We’re Looking for a Few IQ Points, Redux

Yesterday’s New York Times contained an op-ed by a former Marine captain about the challenges faced by Marines running checkpoints in US-occupied Iraq. Here you have a captain, a guy who’s presumably fairly well-educated, displaying the kind of idiocy that makes clear that the United States isn’t ready for prime time.

First there’s the description of what happens after his men shoot up a tractor trailer that accelerated towards their checkpoint:

Streams of red tracers poured into the cab, but still the truck hurtled toward us. I was bracing for the impact when the truck jackknifed to a halt 20 feet from our position. All night it sat, smoking, in the road. The next morning, men, women and children from Al Hayy came and danced and cheered around the bodies in the yellow truck. Only then did we know for sure that we hadn’t killed innocent people. There was no satisfaction in making the “right” decision. It was the only decision.

So “men, women and children” from a nearby town came and danced around the smouldering wreckage of the truck and Capt. Fick thinks that he knows “for sure” that the guys he killed were terrorists? Where do we find these guys? Is it any wonder the rest of the world thinks Americans are morons? I guess anyone can get into Annapolis these days.

Then there’s this:

The fact is, checkpoint techniques can be taught. My platoon had to learn them on the fly, but that was two years ago. The lessons we and other troops learned should have been institutionalized long ago.

For example, we tried and discarded the three tactics that were used to warn the Italians as they approached the checkpoint: hand and arm signals, warning shots and shooting into the vehicle’s engine block. We found that hand and arm signals were tough to decipher, and subject to different cultural interpretations. Warning shots are hard to hear or see, and frequently only panic the driver they’re intended to warn. Shooting into engine blocks to avoid injuring passengers is Hollywood fantasy. Even my Marine snipers – some of the best marksmen in the world – couldn’t do it consistently.

So we adapted. For example, once while driving through a town, we cut down a traffic sign – a bright, red octagon with the word “stop” written in Arabic – and used it at checkpoints. Who knows how many lives this simple act of theft may have saved? We also learned to shoot off highly visible smoke grenades and brightly colored flares when possible threats approached. We started putting our concertina wire at least two football fields away to give us more reaction time.

Well, duh. Who but an utter idiot wouldn’t know that hand signals vary by nation? Or that shooting at people might cause them to “panic”? Or that bullets might travel through the engine block of a small car? Why on earth would the military even bother to try using procedures that anyone with common sense would know wouldn’t work–in advance?

It’s high time, obviously, for the military to start offering salaries commensurate with, or even much higher than, those paid to civilians. If we’re going to run the rest of the world, after all, we need occupation troops with a few IQ points to rub together.

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