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Veterans Drifting to the Dark World of Conspiracies

I’ve been thinking about how to accurately communicate this for awhile now, and the best I can come up with is to be blunt:

The veteran community has a problem with losing our own down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories that gets them in trouble.

I’m not talking about the sometimes antagonistic ramblings of conservative or liberal veterans. I’m talking about the ones who go off the deep end, who jump over the White House fence to warn the President about the “atmosphere collapsing.” I’m talking about Navy veteran Chris Dorner and his wild manifesto. I’m talking about your war-buddies who casually call for the internment or genocide of all Muslims on social media. The ones who lash out at you or call you naive if you disagree with them that 9/11 was an inside job.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched a number of my buddies – intelligent, good people – start drifting towards the dark edge of the internet. At first, this manifested itself innocently enough – angry rants about the civilian-military divide or the cheapening of modern culture and the indifference of the media towards things that matter. Over time, that morphed into links to “false flag” operations and whispered hints and giddiness at prepping for a coming inevitable revolution.

At first, I ignored it mostly, understanding that some people tend to gravitate towards conspiracy almost like a hobby. Growing up, it is fun to explore conspiracies like aliens at Roswell or the search for Bigfoot or Loch Ness Monster.

It hit home for me when a personal friend and combat veteran started drifting down that path. I spent years sporadically trying to convince him that he was not the “chosen one” to warn people of a coming apocalypse.

When I spoke with someone about my friend, they said what I was describing sounded a lot like the plot of the 2006 film BugWhen I finally got around to watching it, it felt like some of the dialogue was lifted right out of the mouths and Facebook postings of veteran friends. I wish the exchange below was available online, because it is delivered brilliantly in a manic, quickly strung together manner. In the scene, Peter, a war veteran who believes he is being tracked by the government, is explaining to Agnes what he believes is going on – this is his world:

Peter Evans: Listen! Listen! If you want to know what is going on, you have to listen to me! You have to! Because you don’t 269233_10100281334884626_713066802_nknow the fucking ENORMITY of what we’re dealing with! Listen: May 29th, 1954, the consortium of bankers, industrialists, corporate CEO’s and politicians held a series of meetings over three days at the Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, Holland… they drew up a plan for maintaining the “status quo.”

Agnes White: What’s that?

Peter Evans: It’s “the way things are” – it’s “the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.” They devised a plan to manipulate technology, economics, the media, population control, world religion, to keep things the way they are. And they have continued to meet once a year, every year, since the original meeting. Look it up! Under their orders, the CIA had smuggled Nazi scientists into the States to work with the American military and Calspan, developing an inter-epidermal tracking microchip.

Agnes White: A what?

Peter Evans: It’s a surveillance tool. It’s a microchip that’s been implanted in the skin of every human being born on the planet since 1982. The test group for the prototype was the People’s Temple! And when the Reverend Jim Jones threatened to expose them, he and every member of his church were assassinated!

After it was revealed that the White House fence jumper was an Iraq War veteran and may be suffering from PTSD, the Minutemen quickly assembled and began to fire warnings off about linking PTSD to violence – in this case, jumping over the White House fence being considered a violent act. When it was revealed that Mr. Gonzalez was trying to warn the President about the “failing atmosphere” so he could “get the word out” my mind instantly raced back to friends I see posting links to off-the-wall blogs with 5,000 word diatribes about this or that conspiracy.

Last year, I posted about the movie Jacob’s Ladder. In that film, a group of Vietnam veterans believe they are being chased by demons. They become paranoid and only find solace in one another because together they are able to confirm the existence of the demons. While that film isn’t about conspiracy or even veterans per se (it’s a psychological horror) it captures some of the zeitgeist of what I think is going on in a small segment of the veteran community. The stuff folks find online and take to believing becomes real when other veterans egg them on and agree (and click ‘like’) – a special few who “get it” while the rest of us remain brainwashed.

