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Soldier’s Commute

A Virtual Commute through Baghdad
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After two deployments to Iraq, performing counter IED operations in bad places, I have had but a handful of actual combat engagements. These terrifying minutes of kill or be killed make for great war stories, but the real horrors of combat are the quiet days, weeks, or even months in between.

Anyone can appreciate the anxiety of taking small-arms fire from a group of concealed zealots, but more times than not; these moments are over before the true gravity of the situation can be realized.

The true terror of combat is the incessant threat of a quick and violent death.

Hours upon hours on route are spent knowing any one bit of the cacophony of refuse lining the streets could detonate, perforating your body with jagged chunks of metal. Any window, any rooftop could conceal a seasoned sniper. Buried beneath any pothole could lie in waiting enough explosives to rend your vehicle to pieces. Any overpass could send RPGs or hand-grenades raining down. In any second all hell could break loose, and any second could be your last.

A year of this cannot be described.

But maybe it can be appreciated, if it were made more tangible:

The Soldier’s Commute Combat Simulator is a dash mounted display which utilizes the same technology as any vehicular GPS system. Every road however, is correlated to a similar road in Baghdad, Iraq. If you are driving southbound on a four-lane divided highway at 9:00pm, august 3rd, then you have the same probability of an IED detonation, a small-arms ambush, a sniper attack, etc, as you would driving down Highway 1 in Baghdad, Iraq at 9:00pm, august 3rd.

Should “enemy contact” occur; a bright red LED will blink, alerting the subscriber to the attack. Corresponding audio is played over the speakers, and scrolling text provides a brief description of the attack, E.G.

IED detonation: EFP

11’o’clock

30 meters

Friendly vehicle hit

2 Killed

*By subscribing to this service, users agree to a 15 month obligation which can be involuntarily extended at any time.

With hope, only to illustrate this simple fact: The blast is over in an instant, but the anticipation of the blast can last a lifetime.

MikeD, Feb 24 2010

The Analogue Version Penknife_20of_20Damocles
[MikeD, Feb 24 2010]

This is too funny, but also relevant http://www.theonion...stic_modern_warfare
[MikeD, Feb 26 2010]

Elegy in a Country Churchyard http://www.poemhunt...untry-churchyard-2/
An Inconvenient Truth ? [8th of 7, Feb 27 2010]

[link]






       That is a really good idea. It should be made mandatory for anyone involved in deciding defence policy.
nineteenthly, Feb 24 2010
  

       It's a nice idea, but if no attacks happen for a few days, the driver will forget about it. Because there's no actual danger of sudden violent death, the driver won't be living in a state of constant fear and apprehension.
hippo, Feb 24 2010
  

       It's an interesting idea, but it won't work - simulated threats remain just simulations no matter how good they are. The knowledge that you might actually die is what makes the difference. Anyone involved in deciding defence policy should actually go out there and do a tour before asking anyone else to do so.   

       [MikeD] - I do not envy your job.
wagster, Feb 24 2010
  

       [Wagster], i agree that they should do that too. I also agree that it can't be the same as being out there, but think it'd be a constant reminder on some level.
nineteenthly, Feb 24 2010
  

       Yeah - there definitely seems to be some sort of disconnect between the people who send people out to die, and the people who do the dying. In the UK there is a long tradition of sending princes out to join the army which worked well when the army was controlled by the monarch. Nowadays the army is controlled by politicians who send their kids to intern in media companies and have really very little to lose personally from a war.
wagster, Feb 24 2010
  

       When did the rot set in though? The monarch used to lead the army into battle, then they were at the back, then they weren't there at all. Should Rob Ainsworth be there in the thick of it for a whole tour of duty? That's not meant to be a joke.
nineteenthly, Feb 24 2010
  

       I can see the logic of not having defence ministers spending all of their time in a Bradley or a Humvee looking over their shoulder - it's not like they don't have a job to do after all. I just think they should have seen active service. And as for the sorry mess we're in now, I suspect Messrs. Bush and Blair might have been a little less eager if they had spent six months in [MikeD]'s shoes.
wagster, Feb 24 2010
  

       //used to lead the army into battle//   

       This still happens, from time to time.   

