Tom Diaz

Archive for the ‘Expendable Youth’ Category

The Latest Aircraft Carrier is a rowboat

In Chicken Hawks and Other War Birds, Corruption, Cronatos Hybamper, Defense Spending, Ethics in Washington, Expendable Youth, Political Satire, politics, True Patriotism, War and Rumors of War, Washington Bureaucracy on January 9, 2017 at 3:11 pm

carrier-landing

“Now, the job we and the military writ large face is going to require funding. And lots of it. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. And don’t be shy about the numbers. We’ll get our foot into the door and shove it open from there. Those expensive experts are going to help us, whether they know it or not. Think big! If it helps, General, think of Cronatos Hybamper as chump change, lint in your pocket. The latest nuclear aircraft carrier is a rowboat. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

The Secretary nodded and smiled. General Sanders was like a hound on a new bone. He would be the perfect fulcrum at—what was the man always calling it—“the serendipitous yet decisive axis of intersecting strategic forces?” Gus Scoggins settled back into the limousine’s cushioned seat. It’s just wonderful, he thought, how God, apple pie, the axis of intersecting strategic forces, and the American security interest have a way of magically coming together in a way that helps those who help themselves to it.

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz

Secretary of Defense Gus Scoggins, the focus of the quoted passage from my novel Cronatos Hybamper, knew jack about things military when he was offered the post of Secretary of Defense. But he did understand how to make money out of opportunity. He was, after all, one of the richest men in America.

The new Secretary of Defense was happy to leave the strategic thinking to the generals, men like General Sanders, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What Scoggins saw clearly was that the Department of Defense is like a massive seed corn silo. And when the troubling, extraordinary incident spotted by Cronatos Hybamper came along, he was ready to take a giant shovel and start spreading the gullible taxpayers’ wealth among his friends in the technology-defense-industrial-mega-complex.

Scoggins knew that what goes around in defense funding circles would come back around to him and his many money interests sooner or later.

Read more about Scoggins and his wonderful tax milking machine in the novel. You can read a sample by clicking on the link below.

OPERATION LENTIL—A STEAMING BOWL OF RUSSIAN ETHNIC CLEANSING. SIDE DISHES? GROZNY AND ALEPPO

In Chechnya, Corruption, Cronatos Hybamper, Espionage, Expendable Youth, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Mass Incarceration, Political Satire, Putin, Russia, Russian Army, Russian Intelligence Operations, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, War and Rumors of War on December 22, 2016 at 7:00 pm

chechen-deportation-1944

A grainy old sepia photograph appeared on the screen. Soviet soldiers stood guard in the background as a line of civilians shuffled diagonally across the frame from right foreground to center left middle ground, where waited a chain of Studebaker trucks. A tangled heap of dead bodies lay in the left foreground.

“This picture captures everything you need to know about Operation Lentil. Soviet troops were sent into Chechnya on phony missions and positioned in key locations. Any Chechnyan men who were organized and could potentially resist the Soviets were diverted to fake work sites, where they were disarmed. On Red Army Day, February 23, 1944, the hammer of Operation Lentil fell. Chechnya was to be liquidated. Over half a million Chechnyans were rounded up, loaded onto trucks supplied by America to Russia for the war effort, dumped into the cars of freight trains, and transported to Central Asia. Tens of thousands were murdered intentionally or died as collateral damage during the transport. Many starved to death in their new homeland. Thirteen years later, in 1957, the Chechnyans were allowed to return, albeit to a shrunken and more tightly defined homeland. Most came back. Many have not been inclined to forgive and forget their exile.”

 From Cronatos Hybamper—An Extraordinary Incident

By Tom Diaz

This brief fictional discussion by a fictional CIA operations officer of real history—Operation Lentil—serves as a fulcrum, a plot device in Cronatos Hybamper. If Bad Old Stalinist Russia could deport an entire nation, what would fictional President Gribov’s New Russia be capable of?

Readers of Cronatos Hybamper find out the answer in the next few pages of the novel.

One doubts that those who will be in charge of American foreign policy on February 23, 2017—the 73d anniversary of Operation Lentil—will give much thought to Operation Lentil or its implications, if, indeed, they have even heard of it at all. One suspects that if the history of this horrible episode is somehow brought to the attention of the plutocratic old boys who will be running the American side show, it will be sent straight down the memory hole. (cf: Orwell, George, 1984.)

