Irish flashback: Sowing the seeds of the Afghan massacre

When I heard the news of the American soldier charged with the slaughter of 16 people in Afghanistan, I instantly flashed back to a ferry trip in the early 1970s from Liverpool to Belfast.

What could the tragedy in Afghanistan have in common with that trip so long ago in a different part of the world? Plenty.

On that ferry was a company of British soldiers headed for duty in Northern Ireland during the three-decade period of violence now called "The Troubles." I have never seen such a depressed group of people, before or since.

Those young soldiers were dreading our arrival in Belfast because they perceived everyone in Northern Ireland to be “hostiles.” It didn’t matter whether the civilians were Nationalists or Loyalists (what the American media portray as “Catholics” vs. “Protestants”). As far as these troops thought, they were all “the enemy.” And indeed, at that time, the soldiers were under guerrilla-style attack from both sides, subject to sniper attacks, and worse. While on the ground in Ireland, they were confined to gated and fortified compounds, except when they were on patrol—and on patrol they were in units of at least 10 or 15 soldiers, dressed in uniform with body armor, and all intensely observing every house, building, vehicle, and person in the area.

On an earlier visit to Belfast, I had learned proper deportment in the presence of British troops. When a patrol was passing, I saw the horrible look of scrutiny as they made that instant assessment of me to determine if I was an imminent risk to them. They had their automatic rifles at the ready, and I felt that any suspicious move on my part would be my last. So I always endeavored to walk slowly, looking straight ahead, never putting my hands in my pockets. It wasn’t just me; any civilian on the street, regardless of nationality, race or ethnicity, or political persuasion, was looked at suspiciously. They viewed us all as potential “hostiles.”

On that ferry I was seeing the other side of those automatic rifles: a nervous  group of young men fearful of their assignment and eager to go back home to England. The soldiers had no social life in Ireland since they could not leave their garrison except on patrol. They had no contact with the local people, except in the negative sense.

Because of the stress the soldiers were under, in such a hostile environment, the British Army had made the wise decision to rotate them in 90-day deployments.

“I think I can make it for 90 days,” one young Brit confided in me, knowing that I was an American. (Had they known that my mother was an Irish Catholic from Belfast, I feel certain they would have treated me very differently on that ferry.)

Today, the American troops in Afghanistan are on deployments of roughly eight or nine months and often up to a year or more. They are also subject to multiple deployments—the Army Sergeant who is accused in the recent killings was reportedly on his fourth or fifth Mideast deployment. There are additional stresses on the American troops in Afghanistan though: the local people speak in strange and unintelligible languages, the people dress differently, and they are much farther away from home.

Having had a glimpse into the feelings of those British troops headed to Belfast, I can only imagine the stress the brave American men and women in Afghanistan are under. None of this is to excuse the recent killing—murder is not excusable—but a possible factor in why it happened and perhaps to take it as a wake-up call.

When you feel that everyone is hostile and likely to kill you and your buddies, it doesn’t take too much to set you off to do something you shouldn’t do. When a foreign army occupies another country, bad things happen, and the longer that occupation lasts, the more tensions arise. We have lately seen an increase in tragic and embarrassing incidents in Afghanistan: the burning of the Koran and the urination on dead Afghans are but two examples.

If one rationale for our presence in Afghanistan is to win the hearts and minds of the Afghani people, we are failing. The longer we are there, the worse we are viewed there, and unfortunately, in that entire part of the world. We are making more enemies, not friends. It’s time to bring our troops home.
Steve Deaton is the son of an Irish Catholic mother and an American Protestant father. He is a former Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney currently engaged in the private practice of law.

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We are not there to win hearts and minds; that is an ironic fatuity whose only purpose is to help the American public retain the illusion that we have some noble purpose in being there.
The killings indeed are reflective of the more deeply held attitudes of just about any soldier who has been there any length of time. For the people of that miserable country, there is no difference at all between our soldiers and German soldiers in Poland in, shall we say 1943...And for those soldiers, their position is not much different either. Occupying another country with overwhelming force and using brutal expedience to suppress resistance is a foul and squalid crime for which we should all feel shame....

our troops are the germans circa 1943? the height of the final solution? We should be ashamed of the actions in Afghanistan?
I sincerely hope ignorance was the prime motivation behind that comment, there are not words to describe the pathetic nature and sentiment on display.
Please describe what your role in the world is to make you so much better than your fellow Americans and able to elevate yourself above the actions of people who act selflessly and without question on a daily basis so you can sit back and insult and degrade a society to which you don't contribute

"We should be ashamed of the actions in Afghanistan?" Who can ask a question like that and still have the audacity to call someone else ignorant?

