Monday, December 28, 2009

Benefit of Doubt

My post from last week questioned the accuracy of Jon Krakauer’s friendly fire numbers, and it generated several comments. One of them was posted on Christmas day by an anonymous viewer.

Here’s what Anonymous said:
"The Brookings Institution data cited above (based on data provided by the DoD) is interesting, but it offers absolutely no data about friendly fire.

The 2006 CBS News article cited above, which reports a rate of death from friendly fire in Iraq of approximately 1%, was based entirely on data provided by the Army. This data has been widely criticized as unreliable. Deaths reported by the Army as enemy fire have later been revealed to be friendly fire on numerous occasions.

The friendly fire numbers cited by Krakauer were the result of independent research performed by the American War Library, a non-partisan organization with no axe to grind. Although the 41% casualty rate from friendly fire in Iraq reported by the AWL seems shockingly high, and may well proved to be incorrect, it seems much more believable than the Army's data. It shold be noted that the AWL's friendly fire numbers for other wars do not seem excessive (21% in WWII, 39% in Viet Nam, etc.). So maybe there is some bad data skewing their Iraq numbers.

The Army's claim of less than a 1% death rate from friendly fire in OIF defies belief even more than the AWL's numbers. Historians consider the casualty from friendly fire in all wars to date to be 10-15%, at a very conservative minimum."
The comment is a good example of the support group mentality in our anti-Republican culture. Mr. Krakauer sets a tone of suspicion against those in a Republican administration and the piling-on begins.

Who deserves the benefit of the doubt? It is not our armed forces or the institutions that audit their data.

In a few short paragraphs we are given the following characterizations:
--The Brookings Institute is a shill for the U. S. Army.
--CBS News has been duped by the U.S. Army
--Data from the U.S. Army is widely acknowledged to be unreliable.

The technique of arguing facts with characterizations works well. It takes an informed reader to realize that U.S. soldiers are not issued IEDs or RPGs or car bombs. These are the weapons used by enemy fighters, and when an overwhelming number of our soldiers are killed by these devices, it is not “friendly fire.”

Still, the suspect statistics are given the benefit of the doubt. Who knows?  There might be a conspiracy at work, and people are certainly capable of lying.

The legacies of CBS News and the Brookings Institute speak for themselves. I’ll speak for our armed services.

The picture above is from the grounds of the United States Air Force Academy. It is a statement of the honor code that becomes a part of the character of each cadet. It is representative of the honor codes at each of our service academies: West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy. These institutions develop career officers for our armed services, and they require students to internalize this statement of conduct.

In our society, it is rare that an institution of higher learning will expel a student for a breach of honor, and yet that can happen at our service academies. Our military takes honor very seriously.

It takes an informed reader to understand this. Without that knowledge, the accusations of lying and cover-up in our armed services seem entirely credible.

While our soldiers engage the enemy on the battlefield, there is also an intellectual battle in play. It is a battle where facts fight characterizations, and the characterizations typically have an advantage.

The previous blog post on Jon Krakauer’s statistics was viewed by fewer than 8,500 people. Mr. Krakauer’s take on things will be read and absorbed by many times that number.  Even with that numerical advantage, our culture will add to the "weight of evidence."

It affords Mr. Krakauer’s point of view the benefit of the doubt.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Friendly Fire

I had the opportunity to read the latest book from Jon Krakauer this weekend. It is titled, “Where Men Win Glory” and follows other successful works by Mr. Krakauer, including “Into Thin Air” and “Under the Banner of Heaven”. It is the story of former pro football player Pat Tillman’s death by friendly fire in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.

Surprisingly, the story has a backdrop of anti-Republican sentiment. Mr. Krakauer establishes his anti-Republican credentials early in the book when he characterizes Republican figures in a negative fashion. From the Prologue, referring to Pat Tillman’s public persona (page xxiv):
“Seizing the opportunity to capitalize on his celebrity, the Bush administration endeavored to use his name and image to promote what it had christened the Global War on Terror.”
“The right-wing harridan Ann Coulter claimed him as an exemplar of Republican political values.”
When I see characterizations like this, I tend to put my reading into “scan mode.” I no longer look for gifted prose or clever uses of description and style. I simply look for the substance and highlights of the text and go through the book rather quickly.