What really bothers me about this phenomenon is that it seems uncrackable. Anytime I’ve tried to intervene or explain I’ve been either lashed out at or dismissed as naive. I think there is an easy reaction to explain it all away as a function of mental illness, and while that may be the case for some, I’m not convinced that drifting towards conspiracy means someone is mentally ill. I’ve seen too many well-adjusted, successfully transitioning veterans slide in that direction.

The purpose of writing this is a hope that by acknowledging that “something is going on,” something can be done. I really don’t know what it is, but my hunch through experience is there is a link between military service and drifting towards conspiracy. I’ve always thought that one of the things that makes military service so special – and what makes the transition to civilian so difficult – is the feeling of being important and the center of attention when you’re in the service. Once you get out, you really don’t matter much anymore (in a grand, geo-political way) and conspiracy is a way to keep you “in the game.”

From here, it’s left to the experts to figure out what is actually happening.

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Stop saying “boots on the ground”

I hate the term “boots on the ground.” I’m not sure when or where it originated, but it’s been used with more frequency lately in discussions about potential deployments to Iraq to battle “Daesh.”

What bothers me about the term is the almost playful way it is tossed around. We don’t discuss with any seriousness the mobilization of hundreds or thousands of troops or the costs involved – both before, during, and after the conflict. All of that is reduced to the childlike physical imagery of “boots on the ground.”

Instead of that throw-away term, it would be better and more useful to talk about how we plan on committing ground forces in a straightforward matter without metaphor or simple imagery. What is usually meant when someone says “no boots on the ground” or that “we need boots on the ground” is the commitment of ground maneuver forces, whether they be infantry, armor, or special forces.

I recognize that “boots on the ground” as a term is easily digestible for a media-saturated public and it gives anchors and editors a great lede or headline. “Boots on the ground” is media-ready in the ilk of “wardrobe malfunction” and “thinspiration.” The commitment of ground forces – or any forces, for that matter – is one deserving a deeper discussion.

Further, there are serious ethical questions worth exploring on why it is palatable to take military action so long as there are no “boots on the ground.” Technology has developed to the point where we can pursue fairly robust military action without significant – if any – “boots on the ground.”

Lastly, whenever I hear the term, I think of this:

top search of the week

Prose about death

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Week ending September 21, 2014

A number of search terms relating to prose and death brought readers to the blog this past week. A welcome respite from the usual suspects.

Earlier this year, I posted an excerpt from the book The Short-Timers – which is the basis for my favorite movie, Full Metal Jacket. The title of that post is Death Prose and the excerpt goes on to describe the moment of death for one of the central characters – and also a major deviation from the movie’s plot.

I suspect that someone vaguely remembered the post and was searching for it, resulting in the wide shot group of prose and death hits.

video games

Magic and Steel: The Predator Drone as Magitek Armor

Predator

Something fun for the weekend.

One of my favorite pieces of music from the Final Fantasy series is ‘Devil’s Lab,’ which is the mechanical theme played while exploring the Magitek factory in Final Fantasy VI. Magitek armor, for those not in the know, is the fusion of magic and technology to create a powerful weapon.

I don’t know what gave me the thought, but as we soar into the future, I can’t help but think that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or “drones” as we commonly know them, are our Magitek armor. It’s the fusion of all of our best technologies to create a beautiful and deadly machine, without too much thought given towards the ethics of the matter.

If I were to visit a drone factory, this is the music I’d expect to hear.

In drafting this post, I listened to a lot of different version of ‘Devil’s Lab.’ This one, done 8-Bit style, was the most interesting.

Cyberwar, as it were, will be waged to ‘Circumambient‘ by Grimes.

The picture is a promotional still from Horse Volume, the studio behind the upcoming game ‘The Sun Also Rises.’

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Rage Against Women

w6u-gender-she-s-so-hot-right-now-genderGender, she’s so hot right now.

