empathy triage

I read the news every morning. It’s part of my routine. I do it almost without thinking. Get up, get dressed, check the perimeter, feed and pet the cat, start the coffee, read the news.

One of the first articles listed in my morning news feed was from The Atlantic magazine. It was titled Why People Who Hate Trump Stick With Him. I started to click on it, partly out of habit and partly because The Atlantic usually has solid reportage — but I didn’t. I read the title again and thought, ‘I really don’t care why people who hate Trump stick with him’. I moved on to the next stories — one about a white man in Wichita who threatened to assassinate the mayor for issuing a mask mandate, and one about a black man in Louisiana who was granted parole after serving 24 years of a life sentence for attempting to steal a pair of hedge clippers.

A million years ago I was a medic in the military. Basic military medical training tends to be focused on casualty and trauma care. In addition to the field fundamentals — stop the bleeding, tend the wound, prep the patient for evac, that sort of thing — we were also taught the essentials of triage. Triage is a system developed by Dominique Jean Larrey during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century. It’s a way of sorting mass casualties to determine who should be treated first. It’s a method of directing limited resources toward the best outcome for the majority of the wounded.

Dr. Dominique Jean Larrey, creator of the triage system, during the Napoleonic Wars.

Basically, what it means is that during a mass casualty event, some poor bastard greets the incoming wounded and sorts them into three groups: 1) victims who’ll probably live even without treatment, 2) victims who’ll likely die even with treatment, and 3) victims who have a chance of living if they’re given immediate treatment. Your arm is broken in three places? Yeah, it hurts…but it’s not going to kill you. Wait in the hall. Your arm has been blown off? Yeah, we can fix that, go right on in to surgery. You have two traumatic amputations and a head wound? Here are some M&Ms to tide you over until you bleed out. Sorry.

It’s an ugly job. Necessary, but ugly. But here’s the thing about triage: it focuses only on the wound and the treatment, not on any other characteristic of the victim. Dr. Larrey insisted treatment be based on the seriousness of the injury and the urgency of need for medical care, regardless of the wounded person’s rank or nationality. That meant French doctors would treat a seriously wounded British private before a lightly wounded French officer.

The Trump years have been a struggle for folks who care about other folks, who care about strangers as well as for friends and family. My capacity for empathy has been stretched. I’m now performing a warped sort of empathy triage. I’m most focused on folks who are suffering emotionally and spiritually and not coping very well. They get most of my empathy and support. Folks who are suffering but manage to retain their sense of humor and some degree of optimism, they’re the walking wounded; they’re in pain but they’ll recover. Folks who support Trump — those are self-inflicted wounds from which they probably won’t recover. Here are some M&Ms to tide you over until you bleed out.

Folks who hate Trump but stick with him? Dr. Larrey would be disappointed with me, but I’m out of M&Ms.

there will be a blood price to pay for this

I’m not at all sad that Qasem Soleimani is dead. As the leader of the Quds Force, he’s been responsible for a LOT of deaths, including those of US troops. But I’m outraged and alarmed by how and why he was assassinated.

First, this act seems a clear violation of Executive Order 12036, which includes a prohibition against assassination. “No person employed by or acting on behalf
of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in,
assassination.” You can call it a ‘targeted killing’ but that’s just a polite way of saying assassination.

Second, even if you’re willing to violate that Executive Order, openly assassinating the leader of the Quds Force is deliberately provocative. We’re talking 10-20 thousand special ops troops who specialize in unconventional warfare and intelligence activities. These guys are extremely loyal to Soleimani, and they know how to conduct terror operations. The Quds Force is capable of striking targets in the US mainland, but are FAR more likely to take vengeance on more convenient targets. That means every member of the US armed services located in the Middle East. And every person who works for any US agency in the region. And any US non-governmental organization. And any US businessperson working in the area. And their families. I don’t know who the most likely targets would be — but if I were considering retaliation, I’d set up coordinated attacks on US special forces commanders.

Third, even if you’re willing to violate an Executive Order prohibiting assassination AND you’re willing to put a massive number of US citizens at risk from experts at terror operations, it’s exceedingly stupid to commit the assassination in the capital city of a third nation. That necessarily embroils that nation in the conflict, which is especially stupid when your embassy in that third nation has been mobbed by protesters for days. Iran and Iraq aren’t natural allies, but this assassination will make them both more hostile toward the US. What makes this even worse is that the US no longer has any real allies in the region — and it’s made doubly worse by the fact that Comrade Trump recently betrayed the only allies the US could count on (the Kurds). Nobody in the region has any reason to trust the US. Sadly, nobody on the globe has any reason to trust the US to keep its word about anything.

Fourth, even if you’re willing to violate an Executive Order prohibiting assassination AND you’re willing to put a massive number of US citizens at risk from experts at terror operations, AND you’re willing to do this in a third nation in a region in which you have no allies, it’s wildly irresponsible and risky to do it after you’ve spent three years gutting your diplomatic corps and undermining your intelligence agencies. Even if other nations COULD trust the US, we’ve replaced most of our professional diplomats and intelligence analysts with political hacks and amateurs.

