Untrained Soldiers, Diet and DNA - and Happiness

Dan Baum, writing in The New Yorker, offers a sobering and somewhat frightening examination of the evolution of the U.S. military — specifically, the use of the Internet to disseminate guidance to inadequately trained troops. In sum, “shortly before the Americans invaded Iraq, the Army had concluded that its officers lacked the ability to … innovate and think creatively.” One captain told an officer researching the subject, “They’re giving me the egg and telling me how to suck it.”

Further exacerbating the problem, Baum writes, is an overabundance of “non-essential” and irrelevant training creating a scenario, for instance, where soldiers were sent to war in Iraq after “[t]hey had been taught to avoid fighting in cities at all costs.”

In search of guidance soldiers have turned to the Internet — specifically, the bulletin boards Companycommand and Platoonleader. Here’s a snippet of the snippet of postings Baum includes his piece:

Never travel in a convoy of less than four vehicles. Do not let a casualty take your focus away from a combat engagement. Give your driver your 9mm, and carry their M16/M4. Tootsie Rolls are quite nice; Jolly Ranchers will get all nasty and sticky though. If a person is responsible for the death of an individual, they do not attend during the three days of mourning; that is why if we kill an individual in sector, we are not welcome during the mourning period. Soldiers need reflexive and quick-fire training, using burst fire. If they’re shooting five to seven mortar rounds into your forward operating base, whatever you’re doing needs to be readjusted. The more aggressive you look and the faster you are, the less likely the enemy will mess with you.

This, in short, is not the typical “The Internet Saves The Day” story that you think it might be, and it’s worth the read.

If you’re interested in the interaction between nature and nurture then check out Newsweek’s cover story on diet and DNA. Too controversial for you? Then turn to Time’s hard-hitting cover story on happiness. :-)

In other newsweekly news, it appears as if new FBI reports on the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay “suggest that the interrogation scandal is not going away any time soon, even if Gonzales is confirmed, as expected.” (When did anyone suggest otherwise, we wonder.)

(We’d be remiss if we didn’t include a link to the much-discussed Newsweek web exclusive breaking the news that the Pentagon is considering sending “Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers …”)

Time’s John F. Dickerson has a counter-intuitive riff on the reading habits of our President. In turns out that aside from the Bible and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Bush is hungry for high-minded works, including those that are not “wholly supportive of the Administration’s foreign policy.” His latest favorite is The Case for Democracy, a book that, according to Time, argues for Middle East security via the ballot box. Bush invited the author, Natan Sharanksy, an Israeli Cabinet minister and former dissident, over to the White House for a chat, Time reports. Sharansky showed up; Bush, it turns out, hadn’t read the whole book.

The Weekly Standard lends its cover to an exhaustive (to put it kindly) takedown of the new Abraham Lincoln-was-gay-book, authored by the book’s original co-author, Philip Nobile. At the heart of the disgruntled Nobile’s argument is that his former partner C.A. Tripp crafted a distorted history by cutting-and-pasting parts of Lincoln’s past to fit his narrative while at the same time ripping off Nobile’s contribution to the project without attribution. Packed into the takedown are (we kid you not) all-important discussions such as “Did Honest Abe begin puberty at the ripe of age of nine?” and, if so, “Does that mean he likes men?” It’s hard to take this as anything more than a rueful manifesto on why one should never co-author a book.

(Interested in yet another riff on Lincoln? The New Republic has a book review in print, as well as an online essay by Andrew Sullivan.)

Finally, this week’s New Republic judges the integrity of the editorial pages at the conservative Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. While the Wall Street Journal donates its ink to the talking points of the Bush administration, the FT, writes TNR, bashes some White House policies and defends others. Thus, says TNR, so it is that the WSJ has been hostile towards New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s attempts to (gasp) clean up Wall Street — particularly the insurance industry. FT, on the other hand, named Spitzer its “Man of the Year.” TNR concludes, “Spitzer [blew the whistle] at a time when no one else was up to the task … Good for him for rising to the occasion. And good for honest conservatives for acknowledging it. Let’s hope the voters of New York do as well.”

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.