The British couldn't tame it, then the Russians tried and failed, but we the Americans are so competent that we won't fail like the British or Russians. No we can't do any better than the past empires did is the answer.

To Pathetic and Saywha;
I can say these things because I'm more worldly, better informed, and smarter than either of you. To elaborate on my earlier comment, the CONTEXT in which people are placed is a critical component of how they come to feel and behave. Because of this occupying armies and occupied peoples ultimately end up playing the same roles. Always was thus and always will be. That is why occupations are always the same thing in their essential nature for both parties in the interaction and why they are always morally corrosive to the occupier and a terrible tragic injustice for the occupied.

Time to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. As a friend of the son of one of those killed on Bloody Sunday in Ireland, I do take some issue with the author's well intentioned article. The British Paratroopers were there on a government sanctioned mission to "send a message" to the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. As far as we know, the killing spree in Afghanistan was the work of a lone wolf.

The overall problem here is that we have a president who has already violated the War Powers Act, continues to escalate this hopeless war in Afghanistan, yet still will garner the support and votes of those calling themselves "anti-war" and accusing the former president of being a war criminal. Same as it ever was..

"I can say these things because I'm more worldly, better informed, and smarter than either of you"
How drunk would most of us have to be to write that?

Erik must have been drunk to miss the fact that I was responding to the comment below his. That should have been 100% obvious. To a "smart" person I mean.

After 10 years...after thousands of Americas finest killed and maimed, after billions of dollars wasted, we need to get off of our knees, stop apologizing...and leave.

We, that is most of us, not all, are a clueless nation of dunderheads being manipulated by nothing more than greed. Have any you got a clue why we are really there? Doubt it. Eisenhower warned us about it but no one listens. The facts are all there in nothing more than dollar amounts but we just ignore the obvious. If anyone thinks for a second that we have some noble goal in mind for the people of any of the countries we've managed to decimate in the Middle East then please do not procreate, its bad enough already. I suspect these same people think we actually went over there looking for WMD's, and there was actually a real incident in the Golf of Tonkin which was Johnsons excuse to escalate Viet Nam. Paleeeeeeeeeeeeeese wake up and smell the graft.

Realize the author was there in the 1970s and saw it from his perspective but one can not compare "The Troubles" to what is going on today. The forces that have gone into Iraq and Afghanistan have a mission that is to ultimately bring sability - we hope to those nations. I know, how do we know it will and why is the US always the one that does this?

What the Brits did to Irleand? @Sean, my grandmother's uncle was James Connolly, executed in 1916. Though her family didn't claim them and she also insisted she was English (though she was Catholic and came right off the boat as a tot from Ireland). The British made it a religous war and promoted religious racism through out. Only time will tell if many of their tactics will come out. Their goal was to keep Belfast because of the port which is one of the biggest in that area of the world. It all came down to money and control.

Now, money (oil) and control would be a common theme for all these invasions...

Bush flying over looking at the devastation of Katrina from the airplane window and not landing but having the press take pictures of him looking at the window to show he's in control. As far as this administration, they might as well fly over Afghanistan and look down from the airplane window. But this administration learned something so they land Panetta, not just have a fly over. Be sure to take the guns away from everyone when he lands though for precaution.

#Sean --re your comment "The overall problem here is that we have a president who has already violated the War Powers Act, continues to escalate this hopeless war in Afghanistan, yet still will garner the support and votes of those calling themselves "anti-war" and accusing the former president of being a war criminal."

At least for some of us, we will vote for him because look at the alternatives -- idiots, panderers, people declaring war on women, for heaven sakes (and who, all but Paul, would go to war even faster, including Iran). If we had -- either party-- a principled, intelligent leader who respected the constitution (no stupid Patriot Act or NDAA), but who also understood the need for our civil rights laws and had a glimmer of modern day economics (so bye bye Paul), many if not most dems would be all for him. Wish I could say the say for most modern Republicans, who don't' seem to care about principles -- just rhetoric and anti-black-president rallies.

