Inside the debate over what the U.S. should do about Syria:
"He walked back to his desk and sat down. 'The Syria I have just drawn for you—I call it the Sinkhole,' he said. 'I think there is an appreciation, even at the highest levels, of how this is getting steadily worse. This is the discomfort you see with the President, and it’s not just the President. It’s everybody.' No matter how well intentioned the advocates of military intervention are, he suggested, getting involved in a situation as complex and dynamic as the Syrian civil war could be a foolish risk. The cost of saving lives may simply be too high. 'Whereas we had a crisis in Iraq that was contained—it was very awful for us and the Iraqis—this time it will be harder to contain,' he said. 'Four million refugees going into Lebanon and Jordan is not the kind of problem we had going into Iraq.'"
PUBLISHED: May 6, 2013
LENGTH: 33 minutes (8361 words)
Luis Octavio López Vega, who worked for both the Mexican military and as an informant to the DEA, is now in hiding:
"The reserved, unpretentious husband and father of three has been a fugitive ever since, on the run from his native country and abandoned by his adopted home. For more than a decade, he has carried information about the inner workings of the drug war that both governments carefully kept secret.
"The United States continues to feign ignorance about his whereabouts when pressed by Mexican officials, who still ask for assistance to find him, a federal law enforcement official said.
"The cover-up was initially led by the D.E.A., whose agents did not believe the Mexican authorities had a legitimate case against their informant. Other law enforcement agencies later went along, out of fear that the D.E.A.’s relationship with Mr. López might disrupt cooperation between the two countries on more pressing matters."
PUBLISHED: April 29, 2013
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6304 words)
A Navy intelligence analyst reports a rape and finds herself ostracized. She's not the only one, and the U.S. military still has not taken serious steps to address a culture that condones sex abuse:
"The scandal of rape in the U.S. Armed Forces, across all of its uniformed services, has become inescapable. Last year saw the military's biggest sex-abuse scandal in a decade, when an investigation at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio revealed that 32 basic-training instructors preyed on at least 59 recruits. In Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair is currently facing court-martial for sex-crimes charges, including forcible sodomy, for alleged misconduct against five women. In October, an Air Force technical sergeant filed an administrative complaint describing a work environment of comprehensive harassment – in which all women are 'bitches'; and claimed that during a routine meeting in a commander's office, she was instructed to take off her blouse and 'relax' – edged with menace and punctuated by violent assaults. In December, a Department of Defense report revealed that rape is rampant at the nation's military academies, where 12 percent of female cadets experienced 'unwanted sexual contact.' And an explosive series of federal lawsuits filed against top DOD brass on behalf of 59 service members (including Rebecca Blumer) allege that the leadership has done nothing to stop the cycle of rape and impunity – and that by failing to condemn sexual assault, the military has created a predators' playground."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 27, 2013
LENGTH: 28 minutes (7041 words)
A two-part series on sexual abuse and homelessness among female veterans in the U.S.:
"In response to the growing outcry over sexual violence, the Pentagon last year ordered that charging decisions in sexual assault cases be determined by more senior commanders than in the past, but the directive stopped short of taking the decision out of the chain of command. Some other nations, including Britain, have taken steps to create a more independent military judicial system, but experts on military justice said that the United States has been unwilling to do so.
"'The military justice system is not only to judge innocence or guilt, but is also designed to help a commander ensure good order and discipline,' said Dwight Sullivan, an appellate defense counsel for the Air Force. 'Those things sometimes come into conflict.'"
PUBLISHED: Feb. 26, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4090 words)
"If there is one thing we appreciate it is a faction that splinters into smaller factions." A report from inside Syria:
"We in the Middle East have always had a strong appetite for factionalism. Some attribute it to individualism, others blame the nature of our political development or our tribalism. Some even blame the weather. We call it tasharthum and we loathe it: we hold it as the main reason for all our losses and defeats, from al-Andalus to Palestine. Yet we love it and bask in it and excel at it, and if there is one thing we appreciate it is a faction that splinters into smaller factions. Yet even by the measure of previous civil wars in the Middle East, the Syrians seem to have reached new heights. After all, the Palestinians in their heyday had only a dozen or so factions, and the Lebanese, God bless them, pretending it was ideology that divided them, never exceeded thirty different factions.
"In Istanbul I asked a Syrian journalist and activist why there were so many battalions. He laughed and said, ‘Because we are Syrians,’ and went on to tell me a story I have heard many times before. ‘When the Syrian president, head of the military junta at the time, signed the unification agreement with Nasser, basically handing the country to the Egyptians and stripping himself of his presidential title, he passed the document to Nasser and said I give up my role as president but I hand you a country of four million presidents.’"
PUBLISHED: Feb. 14, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4296 words)
How the NRA changed its focus from gun owners to gun makers:
"Of the top 15 gun manufacturers, 11 now manufacture assault weapons, many of them variants of the AR-15 – derived from a military rifle designed to kill enemy soldiers at close-to-medium range with little marksmanship. The industry loves these 'modern sporting rifles' because they can be tricked out with expensive scopes, loaders, lights and lasers. 'Most of the money is in accessories,' says Feldman.
