public speaker, but he does make the implications of scientific discovery very clear. He gave two illustrations of something that I think is very important. First, he talked about spaghetti sauce in the early 1980s it was much closer to authentic Italian pasta sauce, thin, ran to the bottom of the bowl. When surveyed people thought they liked the authentic one, but when they actually ate the pasta a large portion liked a chunky sauce with ‘visible solids.’ None of these people answered that they liked this originally, but the point is that they didn’t know what they want. The second illustration regarded coffee. Most people when surveyed say they want a ‘dark, rich, hearty, roast’ in fact most Americans prefer something ‘thin and milky.’
This is important for a few things. First with respect to the Afghans. They probably cannot articulate what they want. Even being able to speak Dari has not cracked into some type of universal consciousness about what they want out of their lives. A much better test is how they actually act, and seeing what they choose.
Second and self-applicable. I had a conversation with Brain about this the other night, he brought up CS Lewis’ idea in Mere Christianity that nature never produces a longing that cannot be filled (e.g. hunger can always be sated, the desire to breath can always be met). Richard Dawkins’ argument against this was that the universal human longing for God was probably a malfunction of some other type useful device that advanced your families’ genetic code through group selection (e.g. Don’t climb up the high mountain because the God’s live there also prevented people from climbing up the high mountain to get electrocuted, freeze to death, etc. or “don’t lie because it’s a sin” is helpful for intra-group cooperation, cohesion, and the foundation of society). Here’s the crossover. People can’t always articulate what they want (this fact alone destroys all post-modern thinking), but they long after something more, a point to their existence. I have heard a lot of takes on what that point is in the last few days
Rick Warren: the Purpose of your life is to serve God with the fullest of your talents
Tony Robbins: the Purpose of your life is to give and serve others the best way you can
Betty Friedan: Though she never directly articulated this: The reason that women have so many problems is that they are not allowed to self-actualize through challenging work.
They are all really saying the same thing in different ways. The problem is I’m not really convinced that it is true. I get as much satisfaction as the next person from working hard using all of my abilities and succeeding. But what brings me that satisfaction? Why do I care? What is the point of all this? My mind is still fucked up I think. I used to get really motivated by things. I used to be a nihilist who focused on death and wanted to make sure that my life was more than the absence of space in granite. Now, well I just don’t have that long-term drive. I wonder what caused this? It started in the first IED attack. That brief second feeling after the Gunny yelled “Small Arms Fire Left” after the explosion and I asked no one at all “why are you shooting at me? Why do you hate me? I don’t hate you. Why are we playing this game? What an epic waste of all of the investment in myself, in all the Marines in my truck if we die. Why are we doing this?” In that moment if I had Positive Identification on anyone I would have ordered my Gunner to kill them, I would have called in air support and blown them apart, failing all of that I would have pointed my service pistol or my M4 at them, leveled the sights and killed them. I did not hesitate, I waited for the PID call from the Gunny, I was ready to engage, but we just weren’t sure. I don’t know how to feel about this. I could have killed someone, not a moment of hesitation like a thousand times before, I could have executed a failure-to-stop drill two to the chest and one in the head at 100m or, a hammer-pair from my pistol. I didn’t, but I could have, hell I could have ordered my Marines to destroy the better part of a city with fire power we had. I could have, but I didn’t. What does that make me? Am I a killer? I didn’t pull the trigger, but I would have and I wonder how that would have felt. I know I would have done it like I had been trained to do, like all automatons in the Corps. This is the moment we are trained for, at the knife edge you must not fall on the wrong side you must make the decision to kill. What is the difference then? Why do I kill, what is it for. “To die is not a tragedy, but to live a whole life and not find something worth dying for that is the tragedy” that was drilled into my brain eight years ago as a knob at the Citadel. Is it true? Is any of this true? I thought I found a cause; I wanted to work for everyone else, to protect the country that I owed so much to, that kept me from growing up in a place like Afghanistan, but I get here an I feel and I think that I am not really doing that. This could be a drain on our power. I just don’t get it. I used to have it all figured out, but now, it’s all confused. I tried to follow the prescriptions of Friedan, Maslow, Robbins, and Warren, but I just don’t get it.
I feel guilty. I don’t want to go to the battalions anymore, I don’t want to train their S2s. I don’t want to take them out on patrol and train them on debriefs. Some of this is practical. It is really fucking hot here, and I hate the heat, I know that makes me a pussy, but it is just so much more comfortable to stay in on base. I am becoming one of those institutionalized Marines who enjoys the pleasures of safety, A/C, internet, all while I make oodles more money than those without these amenities (that said), even at the company level some of those guys are living large, even better than I am. The other thing is I don’t have anything else to prove, I’ve been blown up, shot at, and survived. I didn’t like it. Maybe that is the answer to my question above. I am not a killer, but I will do it (the old end of this sentence was ‘because it is my job’ but is that true?). Truthfully, I don’t want to do anything more, no one does. We have two and a half months left and everyone is just out of steam, out of ideas. I just want to go home. I’m crying now. I want to go home.
Does this mean I am weak? I have not lived a hard life here. Sure I don’t have running water, but my tent has A/C, I listen to my audio-books on my way to the gym, the food is fantastic. Other Marines lived much more tough lives in the Pacific. I don’t even know what I want out of life, but I crave comfort, the internet, nice TED speeches. What does that mean I am, another prissy American bitch who can’t handle it?
Maybe I should call this chapter Diastole. That is when your heart relaxes after a beat. It presses hard, pushes blood into your aorta, which also contracts, and then for a moment, it relaxes, this is where you get diastolic blood pressure.
Can I do this? Can I press on when it sucks? I used to be able to fight the urge for diastole after big events, or nearly all the time because I had a big goal, the Naval Academy, the Rhodes, but now, I’m adrift. I’m doing what I must, I’m just acting. I don’t know why I am doing this, any of this. Maybe it’s not Robbins, or Warren, or Friedan, it’s Hanks in Castaway, you’ve got to keep moving, you’ve got to keep breathing, no cause, even after Helen Hunt fucks your dentist, you just keep going.
I want to know why, or I want out. Until then it is the Tom Hanks shuffle.
Am I the only one who is this weak? Is everyone like this? Maybe that’s the dirty secret. Maj Davidson, I look at him, he’s got so much energy, he just got here, he wants to make changes, he wants to fix the camp, fix the ANA, etc. Everyone else, even the LtCol a wellspring of energy, we are all out of gas. Maybe other people are like me. If this is a quiet crowd, then I take comfort in the solidarity, but my repose is only momentary. I always question when everyone is walking the same way as me. I am not only anti-social, but I question the crowd even as I draw human comfort from it’s existence. Is this the right way to go?
If this is all fucking pointless, then maybe it is a fine direction to go, Diastole, retire on active duty, and ride this bitch all the way home. I feel it is wrong. Is that my self-conditioning?
I just don’t know, I don’t get it, and I don’t take comfort in anything here. The only thing I long for is coming back to Suzan, but that doesn’t really help me with my job, now does it? This thing that everyone says is supposed to give me so much meaning. I’m doing what most Americans consider to be the highest form of service, I don’t get any satisfaction from it. Fuck Friedan, Fuck Robbins, Fuck, Maslow, Fuck Warren. What a crock of shit. I have dedicated my life to this since I was 14 and it is a fucking lie. You know what I feel like right now? A good fuck and a nap in someplace cool dry and quiet, like any other big ape. How’s that for a big idea.
What is all of this for? What am I for?