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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Leavenworth, ep.5: The Fight Continues

Final post from Eric Carpenter (FIU)  on Leavenworth. Thank to Eric for doing this.

Here are links to the prior posts: Prologue; Episode 1; Episode 2, Part I; Episode 2, Part II; Episode 3; Breaking News; Episode 4.

The series ends without a complete answer from the director on why the far-right has embraced Lorance (or Golsteyn or Gallagher). I think this is the reason: the far-right rejects counter-insurgency doctrine in general—even if they don’t recognize that they do.

The producers provide some new insights into this theory. They bring in some Vietnam vets to talk about how good it was back in the day when they could shoot up everything in sight. That wasn’t quite the case in Vietnam, but the rules of engagement then were very broad in some parts of the country for some periods of time (in some cases, those rules may have violated the laws of war). In contrast, while Lorance was in Afghanistan, the rules of engagement were as restrictive as they can get, only allowing force in self-defense.

Arguments about rules of engagement are sometimes reflected in buzz phrases like “We can’t send them over there with one hand tied behind their backs” or “his job was to bring his soldiers back alive.” Ultimately, the issue comes down to who assumes the risk of harm during interactions between soldiers and civilians—the soldiers, or the civilians. In counter-insurgency doctrine, the soldiers do.

Here is where I go that the producers do not. Those on the far-right tend to be very hierarchical, and this shifting of risk does not sit well, particularly when those on the far-right have a colonial vision of our relationship to the local civilians. Those local civilians are beneath them in the hierarchy. They, not we, should assume the risk. I think the producers recognize this to some extent because they spend a significant amount of time humanizing the local civilians, maybe trying to send the implicit message that their lives are worth the same as ours.

The far-right’s rejection of counter-insurgency is not new. The director includes the far-right’s reaction to those accused of committing atrocities in the village of My Lai in Vietnam, with clips from defenders of Lieutenant Calley where they echo Hannity’s current talking points. And we get a foreshadowing of the parallel between Nixon’s pardon of Lieutenant Calley and Trump’s pardon of Lorance.

This assignment of risk is an issue in community policing, too. Who should assume the risk of harm during an interaction between a citizen and a police officer? In many American communities, we see that police are trained to protect themselves first. The citizen assumes the risk. That assignment of risk is concerning for many advocates of police reform.

Ultimately, we know that the assignment of risk to civilians who live in contested battle spaces does not win counter-insurgencies. It didn’t work in Vietnam. It didn’t work in the early stages of Iraq.

In the context of this case, the argument about rules of engagement is a red herring. The issue here is that Lorance did not follow them. Strategic-level commanders make those decisions. We can’t have soldiers deciding that those rules only apply when they think they should.

Moving to a couple of different points, we do not get any resolution on the impact of Lorance’s sexual identity on this case. It looks like no one in his platoon knew about it. It appears to not have played a role in why he was prosecuted. I’m not even sure it played a role in why he went into the platoon with the attitude he did. The producer leaves us with the impression that the reason he went in with such an aggressive attitude had much more to do with him proving to the troops that he was a bad-ass platoon leader. He appeared to be overcompensating for his lack of a Ranger Tab and combat experience instead of trying to fit himself into some hyper-masculine stereotype.

I have been critical of Lorance in these posts, but here comes a bit of a defense. In this episode, we hear from Lorance’s squadron sergeant major. This senior noncommissioned officer who explains that Lorance was not set up to succeed. Usually, when leadership swaps out, the leaders do a “left seat, right seat ride.” The outgoing leader takes the incoming leader under his or her wing and shows him or her the ropes for a couple of weeks. That couldn’t happen here because the old leader was wounded and was not around to train Lorance. The sergeant major makes a good point, which is that the company commander should have done that training himself. The sergeant major is right. The company commander should have trained Lorance for a few days before sending him out. If he had, none of this might have happened.

Thanks, Howard, for the opportunity to comment on the show.

Here are links to all of Eric's posts:


Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 20, 2019 at 11:40 AM | Permalink


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