Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Business End

In article entitled Beyond Ruthless, the Washington Post describes what victory consists of: the physical destruction of the enemy. Writer Steve Fainaru follows Sgt. 1st Class Domingo Ruiz as he ambushes insurgents and chases them all around Mosul.

Ruiz's unit, the 4th Platoon, has killed at least 15 suspected insurgents in the past two months, according to soldiers. Commanders said the unit encounters more enemy contact than any other platoon in the battalion. The platoon calls itself the "Violators." Its patch depicts a leering skull clad in a green beret, blood dripping from its mouth. Its motto is "Carpe Noctum," or "Seize the Night," a reference in Latin to the platoon's propensity to operate after dark. A self-described "greaser," Ruiz wears a pencil-thin mustache and slicks back the dark hair on the top of his head with Rebound Activator Gel. The lower half of his scalp is shaved.

Which gives you an idea of the irreducibly violent nature of the job. The one psychological thing about the US presence in Mosul, which Ruiz exploits to effect, is the now accepted notion that they will stay until the insurgency is beaten. He uses it to drive the enemy not simply from the physical buildings of Mosul but from the mental landscape of the residents. Imperceptibly but steadily, the US military has come to intuitively understand the key features of human terrain. Although writers will attempt to capture that knowledge in field manuals and instructional material, its living repository is really in the memories and experience of men like Sgt. Ruiz.

To some extent, one can sympathize with pacifists who fear the very existence of that knowledge, who would prefer a world innocent of the craft of war. The structure of armies are themselves testaments to the destructiveness of what they must contain. The emphasis on discipline; the focus on control; even ceremony, are ways of keeping the lid on a genie which it is perilous even to regard. Armies parade to music so that we can forget what they are for.

Ruiz said the decision to pick up the skull fragment and take it back to the base was a "sarcastic" gesture to confirm the kill to the battalion. (Capt. Rob) Born, who was not present during the attack, said the soldiers picked up the fragment not as a trophy, which is prohibited under military regulations, but to confirm "that we had the remains of a terrorist."

By such distinctions is the sword kept within the sheath.