Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Terrorists are revolutionaries we don't want to win

Yesterday I had thought to tell more than one war story for Veteran's Day, but then I pried loose some ward-by-ward election data and ended up spending the day writing a headache of a political column. This is another story I wanted to tell yesterday.

I was eighteen years old and serving as a Navy ROTC cadet at Boston University. We had a guest lecturer one afternoon from the Navy War College. He entered the lecture hall, we snapped to attention, he said, "At ease," we sat back down.

He asked what we thought of terrorists. Before long, he had the young squids foaming at the mouth, ready to rip out the heart of a bad guy and eat it warm.

Then he asked what we thought of Patrick Henry, George Washington, Paul Revere, the Founding Fathers. You should have heard the hand-over-heart homilies. Nothing but love, misty eyes and "My Country 'Tis of Thee".

"Those guys were terrorists," said the Navy War College lecturer. "George Washington, Patrick Henry, Paul Revere - they were all terrorists, in the eyes of the British Crown. Terrorists are revolutionaries we don't want to win."

It was the most amazing beginning to a lecture I have ever heard. The lecture, it turned out, was about propoganda and, to a lesser extent, morale. He taught us how you sell a military intervention, especially an unpopular one, to your men, the American people, yourself.

Forget who looks like the good guys and bad guys, on the ground, he was saying. The guys we want to win are Freedom Fighters. The guys we want to lose are terrorists. That's it. They tend to do the same kinds of things, sometimes on varying scales and with different techniques, based upon what is available to them. But the important thing to the United States is who we want to win.

This was 1984. Ronald Reagan's military was all wrapped up in covert military operations in Central America, among many other places. As future Navy officers, in a few short years we would be helping to staff these operations and explain them to our men and ourselves - and eventually, to the taxpayers who were paying for all this carnage, though they didn't know that yet.

Remember that the U.S. Marines are part of the U.S. Navy. You know what you call a motivated sailor? A Marine. The Boston University NROTC unit was highly motivated, a national model program, in fact. We were producing a lot of motivated sailors - a lot of future Marines.

We needed to know how these things were done. We needed to know how to understand a military involvement where all of the apparently good guys - all of the hardworking peasant farmers, not very different from the poor, foreclosed-farm kids who end up in the U.S. armed forces - are the "terrorists," whereas the convicts, hustlers, opportunists, thieves and mercenaries on our side are the "Freedom Fighters."

It was eye-opening. My eyes have been open ever since.


The image of a Contra copter in 1984 - right about when what I was learning what I am telling you here - is from the Air Combat Information Group. I found much better stuff from some amazing Flickr site that wouldn't let me poach a photo.


Brett said...

That same year, I began learning about the true ways of the world through the words of George Orwell and Jello Biafra.

I think you have a story about a female cadet who had something to say about the taste of something in one of those classes.

When are you going to break that one out?

Confluence City said...

Trust me, Jello and George were a hell of a lot more fun than bootcamp. As for my fellow cadet's comment you remember, I don't work blue.

Brett said...

Maybe you can crack that one out in a different venue, then.

Confluence City said...

The Tap Room is the venue!