       Our Brigade commander (a general officer) rode with our route clearance package a few times, on route. Most ranking ride-alongs rode in the safest vehicle in the convoy. He, however chose to ride in one of the most dangerous.   

       The respect I gained for that man still quickens my spirit.
MikeD, Feb 24 2010
  

       That's really pretty impressive, even from the safety of this living room, [MikeD]. Yes, active service would make more sense. There generally seems to be a dearth of relevant real world experience in governments.
nineteenthly, Feb 24 2010
  

       // When did the rot set in though? //   

       The last English monarch to lead his troops into battle was George II at Dettingen on 16 June, 1743.   

       // There generally seems to be a dearth of relevant real world experience in governments //   

       True.
8th of 7, Feb 24 2010
  

       [wagster]//Nowadays// [nineteenthly] //when did the rot set in// Not recently. At least a hundred years ago (thought I'd post a link to Sassoon's "Base Details" but it seemed presumptuous).
mouseposture, Feb 24 2010
  

       Many of the UK's mid-20th century politicians had served in WW1, including Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden and Harold MacMillan. Presiden Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, John F Kennedy, George Bush Snr. and Dwight Eisenhower all had notable military careers. Ronald Reagan also served, although poor eyesight excluded him from combat duty.
8th of 7, Feb 24 2010
  

       Just a bit of a reality check here. It's not just the politicians who are guilty of talking the talk without walking the walk. There are plenty of voters out there who are also only too happy to send someone else off to the back of beyond to do their fighting for them.

I sympathise withand can relate to MikeD's experience but only to a certain extent. After all, what did you think the army was for when you joined?
DrBob, Feb 24 2010
  

       It's a fair point, [DrBob]. In the majority of Western democracies, the armed forces are all volunteers.
8th of 7, Feb 24 2010
  

       I hate improv.
rcarty, Feb 24 2010
  

       And there's the rub - the rot works both ways when a country's foreign policy is isolated from the masses. It doesn't matter how green a politician is if he can get voted out at a moment's notice for being rubbish - but for that to happen, you need the public to be fully engaged as well. When you don't have conscription, it's easier for the masses to shrug their shoulders and let things be. That works both ways too, allowing nations who operate volunteer-only armed forces to make "tougher" decisions than those who's populace may be called up to fight directly. Almost counter-intuitively, those nations who have active conscription are probably less likely to get involved militarily than other, professional-only nations.
zen_tom, Feb 24 2010
  

       //the armed forces are all volunteers/ That's a very comforting thought in this sort of discussion. They volunteer for dirty work on our behalf. Thing is, we don't appreciate just how dirty it is and they'd like it if we did. Maybe we'd even make better-informed decisions as voters. The old, old argument for conscription (AKA "citizen army"). [MikeD's] idea is a way to give the civilians some of the experience, without actually drafting them.   

       re: WWII politicians who served in WWI: That was an unusual case where one world war followed another by exactly one generation. The European heads of state in the late 30s had been junior enough in the Great War to understand what sort of hell they'd be condemning their own children to if they went to war again. Some of them just couldn't believe that anyone in their position could possibly *want* another war. I think Clement "peace for our times" Attlee should be understood in that light. Hitler had, if anything, a worse experience in the trenches than the others, but he wasn't normal: he really did want another world war. Churchill was another who learned the wrong lesson, except that, given Hitler, it turned out to be the right lesson.
mouseposture, Feb 24 2010
  

       I wasn't just thinking of politicians. There are also civil servants and think tanks involved, among many others.   