Mr. Krakauer does have substance in his book. We learn that Pat Tillman and his brother Kevin were both assigned to the same platoon in Afghanistan. We learn that Pat appears to have been killed by three rounds to the right side of his forehead from a single burst of a .223-caliber M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon). We also learn that Pat’s brother was not told the killing was “fratricide” until May 24, 2004, more than a month after Pat’s death. The incredible part of the story is that Kevin did not know the actual circumstances of his brother’s death, even though he was on the scene when his brother was killed.

This is the story of an American tragedy, and Mr. Krakauer uses that tragedy to showcase the scandal of “blue-on-blue” killing in the American armed forces. He sums up the problem in a Postscript at the end of the book (page 343):
“If the United States’ involvement in future wars is inevitable, so, too, is it inevitable that American soldiers will fall victim to friendly fire in those conflicts, for the simple reason that fratricide is part and parcel of every war. According to the most comprehensive survey of American war casualties (both fatal and nonfatal), 21 percent of the casualties in World War II were attributable to friendly fire, 39 percent of the casualties in Vietnam, and 52 percent of the casualties in the first Gulf War. Thus far in the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, casualty rates are 41 percent and 13 percent, respectively. All these figures are conservative estimates, moreover; due to endemic underreporting of fratricide by the military, the actual percentages are unquestionably higher.”
Mr. Krakauer’s concern for fratricide is honorable, but 41 percent blue-on-blue casualties in Iraq? That seems high. I went to the Internet and looked for confirmation.

I came across an indicator of Mr. Krakauer’s honor and integrity in an article published by Entertainment Weekly on 9/11/2009. It quotes him as saying:
“I go with what the material gives me. I don’t try to impose a narrative on it. And now, perversely, I enjoy criticism. I write these books and people don’t have to buy them.”
This level of personal integrity takes a toll on his personal life. Mr. Krakauer explains:
“I need to decompress. It’s not like I have a compulsion to write, so who knows, there may not be another book. This book was really hard. I don’t necessarily need to do this again.”
We get the sense that Mr. Krakauer is passionate about his work, and would attempt to faithfully report the statistics from “the most comprehensive survey of American war casualties” referenced above. (We unfortunately don’t know exactly what source Mr. Krakauer is using, as he doesn’t footnote it.)

Luckily, there are other sources. CBS News has an article by Sean Alfano from March 11, 2006. It reports strikingly different figures:
“Over the past four years, 17 soldiers have died in friendly fire incidents such as the one that killed former professional football player Pat Tillman, according to Army data.

The 17 soldiers felled by friendly fire incidents are about 1 percent of the 1,575 soldiers who have died overall.”
“The rate of friendly fire deaths for all U.S. troops in World War II was 12-14 percent; Vietnam, 10-14 percent; Grenada, 13 percent; and Panama, 6 percent.
To resolve the discrepancy (1% friendly fire deaths reported by CBS News vs. 41% friendly fire casualties reported by Mr. Krakauer), we can analyze data provided by the Brookings Institute. I like using this source because the information is transparently available and frequently updated. (This stands in marked contrast to data being manipulated by global warming advocates, or by our federal legislature for that matter.)

The Brookings Institute Data was just updated on December 11, 2009. It shows that in Iraq there have been 31,582 U. S. troops wounded in action since March 19, 2003. In the same timeframe, there have been 4,367 U.S. troops killed in action (KIA).

What’s extremely helpful about the Brookings information is that it categorizes KIA data by “cause of death.” On page 15 you can see the breakdown for each month from March 2003 to the present.

Assuming Mr. Krakauer’s percentage of blue-on-blue casualties for Iraq is correct (41 percent of the war casualties, both fatal and nonfatal) we have a major scandal in front of our eyes. With 4,367 U.S. troops killed in action and 31,582 U.S. troops wounded in action, 41 percent of that total would be 14,739. This means nearly 15,000 of our troops in Iraq have been killed or wounded by friendly fire, and according to Mr. Krakauer, these figures “…are conservative estimates.”

