Iraq: the Army’s Symphonist Replies

On January 25 I had a piece on Counterpunch called ‘Iraq as Disneyland’. It drew the usual number of supportive emails and three ill-spelt comical notes of reproach saying that I am a commy-loving raghead bastard, amongst other things. As always, I replied cheerfully to the polite people, and in contacting the nutters used the phrase “Thank you for your comments which have received the attention they merit.” (In cases of particularly appalling grammar I usually add, “but next time you write to someone, please have your mommy or daddy or your teacher help you.” This drives them crazy.) But this time I also received an email from one of the subjects of my disapproval. Lieutenant Colonel Tim Ryan, USA, took me to task for my comments, to which, no doubt, he gave the attention he considers they merit.

What I wrote about LtCol Ryan was:

“Maybe Disneyland should create a Falluja display to include real dogs eating real human corpses and happy Iraqis wandering round the rubble with Goofy to fill dirty cans with even filthier water. Perhaps LtCol Malay could act as technical advisor to Disney on how to present slaughter and destruction attractively. He could be joined by the carefree LtCol Tim Ryan who (blogger Billmon points out) had a piece in the Tacoma News Tribune on January 18 describing his happy life : “From where I sit in Iraq, things are not all bad right now. In fact, they are going quite well . . . In the distance, I can hear the repeated impacts of heavy artillery and five-hundred-pound bombs hitting their targets. The occasional tank main gun report and the staccato rhythm of a Marine Corps LAV or Army Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s 25-millimeter cannon provide the bass line for a symphony of destruction.”

How poetic. How liberating. How psychotic.”


In his email to me (“Classification : UNCLASSIFIED ; Caveats : NONE”) Colonel Ryan objects to being called psychotic. Indeed I would object to being called psychotic. Who wouldn’t? But since there are no caveats concerning his communication I think it reasonable that his views be given wider dissemination. Here it is:


You obviously have a political drum to beat and that seems to have clouded your understanding of warfare. I see by your bio that you’ve served in the military, but have you served in Iraq? Do you really know what we’re up against here are you just reading someone else’s views on the subject?

Let me start by reminding you that wars are terrible things. Women, children, men and animals get killed in wars, less so now than ever before, but it happens none the less. Houses, stores and lives get destroyed. This should be no surprise to anyone. War brings tragedy to many lives. If war was easy or bloodless, everyone would have a war.

War is difficult because in war, one side is trying to change the behaviour and alliances and ultimately to impose their will on the other side. People don’t change easily. The same people who were assassinating Iraqis and running one of the most corrupt and vicious dictatorships in history are the same ones we are fighting now. You want to know why we are still fighting them? Because we weren’t heavy handed coming in. We didn’t try to completely obliterate this country which is what it would have taken to kill — yes I said kill — all of the hard core members of the former regime. We tried to be relative nice guys as far as wars go to avoid as much suffering as possible.

The result was there were a lot of bad guys still left at the end of the big push in April 2003.

Then, we tried to win them over by rebuilding schools and sewer systems, etc. We tried to win the hearts and minds, so to speak. The corruption and hatred of some runs so deep that they sabotaged our efforts instead of embracing them. We built youth centers, government buildings, and employment offices only to have the enemy blow them up. We’ve worked to rebuild a formerly corrupt police and military system only to have the enemy specifically target those individuals because the enemy knows these security forces the biggest threat to their survival. No, these are not nice guys we’re dealing with here. They are the most ruthless, cold-blooded murders [sic] I’ve ever seen.

So, if the people in Fallujah are upset about their houses being blown up, and they are understandably, then let’s remind them why we had to conduct operations in there in the first place. Many seem to forget that we were nice guys back in April and we gave them the city to run. We were hands off for six months. In that time that city became a model for what the rest of the country would look like if we did the same thing. It was a haven for terrorist of the first order. The corruption in the police and security forces was rampant and the locals had begun to establish a radical Taliban-like government in the city. So much for being a nice guy. Sometimes the only way to change the behavior of someone like that is to kill them. That doesn’t sound nice, but that’s a fact. This is a war, let’s not forget that.

In closing, you can rant and rave as you like on your website, we have ensured that right, but I encourage you to stop and think about this with a little perspective and historical backing. This has been the most benevolent take over in history and we are now paying the price for that. I’ve heard the question asked: Is Iraq the way it is because of Saddam Hussien [sic], or is Saddam Hussien [sic] the way he is because of Iraq? After 382 days in this country trying to use all of the tools available, I’m beginning to believe the latter.

LTC Tim Ryan
Commander, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry

PS: While I’m am sometimes eccentric, I am far from being psychotic, thank
you very much.”


I replied to him politely, of course. And I won’t comment much on his email save to say that I am confused by the fact that in his letter to the Tacoma News Tribune he was enthusiastic about the progress of his war. He wrote that “From where I sit in Iraq, things are not all bad right now. In fact, they are going quite well.” I don’t think this is apparent from reading his email reproduced above, but perhaps I missed something.

And I am gratified but intrigued by his assertion that “we have ensured [the] right” for me to be able to publish my observations on world affairs. I hadn’t a notion that my right to speak and write freely was dependant on anyone’s approval. I didn’t realize that any activities on the part of the Bush administration had ensured or even furthered freedom of speech around the world. And for the life of me I can’t see how bashing Iraqis (even if they are “ruthless cold-blooded murderers”) is in some way ensuring my right to call Bush a lying prat if I want to, which I do.

But one learns something new every day. And so long as we have people in the US military who truly believe that “Sometimes the only way to change the behavior of someone like that is to kill them”, we’ll all live in lovely peaceful freedom, won’t we?

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.