       I don't want to lower the tone of this discussion, but Heinlein addressed the issue in detail in 'Starship Troopers'. No service - no vote. Then again, others have claimed that he had a relatively easy War.
nineteenthly, Feb 24 2010
  

       //what did you think the army was for when you joined?//   

       Exactly what it is, and I have admonished many a troop for complaining about combat deployments. This however, is not a complaint. It is an attempt to bridge the gap between what is thought to be combat and what *is* combat, in the minds of those that are curious. As impressive and well rehearsed as some of my war stories are, I can never seem to convey the horror of the spaces in between.   

       As to the politicians in combat: I see it as a catch 22. You wouldn't want to risk the precious resource that is a leader willing and ready to lead his troops into battle. As to our most recent leaders, however (and our current one) I would be comfortable with them manually clearing booby trapped minefields.   

       Thankyou, [mouseposture].
MikeD, Feb 24 2010
  

       // manually clearing booby trapped minefields //   

       In big boots, and with a bag over their head ...   

       Oh, how we would laugh ...
8th of 7, Feb 24 2010
  

       mine-clearance sack racing.
FlyingToaster, Feb 24 2010
  

       // In big boots, and with a bag over their head //   

       MUST - RESIST - MAKING - CLOWN - REFERENCE!
nineteenthly, Feb 24 2010
  

       I don't agree at all, duckdodgers. It's a perfectly legitimate HB idea.
DrBob, Feb 25 2010
  

       [Duckdodgers], i think that those wars are important and it would be a learning experience to do that as well, perhaps even in one's home town - Dresden during the firestorm for example, or the Battle of Hastings even - but they would serve a substantially different purpose because they're in the past. If it's happening now, it concentrates the mind.
nineteenthly, Feb 25 2010
  

       //This...is not a complaint. It is an attempt to bridge the gap//

Fair enough Mike, but without a real threat it really can't hope to come close.

Footnote: I have several friends who were on active service in the army and they relate similar stories so I do sympathise, really.
DrBob, Feb 25 2010
  

       [duckdodgers] That era does show the colour of war well. As does Blackadder Goes Forth set at the same time - "This model represents the ground captured during the last offensive" "What's the scale ?" "1 to 1 sir".   

       Oh and don't get me started on support for soldiers post war.   

       Democracy only costs an arm and a leg if you're in the military. Big bun for [MikeD].
bigsleep, Feb 25 2010
  

       Could someone clarify this "Volunteer" military bit for me?   

       I don't remember volunteering for anything since the first time I stepped into the recruiting office.   

       Oh, sorry. That is a rant.
ye_river_xiv, Feb 25 2010
  

       There's also the matter of economic conscription.
nineteenthly, Feb 26 2010
  

       //simulate the horrors of war is wrong//   

       On some levels I agree, especially in the more violent arenas. The gestalt, however would be truly enlightening were it capable of being transposed.   

       The experience of combat, (or mine, anyway), prodded me to live life to it's fullest *while* I was in theater. The self fullfillment of truly siezing the day for a year is indescribably sublime.   

       My platoons' workload was could be equated to 100 hour work weeks. I read more during a year of this than I have in any 5 year stretch in the "real world".   

       I don't enjoy being shot at. I am no war monger. I do, however, miss being in the combat zone. I yearn for those stretches of time in which I am motivated to reach my fullest potential, in the face of losing the privelige to continue existing.   

       It is this, that I wish I could take back to the civilized world, but I can't. It is a rare and precious gem that I long to share with everyone but cannot even keep for myself.   

       That is the motivation of this post.   

       I am not scarred from my experiences. Quite the oppisite. I feel I am exponentialy more complete because of them, to a point of arrogance (from time to time).   

       Aside, if you allow me to get sentimental for a moment: I love you all. Sincerely; I appreciate your appreciation and respect your respect, to the highest degree.
MikeD, Feb 26 2010
  

       //I appreciate your appreciation and respect your respect//   

       Baked. ;-)
Jinbish, Feb 26 2010
  

       <link>   

       Lest we forget, lest we forget ....
8th of 7, Feb 27 2010
  

       I am one of those few who voted against this idea. Aside from that I would like to say this:   

       The one thing you should have learned from your horrible experience is this that it was horrible. You gained no glory. You did horrible things in horrible situations. And it does not matter which side you were on. I do not blame you.
zeno, Feb 28 2010
  

       //one thing you should have learned//   

       A statement such as that implies that you feel yourself to be a moral authority in these regards. I wonder; by what line of reasoning do you feel qualified to make judgments as such?   