Let’s use the Brookings data to examine the problem more closely. If the same proportion of “fatal and nonfatal” friendly fire incidents (41 percent) applies just to KIA, then 1,790 deaths in Iraq would have been caused by friendly fire. That’s a lot of deaths by fratricide, and the Brookings Institute helps us put it in perspective. They list the number of deaths by IED (Improvised Explosive Device) at 1,735. Assuming that death by IED cannot be a “fratricide event,” then the friendly fire percentage is indeed a scandal. Of the non-IED killed in action in Iraq, fully 68 percent of the deaths would necessarily be the result of friendly fire. If you are not killed by an IED, you are twice as likely to be killed by your own compatriot as by the enemy! How’s that for a recruiting slogan!

I hope by now some of you are coming to the conclusion that there might be something wrong with Mr. Krakauer’s use of statistics. Read his book and you will come to understand that he has a low regard for the leadership of our combat forces, from the battalion level all the way up to the Pentagon. But to assume our armed forces are experiencing the level of friendly fire casualties cited by Mr. Krakauer in “Where Men Win Glory” requires a giant leap of faith.

This book may be categorized as “nonfiction”, but if you believe his numbers and take them without question, you may indeed be stepping “Into Thin Air”.

UPDATE 12/23/2009:
Linked by Instapundit.
Thanks, Professor Reynolds.

UPDATE 12/24/2009:
An anonymous commenter directs us to the American War Library site for verificiation of the 41% statistic.  Maybe they would have information on how that value was determined.

UPDATE 4/14/2011:
This recent friendly fire "incident" reminds us that human error on the battlefield is something that must be minimized but can never be discounted in the "fog and friction of war."

UPDATE 10/15/2011:
Here's more on the April 6, 2011 incident noted above.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Whiny Republicans Can't Handle the Truth

It’s been a few days since Senator Harry Reid made some comments on the Senate floor that became news. From an Associated Press story as reported by the Denver Post

Pace of health care debate draws slavery comparison

WASHINGTON — On and off the Senate floor, the health care debate has become intensely political.

Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican Party, demanded an apology from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday after Reid criticized those favoring a slower, more incremental approach to health care.

"You think you've heard these same excuses before? You're right. In this country, there were those who . . . dug in their heels and said, 'Slow down, it's too early. Let's wait. Things aren't bad enough' — about slavery," Reid said.

Steele said if Reid won't apologize, "Democrats must immediately reconsider his fitness to lead them."

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, said, "Today's feigned outrage is nothing but a ploy to distract from the fact they (Republicans) have no plan to lower the cost of health care, stop insurance-company abuses or protect Medicare."
The story is interesting because it could have had three different headlines:
--Whiny Republicans Can’t Handle the Truth
--Associated Press Promotes Anti-Republican Culture
--Senate Majority Leader: “Republican Racists Don’t Want Women to Vote”

The Denver Post chose the first headline. It is not what actually was printed, but you can sense it from the story. They might have used the last headline, but that level of clarity would have been uncomfortable for the editors. The idea is to promote anti-Republican themes while appearing to be non-partisan.

I would like to focus on the middle headline.

I’m writing this four days after the fact. I had wanted to see how the story played in the news media, and had expected the Denver Post to publish the characterization as news and then follow with some type of factual analysis appearing in the Opinion Section of the paper, just to provide balance.

My wait was in vain. The Denver Post chose not to publish any editorial response or even a Letter to the Editor. The news item is simply presented as another story of how Republicans “whine” when they are faced with the truth.