"As one gun rep recently boasted to an industry publication: 'The AR platform is like Legos for grown men.' And a 2012 report from Bushmaster's parent company boasted that the industry's embrace of these guns has led to 'increased long-term growth in the long-gun market while attracting a younger generation of shooters.' The campaign certainly seems to be working. Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster. Twenty-five-year-old James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, was in many ways the dream customer of the surging industry. He bought an AR-15 .233-caliberSmith & Wesson assault rifle – a category the company's CEO bragged was 'extremely hot'—tricked it out with a 100-round ultrahigh-capacity magazine and then purchased thousands of rounds from BulkAmmo.com, spending nearly $15,000 on his greater arsenal."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 31, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5700 words)
A history of America's military spending:
"If any arms manufacturer today holds what Eisenhower called 'unwarranted influence,' it is Lockheed Martin. The firm’s contracts with the Pentagon amount to some thirty billion dollars annually, as William D. Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, reports in his book 'Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex' (Nation). Today, Lockheed Martin spends fifteen million dollars a year on lobbying efforts and campaign contributions. The company was the single largest contributor to Buck McKeon’s last campaign. (Lockheed Martin has a major R. & D. center in McKeon’s congressional district.) This patronage hardly distinguishes McKeon from his colleagues on Capitol Hill. Lockheed Martin contributed to the campaigns of nine of the twelve members of the Supercommittee, fifty-one of the sixty-two members of the House Armed Services Committee, twenty-four of the twenty-five members of that committee’s Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces—in all, to three hundred and eighty-six of the four hundred and thirty-five members of the 112th Congress."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 23, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4444 words)
Colonel James S. Ketchum oversaw years of research into new methods of chemical warfare—which included testing on U.S. soldiers:
"Today, Ketchum is eighty-one years old, and the facility where he worked, Edgewood Arsenal, is a crumbling assemblage of buildings attached to a military proving ground on the Chesapeake Bay. The arsenal’s records are boxed and dusting over in the National Archives. Military doctors who helped conduct the experiments have long since moved on, or passed away, and the soldiers who served as their test subjects—in all, nearly five thousand of them—are scattered throughout the country, if they are still alive. Within the Army, and in the world of medical research, the secret clinical trials are a faint memory. But for some of the surviving test subjects, and for the doctors who tested them, what happened at Edgewood remains deeply unresolved. Were the human experiments there a Dachau-like horror, or were they sound and necessary science? As veterans of the tests have come forward, their unanswered questions have slowly gathered into a kind of historical undertow, and Ketchum, more than anyone else, has been caught in its pull. In 2006, he self-published a memoir, 'Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten,' which defended the research. Next year, a class-action lawsuit brought against the federal government by former test subjects will go to trial, and Ketchum is expected to be the star witness.
"The lawsuit’s argument is in line with broader criticisms of Edgewood: that, whether out of military urgency or scientific dabbling, the Army recklessly endangered the lives of its soldiers—naïve men, mostly, who were deceived or pressured into submitting to the risky experiments. The drugs under review ranged from tear gas and LSD to highly lethal nerve agents, like VX, a substance developed at Edgewood and, later, sought by Saddam Hussein. Ketchum’s specialty was a family of molecules that block a key neurotransmitter, causing delirium. The drugs were known mainly by Army codes, with their true formulas classified. The soldiers were never told what they were given, or what the specific effects might be, and the Army made no effort to track how they did afterward. Edgewood’s most extreme critics raise the spectre of mass injury—a hidden American tragedy."
PUBLISHED: Dec. 11, 2012
LENGTH: 57 minutes (14350 words)
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This week, we're excited to share a Longreads Member Exclusive from Thomas E. Ricks
, whose new book is The Generals
, published by The Penguin Press
. Chapter 21, "The End of a War, the End of an Army," details how the U.S. military and its leadership faltered in the final years of the Vietnam War:
"Often in warfare, it is the first year of fighting that seasons forces, which become more effective as those who survive gain skill, good leaders rise to the top, and units become more cohesive over time. Counterintuitively, as the Vietnam War progressed, the American frontline force weakened. In 1966, remembered Paul Gorman, the battalion he commanded had fourteen senior sergeants who had been in the unit for more than ten years, all of them trained by a legendary sergeant major who had landed at Normandy with the Big Red One. By contrast, he said, five years later, when he was commanding a brigade in the 101st Airborne, good sergeants who could provide the backbone of units, especially by maintaining standards and enforcing discipline, were hard to find. "I didn't have the NCOs [non-commissioned officers]. The NCOs were gone." By 1969, draftees made up 88 percent of the infantry riflemen in Vietnam. Another 10 percent was made up of first term volunteers, meaning that the fighting force was almost entirely inexperienced and often led by novice first term NCOs and officers. In one company in 1970, of two hundred men, only three—the captain, one platoon sergeant, and one squad leader—had been in the Army for more than two years. In addition, because of the rotation policy, units not only arrived green but stayed that way. "After only two months in Vietnam, I had more experience than half the men in Vietnam," recalled one sergeant. There were plenty of career soldiers in Vietnam, but they disproportionately served at higher headquarters, not in line units doing the fighting."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 28, 2012
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5533 words)