       Or are you speaking as one whom is more experienced in such matters as war and the ethics thereof?
MikeD, Feb 28 2010
  

       [zeno]. what you say is substantially correct; however, please describe your ethically justifiable alternative.   

       When Rome was sacked, the senators remained in their seats and were slaughtered. This no doubt conferred immense moral authority, which is of little use if you are in fact dead...
8th of 7, Feb 28 2010
  

       Everyone should just run away.   

       War is not over if you want it, like some guy said who was killed by another guy for apparently no good reason, but if the other guy wants it.   

       That's why there will always be sweet wars to fight.
rcarty, Feb 28 2010
  

       There will always be uncivilised power structures to dismantle like financial black holes, scams or rule by fear. Like the financial crisis, there are middle tier casualties like throwing the principles of the free market away and chucking more cash at the very people who lost the money.   

       There are deep moral questions about the informational power structures that are building. Ok, people aren't losing their lives totally, but identities and the chance to live a free life yes.   

       It is unfortunate that movements against uncivilised power structures require a big picture approach, and I respect anyone signing up for the message and not the individual deed. In many situations you can validate the overall message but be uncertain about individual actions.
bigsleep, Feb 28 2010
  

       [Rcarty], he was killed because the other guy's psychiatrist had told him not to listen to the voices without asking him what they were saying, which was, i hear, not to kill him.
nineteenthly, Feb 28 2010
  

       I don't doubt that.   

       [bigsleep] takes the analysis to an interesting level. I have something like that going on right now in a word processor in another window.   

       My point is just that if the locus of control for the creation of conflict is not vested wholly in one party or another war cannot be definitiely stopped.
rcarty, Feb 28 2010
  

       [MikeD], thank you very much for the respectfull answer to my earlier anno. I was a bit worried that you might be offended, I didn't mean to do that and I am glad you were not. Now to reply.   

       Luckily I am not experienced in war or anything like it. I wouldn't have the stomach for it anyway, or the spine.   

       I do not mean to take anything away from you and I fully expect you to be able to beat me in a war ethics discussion debate. But deep down, aren't I right?
zeno, Feb 28 2010
  

       [+] though I really don't see it doing any good regarding civilian traffic-patterns.
FlyingToaster, Feb 28 2010
  

       // I do not mean to take anything away from you and I fully expect you to be able to beat me in a war ethics discussion debate. But deep down, aren't I right? //   

       It is impossible for anyone who has not experienced the intensity of a contact experience to understand what it's like.   

       This creates a bizarre paradox. Whilst those who have undergone such experiences have no wish or intention that anyone else should have to experience it, they also can - in some circumstances - cherish the memory of such experiences, and this sets them apart from those who have not. It's analagous to "Only pilots know why the birds sing."   

       Being in such situations can be traumatic and uplifiting at the same time. On the one hand, there is stark terror, and anguish and disgust and revulsion at what people do to one another; on the other, the experience of comradeship, and seeing what inexplicable, unbeliveable acts of devotion, heroic stupidity, and compassion humans are capable of - and that includes the enemy. And a chance to rise (or sink) to such levels oneself.   

       There is no glib or correct answer to this paradox.
8th of 7, Mar 01 2010
  

       //stark terror, and anguish and disgust and revulsion at what people do to one another; on the other, the experience of comradeship, and seeing what inexplicable, unbeliveable acts of devotion, heroic stupidity, and compassion humans are capable of//   

       <raises glass to 8th>   

       Those are the words I was looking for.
MikeD, Mar 01 2010
  

       <raises glass>
8th of 7, Mar 02 2010
  
      
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