Finally, even if you’re willing to violate an Executive Order prohibiting assassination AND you’re willing to put a massive number of US citizens at risk, AND you’re willing to do this in a region in which you have no allies, AND you’ve spent three years trashing your diplomatic corps and intelligence agencies, you should NOT have two different US agencies giving two different reasons for committing that assassination. Did we assassinate Soleimani to A) deter future Iranian aggression (as the Pentagon says) or B) prevent an imminent attack by Iranian terrorists (as the State Department says)? Pick a fucking story and stick with it.

It’s all so very sad and so unnecessary. The sad and terrifying truth is this: there will almost certainly be a blood price to pay for this recklessness. It won’t be paid by Trump’s family, it won’t be paid by the children of members of Congress or the children of the wealthiest clans in the US. That blood price will most likely be paid by poor and working class kids who enlisted in the military after graduating from high school.

That’s the ugly truth haunts me more than anything. I’m not at all sad that Qasem Soleimani was killed. But I’m sick at heart that his assassination in this manner will almost certainly end up killing kids in uniform.

war crimes

There have been Trumps in the United States since 1885, when Friedrich Trumpf emigrated here from Kallstadt, Bavaria to 1) escape poverty and 2) avoid mandatory military service. His failure to serve, combined with his failure to notify the authorities of his departure, led to a royal decree banishing Trump from ever returning to what was then the Kingdom of Bavaria.

Since their arrival in the U.S. Trumps have had the opportunity to serve their adopted nation in two world wars, the Korean war, Vietnam, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. They haven’t. Not a single member of the Trump family has spent a day in uniform (to be fair, Trump’s parents sent him to a private military school when he was an unruly, wayward 13-year-old). Comrade Trump his ownself famously dodged military service during the Vietnam war through a bogus medical deferment.

That’s okay. We don’t have any mandatory service in the U.S. and it’s hard to blame anybody for not wanting to fight in that particular war (or any war, for that matter). I can fault with the system that allowed Trump to dodge conscription because of his family wealth, but I don’t fault him personally for not wanting to fight.

I do, though, fault him for celebrating war. I do fault him for using the military as a prop. And I especially fault him for honoring war criminals. I fault him for interfering in the military justice system to benefit murderous fucks like Eddie Gallagher.

If you’re not familiar with the Gallagher case, here’s a quick take. He’s a Navy SEAL Special Warfare Operator. He’s done eight combat tours; he’s been trained as a sniper, as a medic, and as an explosives expert. He’s been awarded two bronze stars and was, apparently, under consideration for a silver star. He’s also been accused of multiple war crimes. He was acquitted of some of the most serious crimes (murdering at least two civilians — an old man and a young girl) because of the absence of physical evidence (it’s hard to collect DNA evidence from sniper victims in a combat zone). Basically, Eddie Gallagher is a hero who is also a murderous fuck.

Loyalty is a big deal in the military. First loyalty is to your buddies, then it spreads out to your squad, to your platoon, your company, your battalion, and so on in an expanding circle. Because loyalty is such a big deal, it’s incredibly telling that Gallagher’s squadmates reported his criminal behavior repeatedly. It’s telling that they were willing to testify against him in court. It’s telling that they were so concerned about him, they even sabotaged his weapon — they altered the optics on his sniper scope — to keep him from killing innocent civilians.

Eddie Gallagher in Iraq.

Here are two really really ugly truths. First, the military has a need for people like Eddie Gallagher — people who are murderous fucks. They need people who are willing and capable of doing horrible things. There are situations in combat, for example, when it might be necessary to kill children. It appalling that we ask people to be prepared to do that, but it is sometimes necessary. Here’s the second ugly truth. We need to punish those murderous fucks who act indiscriminately. We need laws to regulate war, to define and distinguish between what murderous fucks can and cannot do. Murderous fucks are only useful to the military when they can effectively channel their murderous fuck potential. There are really good reasons the military talks so much about ‘good order and discipline.’

The military tends to treat their murderous fucks the way a family treats a lecherous, drunk uncle at a holiday gathering. They try to quietly control them, to put limits on their opportunities to be drunk and lecherous, to keep it in the family unless their behavior becomes so awful they have to notify the police. The military will demote their murderous fucks, they’ll re-assign them to posts where they have fewer opportunities to be murderous fucks, they’ll discharge them from the service, and when it’s absolutely necessary they’ll prosecute them for war crimes.

Eddie Gallagher in handcuffs.

When Comrade Trump, the President of the United States, interferes with the prosecution and sentencing of murderous fucks — when he absolves them of their crimes, when he celebrates them, when he says he actually wants them to campaign with him — he essentially erodes the necessary restraints the military puts on them. In effect, Trump encourages murderous fucks to become more fucking murderous.