Pity.

Operation Lentil was an axial point in history, when Russia turned from the level of harsh brutality in which all nations fighting real or perceived insurgencies inevitably engage to the impudence of ruthlessly obliterating innocent men, women, and children with the sledge-hammer of the unaccountable state.

The fever has subsided but not gone away.

The Chechen case fits snugly into Max Boot’s observation. “The transition from politically motivated to religiously motivated insurgency—from leftist to Islamist extremism—was the product of decades, even centuries of development.” Max Boot, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013), p. 481.

The violent line marking this transition in Chechnya began early in the 18th century, when Czarist Russia first confronted the fierce mountain people of the North Caucasus. Imperial Russia quieted but never really subdued these people, and the Soviet Empire had only marginally greater success.

The Chechens and other independent-minded “small peoples” of the Northern Caucasus really annoyed Stalin and his thugs. Stalin and his creepy secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria invented the myth of Chechen cooperation with Hitler’s Nazi army to “justify” the wholesale exile of Chechens and others. The stunning brutality of Stalin’s deportations, of which the Chechens were numerically the greatest, was meticulously documented by Robert Conquest in The Nation Killers: The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities (New York, Macmillan, 1970). It is the kind of story in which statistics overwhelm human tragedy.

From the Stalinist cleansing of Operation Lentil the Chechen transformation continued through Russia’s two modern wars (1994-96, 1999-2009), all the way to the Chechens who are fighting in Aleppo today. The Chechen wars followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and began as a political fight over whether or not Chechnya (known by various tongue-twisting names) could withdraw from the New Improved Russia. The Russians thought not. Yeltsin was sick, drunk, and ineffective. Putin was ruthless, sober, and very effective.

There are a number of sources about this whole line of history, some listed below, but there is a fine summary of the two modern wars in Max Boot’s Invisible Armies:

The Russians invaded in 1994 and pulled out in 1996, stymied by Chechen guerrillas who, like their nineteenth-century predecessors, resisted to the death. But the Russian army returned in 1999 to subdue the breakaway province using scorched-earth tactics. An estimated 100,000 Chechens were killed out of a prewar population of just a million…Perhaps 20,000 Russian soldiers also perished.

 Russia’s success in Chechnya…showed that even in the twenty-first century a brutal approach could work as long as the counterinsurgents did not care about world opinion and were operating on their home soil, where they enjoyed a de facto level of legitimacy… (p. 514)

Two clear consequences.

One, Chechen fighters are today waging jihad. There is even a blog, the bona fides of which I do not know or care to endorse, but yet exists and “tracks North Caucasian militants in Syria and Iraq and the impact of their participation in the Syrian battlefield on the insurgency in the North Caucasus.”

Two, the brutal methods Putin’s various military forces learned and applied in Chechnya are being repeated today in Syria. See these articles, for example:

“Putin Is Playing by Grozny Rules in Aleppo,” by Mark Galeotti, Foreign Policy, September 29, 2016

A city blasted into rubble, its civilians fleeing, hiding, or simply dying in the ruins while a world looks on in horror. Bombs spilling from Russian warplanes and shells and rockets thundering from Russian guns and launchers. Today this is a portrait of Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Not long ago, it was Grozny, the capital of Chechnya.

Anyone trying to understand Russia’s military strategy in Syria would be wise to examine the heavy-handed methods Vladimir Putin used during his first war as Russia’s commander in chief, the bloody Second Chechen War, which lasted from 1999 to 2000 (even if sporadic small-scale violence never really stopped). These are very different wars, fought in different ways by different forces, but they nonetheless highlight one central aspect of Putin’s approach to fighting insurgents: the value of brutality.

And.

“Putin in Syria: Chechnya All Over Again,” by Oliver Bullough, The New York Times, Oct. 11, 2016

 If moderate Syrians, the kind of people the West might seek to build a movement around, remain in the country, the Russian government can help Mr. Assad destroy them.