But is the story an accurate portrayal of “Truth”? Senator Reid’s remarks are shown in this YouTube clip from C-SPAN 2, brought to us in a post on the PowerLine Blog by John Hinderaker:

The pertinent remarks begin at 1:20 into the video, and finish at 2:08. In case the link to the video is removed, here is a transcript of Senator Reid’s comments from the 1:20 point:

"But instead of joining us on the right side of history, all Republicans can come up with is this: 'slow down, stop everything. Let's start over.' If you think you've heard these same excuses before, you're right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said 'slow down, it's too early, let’s wait. Things aren't bad enough.'"

"When women spoke up for the right to speak up, they wanted to vote. Some insisted they simply slow down. ‘There will be a better day to do that. Today isn't quite right.’”

"When this body was on the verge of guaranteeing equal civil rights to everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, some senators resorted to the same filibuster threats that we hear today."
 (That last sentence is a reference to the late Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond's famous 1957 filibuster. Interestingly, Senator Thurmond switched parties from Democrat to Republican seven years later at the age of 60.)

Senator Reid is characterizing Republicans as being racists who don't want women to vote. The Denver Post does not challenge this characterization, preferring to note the incident as a political squabble with an outraged Republican making an accusation, and a spokesman for Senator Reid dispatching the accusation as groundless.

End of story.

But there is much more to the “squabble”. There is a story based on the leader of the United States Senate teaching Americans to hate Republicans based upon revisions in historical facts. There is also a story based upon the practice of journalism in our anti-Republican culture. Neither of these stories is of interest to the Denver Post.

However, to paraphrase (with poetic license) a saying from the 20th century, “You may not be interested in the Truth, but the Truth is interested in you.”

What the Denver Post is "not interested in" is the following:

--The Democratic Party, under the leadership of Jefferson Davis, helped the Southern States secede from the Union in 1861 to preserve the institution of slavery. The Civil War ensued, but luckily the leadership of Abraham Lincoln prevailed and slavery was abolished in the United States. President Lincoln, in case you missed it, was a Republican.

--The Democratic Party, in 1919, had 54% of its Senators vote for women’s suffrage. Unfortunately, an amendment to the United States Constitution requires a two-thirds majority. How did the amendment get passed? 82% of Republicans voted for it, and the amendment passed with two more votes than needed. Senator Reid, who is well-versed in vote counting, knows that the 19th amendment would not have passed if it was solely dependent on the support of "twenty enlightened Democrats" in the Senate.

--The Democratic Party, in the 1960s, was fully invested in segregation. Senator Reid knows that leaders such as George Wallace, Lester Maddox, and Orval Faubus were not Republicans.

The story in the Denver Post could have been presented in a couple of different ways, but the one chosen helps perpetuate our anti-Republican culture. The technique is not as severe as the techniques used by Hamas to promote anti-Semitism in the Middle East, but there certainly are similarities.

A prominent similarity is the lack of concern for truth.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter Soldier

President Obama recently gave a speech at the United States Military Academy, laying out his prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. The speech announced the deployment of additional troops:

“…I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.”
…and then the redeployment of those troops:

“After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”
The President spoke of the difficulty of his decision:

“If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.”
…and then speaking on behalf of the United Nations, as well as the friends and allies of the United States, he explains his intent:

“Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.”
He then gets to the “objective” of the war:

“To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.”
His words made me think of a foreign aid package rather than a military effort. He will commit the help and support of the United States for a time, but because he has other priorities, he will have to withdraw that support in the near future. He does not state that “he will” accomplish objectives, but rather that “we must.” Instead of a promise to be measured and evaluated, it is a plea.

American soldiers are dying in Afghanistan, and we are still not sure if what President Obama is saying makes sense. Our military institutions teach the “Principles of War”, and the principle of Objective states, “Direct every military operation towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective.”

I won’t quibble over wording, but contrast the objective in the Iraq war (to create a center of Western influence in the Middle East) with what our President intends to do in Afghanistan. There are chasms of difference in strategy and outcomes!

The Iraq war took the United States from an isolationist foreign policy to one of engagement and confrontation in a part of the world we had avoided for centuries. We removed a dictator who was killing 3,000 people every month. We brought about the right to vote for Iraqi citizens, which includes over ten million women.

And this was the “bad” war.