Gender.

In the past few weeks, two worlds that I follow closely have mirrored each other: women in video games and women in the military. The role of women and the way women are treated have been the topic du jour in both circles and in many ways, that interest has manifested itself through gender-bashing in both cultures, at least online.

A couple of weeks ago, a piece written by Brian Adam Jones for Task & Purpose (The Sexist Facebook Movement the Marine Corps Can’t Stop) garnered a lot of attention in military circles. In that piece, Jones calls out the numerous military culture sites – mostly on Facebook – that feature misogynistic material often shared by active duty service-members. Many of those sites share pictures of currently serving female service-members in a completely inappropriate “hot or not” style. On those sites women aren’t taken seriously as service-members, and are often referred to with demeaning memes and images. There’s a “pile on” effect that goes on, with hundreds and sometimes thousands of users jumping in, sharing and liking to create the effect of an exclusive male community where women just aren’t welcome.

While this was going on, in the video game world, #GamerGate was unfolding. The whole GamerGate thing is complicated (you can read more about it here or take a trip down the rabbit hole), but it essentially boils down to a lot of the same stuff that is happening in military circles. That is, the culture is starting to wrestle with the role of women in what has been (until now) a traditionally male-dominated culture. There are movements of angry young men (and some women) who accuse certain gamers and game journalists of pursuing a “social justice” agenda in the video gaming community and that video games themselves, and to a lesser degree, the culture surrounding games, are the ultimate victim in this struggle.

Article after article is being written about women in the infantry or women going to Ranger School. And article after article is being written about women’s role in games, how they are depicted and how they are treated as players.

The major things these worlds have in common are their traditionally male-dominated cultures, a changing social dynamic where spaces once denied to women are gradually being opened, and a vicious internet culture that aggressively attacks “outsiders.”

In the case of the military, there have been standing regulations against women serving in certain roles. As those regulations have changed, the military has adapted and grown. With the exception of the unregulated social media spaces, that growth has been, for the most part, responsible and professional.

In the gaming world, however, there are no such rules prohibiting women from participating. There are just norms. Norms that say gaming is a male space and that space is policed by (mostly) male gamers.

“The Fappening” confirms their tenet that men, not pretty girls, are what makes the world—or at least the internet—go around. It confirms that they know more about technology, and privacy, and basic iCloud maintenance. It reassures them that the web is a patriarchal place, that the biggest risks in online life apply not to them but to nubile young women, who, granted the power of sex appeal, risk losing it all when that sex appeal is publicly distributed.
Roisin Kiberd (Vice)

Modern military culture and gaming culture are strikingly similar. Especially online. As I’ve written about before, gaming is no longer an obscure hobby for nerds in the military. Everyone’s gaming, and the soldiers who aren’t are the weird ones. Gaming culture bleeds into military culture, and to a lesser extent, the opposite might also be true (I’d argue by its sheer size, gaming culture is more dominant than military culture).

I think a lot of the anger and aggressive language probably stems from a similar place for both cultures – that is, a fear of losing one of the “last all-boys clubs.” Whether it be the infantry or Call of Duty, these have been spaces dominated by men, and inside them, as female marine Capt. Serrano elegantly writes, men “…can fart, burp, tell raunchy jokes, walk around naked, swap sex stories, wrestle, and simply be young men together.”

While she isn’t lying, she’s telling the “Little Rascals” version of what actually happens. “Raunchy jokes” is a polite way of putting it. The conversations that take place in an all-male infantry unit is an ultimate “ungoverned space.” Similarly, the relative anonymity provided during a Gears of War death-match tempts (mostly) young men to say whatever it is they want, which for whatever reason, is usually anti-women and anti-gay. When that rhetoric shifts online to social media- in both military and gaming cultures – it manifests itself in threats of violence and rape, usually as “just a joke.”