This is what Mr. Putin did in Chechnya, where his security services picked off anyone worth negotiating with. The rebel leaders who lived longest were the fanatics, driven by rage and perverted Islam. They sent traumatized women to blow themselves up on the streets of Moscow, or attacked soft targets — a school, a theater, a concert. Every atrocity blackened their cause, conferred greater legitimacy on Mr. Putin’s allies and ensured less sympathy for his victims.

In addition to the Robert Conquest and Max Boot books noted above, here are some other sources I referred to in whole or in part in researching this and related passages of Cronatos Hybamper (and the prequel which I am writing now):

Czarist Period

The classic history (in the public domain and thus available in a reprint version) is John Frederick Badderley, The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1908).

Leo Tolstoy fought in the Caucasus and, among other things, wrote the wonderful novel Hadji Murad. (I read Hadji Murad as the best kind of satire—just recounting the things that important people actually think and do.)

The Recent Wars

Mark Galeotti, Russia’s Wars in Chechnya 1994-2009 (New York: Osprey Publishing, 2014). An excellent package of the historical roots and military aspects of these two wars.

Olga Oliker, Russia’s Chechen Wars 1994-2000 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2001). As the title indicates, this monograph ends before the second war did. Based to a large extent on Russian press clippings.

People Who Were There

Arkady Babchenko, One Soldier’s War (New York: Grove Press, 2007). Babchenko fought in both wars and this kaleidoscopic book makes sense best if one has an overall grasp of the period he writes about.

Andrew Meier, Chechnya—To the Heart of a Conflict (New York: Norton, 2005). Classic and admirable journalism, going in harm’s way to report the beast.

Anna Politkovskaya, A Small Corner of Hell—Dispatches from Chechnya (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003). One of the searing truth-tellings that ultimately cost this brave, brave woman her life. Grim to despair in its details of the impact on little people of the Putin way of war in Chechnya.

Context

Masha Gessen, The Man Without a Face—The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012). Another brave woman, eventually driven out of Russia, recounts the rise of Putin, including his exploitation of war in Chechnya.

Masha Gessen, The Brothers—The Road to an American Tragedy (New York: Riverhead Bo0oks, 2015). The story of the Boston Marathon bombers. Useful background on the pinball world of refugees, but in my opinion, Gessen wades into over her head in her discussion of the prosecution’s case and appears apologetic in her naïve discussion about the supposed difficulties of constructing a pressure cooker bomb and the government’s damning evidence.

Paul J. Murphy, Allah’s Angels—Chechen Women in War (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010). Snipers, bombers, and other fighters who were women.

RUSSIAN ARMY HAZING AND BRUTALITY–FACT OR FICTION?

In Chechnya, Cronatos Hybamper, Espionage, Expendable Youth, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Political Satire, PTSD, Russia, Russian Army, War and Rumors of War on December 19, 2016 at 4:31 pm

russian-soldiers-marching

Yaichki Verblyuzh’yego’s population consisted of a few merchants, a variable number of randomly appearing nomadic herders, the soldiers of a recently augmented Border Guards post, and the members of a highly secret “scientific detachment” who had arrived some months ago. The order of the day among the Border Guards troops consisted primarily of heavy drinking, routine beating of the enlisted men by the officers, bullying of newcomers by the enlisted men, and smuggling of contraband by the more ambitious soldiers, including Private Golodyayev.

From Tom Diaz, Cronatos Hybamper–An Extraordinary Incident.

Are Russian soldiers really routinely beaten and hazed?

Or is the quoted passage from the novel Cronatos Hybamper just some smart-ass creative writing, tinged with a bit of smug Russia-bashing?

Well, yes. Russian soldiers are in fact routinely abused. It’s an institution called “dedovshchina.” It occurs on a scale and with a degree of brutality that makes the very worst flap about U.S. Marine Corps boot camp look mild.

This small detail, nestled in what is merely a descriptive passage, is an example of the research that underlies the characters, events, and asserted facts in Cronatos Hybamper. Yes, it’s fiction, but it’s grounded in and creatively spun from facts.

Russian army veteran Arkady Babchenko, who served in both Chechen wars, describes in detail the beatings that he and his buddies suffered routinely. (In fact, if Babchenko’s book has any flaw, it’s that he talks about the beatings so often that one is tempted to skip over the beatings to get to the routine fratricide parts.)