The “good” war (that “war of necessity”) is being portrayed as a matter-of-fact project. Will it turn out that way? Carl von Clausewitz, in his book “On War”, wrote about the unpredictable nature of war. It’s unfortunate, but wars rarely unfold as politicians predict.

John Kerry, in a speech before the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate in 1971, gave us insight into the politicizing of warfare. With clever philosophical duality, he chastised American soldiers as war criminals when they fought in Vietnam, and heralded them as heroes when they died. It is the speech where he poses the rhetorical question, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Those words came to mind as I reviewed the transcript of President Obama’s speech. My thought was, “Senator Kerry, watch President Obama. He is showing you how it is done.”

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Arctic Fox and Rugged Individualism

Sarah Palin has been in the news recently. She is on a national tour to promote her book “Going Rogue,” and has been generating equal measures of excitement (from her supporters) and outcry (from her opponents).

Depending on your political leanings, you either consider her unqualified and clearly out of her league, or inspirational and with a long list of accomplishments.

Here’s a picture that seems to spark controversy:

It’s a frame taken from a YouTube video shot in Kuwait in July 2007. It shows Governor Palin shouldering a Colt M4 Carbine 5.56mm training rifle while visiting her deployed troops from the 3rd Battalion 297th Infantry Regiment of the Alaska National Guard.

When I see that picture, I think “This is a person who is comfortable with firearms. This Governor probably has no difficulty getting the safety off and chambering a round.”

Does she make you think of anyone?

Does Davy Crockett come to mind? He is a person who represented the Spirit of the American Frontier. He is a romanticized figure and, unfortunately, died young: an American hero at the battle of the Alamo. His rifle “Betsy” is on display in Nashville, Tennessee.

We don’t have many “rugged individualists,” but I think America has a lot of respect for them. These people move us. They show us that it is honorable to be strong and principled.

Sarah Palin is capturing that spirit. She is our modern Rugged Individualist. As a woman, her presence on the political landscape animates people in ways that we’ve not seen in a long time. The American Thinker ran an article by a Northern California psychotherapist, “Robin of Berkeley,” that covers some of the emotional response to Governor Palin’s gender. There is even a Web site devoted to the musings of Sarah Palin’s Uterus!

But can we just get past the sexism?

Our current Davy Crockett is a female. GET OVER IT!

It is pure speculation, but an Arctic Fox / Fred Thompson ticket in 2012 could be a winning combination. America likes having a young Commander in Chief backed by an older and more experienced Vice President. It makes sense.

Here’s the game plan…

Governor Palin centers her campaign on the Principles of the Constitution; those founding principles that make America a great country. For starters, she goes to W. Cleon Skousen’s book, “The 5000 Year Leap.” It has a complete section on the 28 Principles of the Founding Fathers.

Imagine a campaign stop where she teaches us…

--The need for virtuous and moral leaders (3rd principle)
--Sovereignty of the people (10th principle)
--Free-market economics (15th principle)
--The importance of an educated electorate (23rd principle)
--Peace through strength (24th principle)

Her speeches teach American Exceptionalism and paint a bright future. They awaken the “Inner Republican” in all Americans.

She presents in vivid contrast…

--Her Rugged Individualism vs. The Community Organizer
--Pride of Country vs. Pride of Party
--Power to the People vs. Power to the Government

Her running mate, Fred Thompson, uses our current problems to illustrate her vision...

--Why a policy of appeasement and containment with Iran is insanity;
--Why stimulus to the consumer is better than stimulus to the government;
--Why the politics of favoritism is the wrong path.

The Democratic Party continues with the theme that “Sarah is unqualified” but it will ring hollow. Their tactic of paying favors to the rich while using promises of entitlements to buy off the poor will become politically stale.

By 2012, America should be ready for the Arctic Fox and a new Rugged Individualism. Yes, there's something happening here.

UPDATE 12/03/09:
Linked by Left Coast Rebel!  Head over there and note the "tease" to encourage a click over to this site.  (Tim shows us how a master works the magic of the Web.)