This would be egregious in any president. It’s especially galling in a president who knows nothing about military life, a president whose entire family has avoided any sort of military service.¬†Eddie Gallagher is as unfit to serve in the U.S. military as Comrade Trump is to be the Commander-in-Chief.

walking a post

This is small beans compared to his betrayal of the Kurds, but this morning Comrade Trump is putting the full range of his inadequacies as Commander-in-Chief on display. I’m talking about this tweet:

Two things. First, we do NOT train our boys…wait, three things. First, what’s with this ‘our boys’ bullshit? It’s not as if either of your boys (or either of your daughters, for that matter, or even your own vile self) was patriotic enough to put on the uniform and walk a post. I’m going to come back to this ‘walk a post’ business in a bit.

Second, we do NOT train troops to be killing machines, and we don’t want them to be that. We train them to kill, yes, because that’s always a fundamental facet of military duty. But we impose careful restrictions — rules of engagement — about when and where troops are allowed to kill the enemy. The fact is, indiscriminate killing doesn’t aid in any military objective. Unauthorized killing is a crime, even in the military. In fact, the Uniformed Code of Military Justice is clear that troops are only required to follow lawful orders.

Walking a post.

Third, the very reason Maj. Golsteyn is being tried for murder is BECAUSE he killed somebody in an unlawful way. Here’s what we know happened, and what we suspect happened. We know Golsteyn, a Green Beret, was leading an operation combined with Marine forces during the battle of Marja. We know two Marines were killed and three others were wounded by an explosive device while breaching a doorway. We know they detained the man suspected of making that bomb, and that the materials to make bombs were found in his possession. We know Golsteyn and his unit took the suspect back to their base.

We also know Golsteyn (and others) later took the man off base and killed him. We suspect they buried him in the traditional shallow grave, then returned later, dug up the body, and burned it. We know/suspect this because Golsteyn has admitted it — first to CIA interviewers and later on FOX News. The reason we say ‘suspect‘ is because Golsteyn’s lawyer maintains the killing, the burial, the disinterment, and the burning were part of a fantasy.

We also know this: during the fight in Marja Golsteyn proved himself a hero in other ways. He helped track down a sniper targeting his troops, he helped save a wounded Afghan soldier, and he coordinated multiple airstrikes. He was initially awarded a Silver Star for those actions — and that was later upgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross, which is the second highest medal of valor, just below the Medal of Honor.

I totally understand why Golsteyn wanted to kill the guy. But it’s a violation of every code and law of war to summarily execute prisoners. The fact is, a person can behave heroically AND illegally. The heroism may mitigate the illegality but it doesn’t expunge it. Golsteyn, a hero, isn’t being prosecuted for killing the enemy; he’s being prosecuted for illegally killing a man.

Comrade Trump is incapable of understanding that. And let’s face it, he doesn’t really care about Golsteyn. He doesn’t really care about the battle of Marja or the dead bombmaker. He’s only making a cheap demonstration to suggest he’s ‘for’ the troops, and to insinuate that anybody who disagrees with him is somehow ‘against’ them. His tweet is entirely self-serving.

Standing a post.

Okay, walking a post. Civilians will probably wonder what the hell that even means. Allow me to ‘splain. There are eleven general orders all troops in every branch of the military are required to learn. They all concern the duty of walking a post. Here are the general orders:

  1. To take charge of this post and all government property in view.
  2. To walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing.
  3. To report all violations of orders I am instructed to enforce.
  4. To repeat all calls from posts more distant from the guard house than my own.
  5. To quit my post only when properly relieved.
  6. To receive, obey, and pass on to the sentry who relieves me all orders from the commanding officer, field officer of the day, officer of the day, and officers and petty officers of the watch.
  7. To talk to no one except in line of duty.
  8. To give the alarm in case of fire or disorder.
  9. To call the petty officer of the watch in any case not covered by instructions.
  10. To salute all officers and all colors and standards not cased.
  11. To be especially watchful at night, and during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post, and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.

Walking a post.

This is basic stuff, but it demonstrates the concept of military duty. I mean, that’s a LOT of stuff to remember considering all you’re really doing is staying awake, walking around, and keeping an eye open for anything out of the ordinary. It’s dull, thankless work, but it has to be done. And take careful note of general order five: to quit my post only when properly relieved. That means IF you’re walking a post and you’re unlucky enough to have some ugly shit come down on you — an enemy attack, a fire starts, an explosion happens, a swarm of killer bees arrives, a tornado drops on you — you’re expected to stay right there at your post and just deal with it. Let me repeat that: you’re expected to stay there and deal with it. That’s your duty. That’s your job.

That guy you see in the movies, the one with the binoculars who’s scanning the horizon line? He’s walking a post. That guy you see walking back and forth in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? He’s walking a post. That guy you see apparently wandering around a barracks yard at three in the goddamn morning? He’s walking a post.

Walking a post.

On every military installation in the world, every minute of every hour of every day of the year, regardless of the weather and circumstance, you’ve got some poor bastard doing his duty, walking a post. Because that’s what it takes to keep your people safe.

Keeping people safe is also the duty of the President of the United States. Comrade Trump is derelict in his duty.