It all feels like a friction point in a long, long ideological struggle. To rage against women – whether it be in video games or the military – feels terribly backwards, and I can’t imagine a future where anyone will look back on this moment in time and nod approvingly at that behavior. This silly process is probably a painful but necessary step in moving this whole thing forward.

video games

How a 1990s Strategy Game Predicted the Birth of ISIS

jake-busey-contact

Okay, that was a ridiculous headline.

But I’ve been thinking lately about Civilization II, a game that I spent countless hours playing in my attic room during summer vacations. I enjoyed taking a civilization from its infancy and growing it into the space age, trying my best to satisfy my bloodlust through war while being sure to keep some other civilizations alive to keep things interesting.

As the game progresses, from the stone age through medieval times to the present and beyond, I was always perplexed by the emergence of the ‘fanatic’ unit type. Usually towards the end of the play-through, when my civilization was technologically advanced and beginning to explore space, ‘fanatic’ units began to populate. They were a kind of dismounted infantry. They sucked at fighting and were easy to destroy. But they were annoying, destabilizing, and a distraction.

They came from governments that shifted to the ‘fundamentalist’ type. The fanatic units were aggressive and cared little for self-preservation.

As a teenager, I never really understood why such ‘backwards’ units would emerge. In the years before 9/11, I always pictured them as the Jake Busey-from-Contact type of fundamentalist, not the al Qaeda/ISIS variety. Still, they were attacking my mechanized infantry with waves of untrained ‘fanatics’ and it was annoying.

It’s interesting now to think of the ‘fundamentalist fanatic’ as a reaction to the civilization that’s sending men to the moon, but also working towards keeping the “other” civilizations at bay and away.

soldiering

The Officer Separation Board and the Junior Officer Exodus

“Also, how I distrust neat designs of life that are drawn upon half-sheets of note paper.”
The Waves

The line above is from the play-poem The Waves by Virginia Woolf. It is one from among many great lines, but that one reminded me of something I had written about before, which is the dismal realization that a successful military career fits neatly on a single sheet of paper or PowerPoint slide. That is to say, a military career places you on a rail cart that has very few deviations along the way. One can predict with reasonable certainty, the next twenty years. In order to stay on that rail cart, you simply have to outperform most of your peers and make zero mistakes.

For twenty years.

The fallout from this summer’s Officer Separation Board is pretty much over, as far as I can tell. A few articles were written about it, the most prominent, I think, the back and forth that occurred on The Best Defense in, uh, defense of or against MAJ Slider.

And it looks like there will likely be more “force shaping” events, like Officer Separation Boards, in the future.

It creates an additional consideration for junior officers whose initial service commitments usually expire within 4-to-6 years of joining. Part of the equation of whether to “get out” or “stay in” will likely be where they think they’ll stack up in a potential, possibly fictional, future Officer Separation Board – something I’m sure the group that just went through it didn’t think they’d ever have to face – especially not during wartime. Not only will the junior officer have to weigh things like job satisfaction, benefits, and service when considering whether to get out or stay in, but how he or she thinks they stand when lotty-dotty-errbody is considered for separation and someone has to go.

A majority of those who were cut had something derogatory in their file, as seems to be the case with MAJ Slider. Getting promoted and moving along the rail cart is no promise of suddenly having that rail cart kicked over by Uncle Sam if the need to reduce numbers comes along.

Future OSBs may not have the luxury of cutting the low-hanging fruit (derogatory marks on file). Cuts might need to be made much deeper, especially if the force reductions become more severe.

Back to the pondering junior officer, the calculus that goes into whether to stay in or get out not only considers if you’ve messed up, but includes a calculation as to whether you can maintain zero-defects and glowing reviews indefinitely. Otherwise, the axe may be inching nearer.

Among military circles, the military “brain drain” or junior officer exodus has been a recurring topic of discussion. To a junior officer trying to determine if it makes sense to stay in for a full career, the prospect of future OSBs will surely factor into that decision making practice, likely tipping the decision towards getting out.