Here’s his vivid description of one beating he got from a veteran who was demanding (extorting) money from him:

He gets up and punches me in the nose, from below, hard. The bridge of my nose crunches and my lips become warm and sticky. I lick the blood from them and spit it out on the floor. The second blow hits me under the eye, then I take one in the teeth. I fall with a moan. I can’t say it hurt that much, but it’s best to moan loudly so the beating stops sooner.

This time it’s no joke the way Timokha gets worked up. He kicks me and screams: “Why didn’t you bring the money, fucker? Why didn’t you bring the money?”

He makes me do push-ups and when I’m on my way up he kicks me in the teeth with a dirty boot. He catches me hard and my head snaps back. I lose my bearings for a moment, my left arm collapses under me and I fall on my elbow. My split lip gushes onto the floor, and I spit out blood and the polish that I had scraped off Timokha’s boot with my teeth.

Arkady Babchenko, One Soldier’s War (New York: Grove Press)

You can also find confirmation in no less an authority than Russiapedia, which is an outlet of the flatulent Russian state organ, Russia Today:

Dedovshchina, or hazing, is rooted in the Russian word ded, or grandfather, and stands for the major form of internal violence in the Russian army. It is exercised by soldiers serving their last year of compulsory military service against new conscripts.

Dedovshchina is a set of painful, humiliating rituals, exploitation, torture, bullying and beatings for insubordination.

Grim statistics

In 2006, the New York Times reported that at least 292 Russian soldiers were murdered whilst undergoing dedovshchina (officially the figure is 16, still a national outrage in most countries) and that there had been 3500 reports of abuse up until August that year. The brutality also has huge consequential effects. Hundreds of soldiers, terrified of when their next – and possibly last -beating will come, commit suicide.

Hundreds more attempt suicide, contemplate it or are reduced to nervous wrecks by the experience. Thousands desert. Some are armed and have shot other soldiers in revenge or shoot the ones sent to bring them back. Some trek months across Russia to try and get back to their families or to charities.

And here is a passing reference from a 2001 RAND report by Olga Oliker for the United States Army, titled Russia’s Chechen Wars 1994-2000: Lessons from Urban Combat:

The brutal hazing for which the Russian armed forces are infamous continued even on the front lines. One young Grozny veteran survived several battles unscathed, only to land in the hospital with a broken jaw bestowed on him by his “comrades.” (P. 59)

Human Rights Watch discussed the consequences in its report on the problem:

The Consequences of Dedovshchina

Dedovshchina has devastating and lasting consequences for the physical and psychological well-being of conscripts. Tens of thousands of young conscripts try to flee their units every year because of the abuses associated with it, some armed and ready to kill themselves and others if they are apprehended. Every year dedovshchina proves lethal for some conscripts, while many others sustain permanent physical injuries as a result of it. Hundreds of conscripts commit suicide each year to escape it, and many more attempt to do so.

Desperate for a Way Out

Every year, dedovshchina drives tens of thousands of first-year conscripts to desperation, reflected in the radical options they try to escape it. Consider, for example, Denis Ivanov. He told Human Rights Watch that he contemplated intentionally breaking a leg so that he would be hospitalized and could leave his unit for a while. Or Aleksei K.: He wanted to volunteer for Chechnya to get away from the dedovshchina at his unit. He told Human Rights Watch that he never thought what the situation would be like there: “I just thought: at least I won’t be here.” Other conscripts said that they became consumed by a desire to kill or seriously injure their tormentors. Stepan M., for example, said that he dreamed of getting up at night and hitting one of the dedy with a stool “with great force so he would never wake up.” Alexander D., as we have seen, contemplated suicide as an escape from the abuses. These four conscripts eventually chose to run away from their units, as do most conscripts who cannot stand life in their units any more.

If your stomach is up for it, there are videos of dedovshchina available online.

France 24 aired a 2011 report titled “Death by bullying: extreme hazing in Russia’s army.”

http://observers.france24.com/en/20110905-death-bullying-extreme-hazing-russia-army-military-service-recruit-dedovshchina

There are also a number of videos posted on YouTube that purport to be examples of the problem. I can’t personally vouch for their authenticity, but they look real to me. Here are some links:

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