@ cville, you have bought every liberal talking point in the book. Try watching something other that CNN or MSNBC and you might get some important information that you are obviously missing. "War on women" that's what they would like you to believe because BO need your vote. The whole Sandra Fluke thing was manufactured to suck in uninformed people like you. War on woman, class war, race's all brought to your by the liberal propaganda machine

Yep, that liberal propaganda machine now has control of what comes out of Rush Limbaugh's mouth. Incredible the power they have.

#WhoaNelly --"War on women, that's what they'd like you to believe because BO need [sic] your vote. "

JUST FYI-----I don't need anybody telling me whether they are declaring war on women. I have been made the target and potential victim of predominately male religious dickering in our very own VA Gen Ass. thanks to our local legislators like Bell and BryceReeceBryce. So Mister (because you sure aren't a woman), how about that more medically reasonable bill to require EKGs (and more) before viagra? Some day, Nelly. Cause it is war.

@cville reader2, I am fully behind you on woman’s rights. The ultrasound thing was absurd in my opinion. But that’s a state issue and I was referencing the national liberal agenda. The Sandra Fluke dog and pony show accomplished what they were driving for; Obama jumped 4 points in the poles. It’s hardly believable that a Harvard law student, who forked out 150k for her education, can’t afford her own birth control…$9.00 a month?
@b17, Rush was wrong and the media beat it to death. But what I find curious is when Bill Mayer and all the other liberal talking heads say things just as bad or worse about a prominent republican woman; it is ignored in the media. Why is that?

We are so broke that any time we go to war it should be paid for by a tax not by borrowing. You want to go to war with X? Are you willing to have a (- cent) surtax on everything to pay for it? or how about a surtax on everyone except the people who are in the services? Everyone should have to pay for it not just borrow the cost so no one feels the hidden economic pain. The hidden economic pain is coming at some point and it will hit us like Greece (when the Chinese say they don't want any more of our crappy debt.. If we are going to continue the war in Afghanistan a war tax should be imposed on all of us except the ones doing the serving.

"But what I find curious is when Bill Mayer and all the other liberal talking heads say things just as bad or worse about a prominent republican woman; it is ignored in the media. Why is that?"

Because it wasn't ignored. You just think it was ignored because the right win propoganda machine told you so. Maher lost sponsorship and caught flack. Nor is Maher the spokes person for the left wing, and the left wing isn't trying to sponsor legislation that limits the rights of men or conservative men, or Sarah Palin. Limbaugh is the spokes person for the right wing, and they are assaulting the rights of women.

Limbaugh is the spokes person for the right wing? I laughed when I read that. The left has bestowed that honor on him ..not the right. The left is not trying to limit rights?...their trying to tear this country apart with their "War on Women" "War on the classes" "war on energy" and to try to say that the left doesn't get away with hate speach..well, you need to pay closer attention Old Timer. They all are in that fray..all the way to the top.


You state, "t’s hardly believable that a Harvard law student, who forked out 150k for her education, can’t afford her own birth control…$9.00 a month?"

I don't think -- and I doubt you do either -- that Sandra F. was speaking out only selfishly for herself, but instead was making a point for others including those who not only might find $9 a month more difficult -- and even more the cost of the doctor visit required before getting the prescription. Not to mention overall health care, including reproductive health.

Just like those men on the all-male, male-only committee weren't talking about their OWN bodies, now, were they?

@ c'ville reader2, woman up to this point in time, have paid for their birth control. What has changed? Why is society responsible for this and not the individual?
We had 4 daughters and I got a vasectomy. We paid for our birth control and I paid for my vasectomy. It never would have occurred to me that someone else was responsible for these costs.

#whoanelly --

Fair enough but, if you had a really destitute next door neighbor who lost his job, had an ever growing family -- making him ever poorer -- because he can't afford a vasectomy, wouldn't you think it fair that our society help him? Just because you could and did doesn't mean everyone could.

And we are really off the correct issue -- it's not really about free stuff. It's about health insurance covering things. I bet you have health insurance -- did you make a claim? (By the way, and I really don't know this, does insurance cover ED treatment? Viagra? Is so, well, I need say no more.)

I have health insurance for my wife and kids but I refuse to pay the $500.00 monthly premium for myself. Does health insurance cover ED treatment? I don't know but I don't think it should.

Thank you for sharing your poignant observations Steve! Maybe now that we are deep-water drilling and fracking all over our fine nation, we will start pulling out of some of these "strategically" important countries. Ah, the tangled web we weave...