I’m of the mind that military service is just that – service – and there should be no hard and fast expectations of what one is “owed” in terms of future employment. That said, it would be foolish to ignore the things going on in the background and making the best decision possible given all of the relevant facts, with a little bit of voodoo and reading the tea leaves when appropriate.

video games

Saving Catiua

Catiua Suicide

Catiua’s suicide.

I’m still slogging through Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. I’ve finally reached a point in the game that I remember reaching the first time I played it and abandoned it. I know I am nearing the end. Or, at least, I think I am nearing the end. When I played originally, I followed the Law route (which means you know what I did at Balamusa). I eventually got to the part where Catiua kills herself in front of you. It was pretty heavy stuff for the the fifteen year old me. Shortly thereafter, I stopped playing.

The other day, I finally rescued Catiua only to see her kill herself again. The game let me save just before the dialogue and I was presented with a couple of choices on what to say, which hinted at alternate outcomes. I took a deep breath, and before I continued with the game, I decided to reset it and see what would happen if I chose a different dialogue option.

Given the two options of dialogue, I chose the “other” one, which kept the conversation going a little longer opening up a second pair of dialogue options. I chose the option that I thought most natural, and she killed herself a second time.

I reloaded again, a lá All You Need Is Kill / Edge of Tomorrow and went through the dialogue again, choosing the “other” option again, which resulted in Catiua collapsing and apologizing, and most importantly, not committing suicide.

A new cut-scene appeared and Catiua joined the party. I saved the game and went to lunch.

There, I started to regret resetting the game (twice!) in order to make sure Catiua joined. One of the things I love about Tactics Ogre (and Mass Effect) is how your in-game decisions have lasting effects. The in-game dialogue options hinted to me that there may have been a way to save Catiua – whom I assumed always killed herself on the Law route from my first play through over ten years ago. As I finished my lunch, I felt guilty for having made the wrong decision that led Catiua to kill herself and not accepting that fate and replaying it for a more favorable outcome.

The game, now, feels a bit skewed. I’ll finish it out, and once complete, there is an option to go back and make different decisions to “see what happens” and fully explore the game. That’ll be the first thing I do. But I feel a bit like an impostor.

The whole episode is similar to the death/saving of Shadow in Final Fantasy VI, which gets a great write-up over at the A.V. Club. In the era of GameFAQs, it is getting harder and harder to be surprised in video games anymore. Perma-death and game-changing decisions are still too easy to avoid or double-back over. Despite resetting the game to get the result I wanted, I know I would have enjoyed this part more if I would have accepted the consequences of my initial decision, which is why I did what I did at Balamusa, by the way. It’s also why I will forever “Tell them I held the line…

It’s all a bit complicated. I thought it interesting and I wanted to get it down here before I forgot about it. There’s so much to say about Tactics Ogre – a very adult game, way before it’s time.

 

top search of the week

American Infidel

American Infidel M4

Week ending August 31, 2014

The top search of the week was american infidel. As I’ve written before, most of the traffic that comes to this site comes through my posts about the use of the word ‘infidel.’ A variation of the search term is usually responsible for bringing people here.

This is the first time that american infidel  topped out the list. A quick Google search shows that the top hits are a clothing line, a motorcycle club, and a Facebook page for the clothing line (with over 350,000 ‘likes’). You can click through all that if you want. You’ll find exactly what you’d expect, if you’ve been following this trend the way I have.

What’s becoming more interesting about the infidel  phenomena is how it is spreading outside of the military realm. Most of my posts on the subject have been geared towards the military and veteran community. Looking through some of those sites, it’s clear that regular joe-schmo Americans are starting to identify themselves as infidels, which is both absurd and troubling.

On the topic, On Violence had a post last week on the topic that gives a nice shout out to Carrying the Gun. It’s worth checking out, as their analysis is always good and usually more biting than mine.