How to Criticize the War

Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman is serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.

April 20, 2006

I got back to FOB Striker last night. It was a short trip, I simply jumped in a convoy that was headed back. It actually involves a little more than jumping in a truck, but that is the gist of it.

It was a smooth ride back — no IEDs, no gun fights — but that has been the rule on convoys I have been on, not the exception. Call it luck, call it great work by the soldiers I have traveled with, but to date I am very thankful for my good fortune.

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I spent the past couple days in another forward operating base in south Baghdad conducting inventories. Inventories are a long and tedious process, and waking up to conduct them is like waking up to go have your teeth cleaned by Dr. Nick Riviera.

It’s important work, and like a teeth cleaning or root canal, it has to get done, but there is nothing exciting about it. That still does not take anything away from the soldiers who are working hard to help get it done.

The first part of the inventories was performed with the MiTT (military transition team), or the teams of soldiers who are out training the Iraqi Army every day. During the day, they were out conducting missions, so the inventories were done late at night or early in the morning. Being away from the office, that gave me some free time during the day to catch up on e-mail and read copies of the Stars and Stripes newspapers that make their way around.

One of the front-page stories has been the number of retired generals who have come out publicly against the way the war is being and has been fought. A few of these generals have recently served as division commanders in Iraq, and you don’t pin stars on your uniform by not understanding modern warfare.

I don’t know the full extent of their comments or ideas, but it is something we do talk about. It does not occupy all of our thoughts -- we've got more important stuff to worry about -- but it does make for interesting meal conversations. I am glad it does, as I have grown tired of convincing those I eat with that the Mets will take it all this year.

Reading and listening to the news and discussing it, the criticism that seems to be continually brought up is: Why are they speaking up now? The answer is, because now they are no longer in the military. I know, it’s not a deep analysis, but I don’t think there is anything more to it.

You also have to consider the fact that as commanders, their first concern was for the welfare of their soldiers. So they were probably a little busy over the past couple of years. I have no analysis on the content of their remarks, as I have not read them in their entirety. I have only heard snippets in the news. But I hope they offer solutions to anything they criticize, even if the solution is a better way to fight the next war.

While serving, they did not (and rightfully so) speak out in public, be it on TV or in a letter to an editor. This is not to say they never raised concerns or disagreements (a fact that may get lost in the debate), but while serving there are appropriate forums to raise disagreements and your ideas to solve problems. It may be in your superior’s office, in a professional journal, etc. ... but not in public to the media. The time to make remarks in the media or public forum is when your time in service is over.

I don't know the exact number, but if I were a betting man, I would wager all my money that there are some recently retired general officers who disagree with the ones speaking out now. It would be interesting to see if anyone ever attempts to interview them or get their opinion.

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