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Obama hit with friendly fire

中国日报网 2013-02-05 14:45

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Reader question:

Please explain this headline: Obama Hit With Friendly Fire on Economy, Climate Change from Bill Clinton, Al Gore. In particular, friendly fire?

My comments:

This simply means that US President Barack Obama was criticized by two members of his own party, i.e. two unlikely sources.

You see, both Bill Clinton, a former President and Al Gore, a former Vice-President are from the Democrat Party, as is Obama. Normally, Obama will not expect any public criticism on policy (in this case over the economy and climate change) from one of his own party, let alone two of its prominent members at the same time.

Hence the analogy that he’s “hit with friendly fire”, likening it to the situation in the battlefield in which one is shot (fired) at by one of his fellow soldiers.

“Fire” refers to gunfire, not the fire on the stove in the kitchen. When people shoot with a pistol or rifle, they often say that one or many shots are “fired”. This understandably points to the fact that in the old days all fire arms used gun power as ammunition. Whenever a shot was fired, there was a flame of fire plus smoke shooting out of the tip of the gun.

“Friendly”, on the other hand, refers to the fact that this particular shot is fired from one of our own troops or allies (armies who are fighting with you, against a common enemy). When you fight a war, or engage in politics in general, it is obviously important to identify who are your enemies and who are your friends. Mao used to call this the No. 1 question facing his revolution, the rationale being, of course, you want to work closely with all your friends in order to bring about a concerted attack on the enemy. You don’t want to engage in infighting, fighting friends and people sympathetic to your cause – wasting energy and resources, thus benefiting your enemy.

Hence, “friendly fire” must be avoided because any resulting losses are doubly hurtful. You can see that “friendly” is euphemistical here, pointing to the source of the shots – from friends, not foes – rather than the nature of shots, which, in the battlefield, are always aimed to kill. In fact, all shots from all weapons of destruction are evil by nature and therefore there’s nothing friendly per se. i.e. nice, kind and brotherly about the so-called “friendly fires”.

Anyways, now that you know its origin, you’ll understand that Obama probably feels hurt (wounded) by critical remarks made against him by Clinton and Gore. To use a similar, less euphemistical – in other words, blunt – phrase, Obama might feel as if he was stabbed in the back by one of his friends, people he trust.

The only difference here is that if you stab your friend in the back, you most certainly are doing it on purpose whereas “friend fires” are usually accidental, by mistake. In other words, friendly fires are shot by people who don’t know what they’re doing (but think they do).

Alright, without further ado, let’s see some battlefield examples of “friendly fire”:

1. Friends were deadlier than foes to British forces in the Iraq war, with “friendly fire” and other accidents accounting for 22 of the 32 deaths.

“It’s just so tragic in any circumstances, but a road accident has a particular irony about it,” said the Rev. Andrew Johnson, remembering Lance Cpl. Shaun Brierley, who died in a Land Rover crash in Iraq, as a brash former choirboy “who would always fight for the underdog and stick up for his friends.”

Brierley, 29, and three other Britons who died in accidents while serving in Iraq were solemnly laid to rest at funeral services Wednesday:

Lt. Philip Green, 30, who was one of six British servicemen killed when two Royal Navy helicopters collided over the Persian Gulf on March 22.

Sgt. Steven Roberts, 33, who was shot during a riot near Basra.

Lance Cpl. Karl Shearer, 24, who died when a Scimitar-armed reconnaissance vehicle flipped over and landed in water.

Britain suffered a much higher death toll - 252 - during the 1982 battle for the Falkland Islands and had been prepared for deaths on the battlefield in Iraq.

But “friendly fire” and other accidents have raised questions, and there was outrage when the Arab television station al-Jazeera broadcast images of two dead British soldiers.

Britain’s churches are full of memorials to war dead, especially from the mass slaughter in the trenches of World War I. In this war, the death toll has been small enough that the country could know each victim by name and see the grief of their relatives.

Britain’s first eight deaths came in the crash of a U.S. helicopter in Kuwait on March 21. The helicopter collision came a day later, and then on March 23, two British flyers died when their plane was shot down by a U.S. Patriot missile battery.

- ‘Friendly fire’ accounted for most British deaths, Associated Press, April 24, 2003.

2. Chroniclers of the battle of Waterloo, fought in 1815, have recorded how British infantry squares engaged one another by mistake and other allied cavalry, causing many casualties.

Similar incidents happened in the Crimea in 1854, during the American Civil War of the 1860s and the Boer War of 1899-1902. War diaries from World War I are peppered with accounts, mainly of British artillery shelling British troops by accident, poison gas clouds being misdirected, or a worn gun barrel firing shells inaccurately.

In World War Two, many allied aircraft were lost to so-called friendly fire, because of poor aircraft recognition skills, or the split seconds in which a pilot had to decide whether to engage an oncoming plane or not.

Historians now think that the famous RAF fighter ace Douglas Bader was shot down by one of his wingmen, not the Germans. Similarly, allied aircraft engaged and sank a whole squadron of allied minesweepers off the French coast in 1944, through recognition problems. All sides lost even submarines to their own forces.

Deaths caused in this way are particularly distressing as they are clearly avoidable, so some kind of formal enquiry is always held - even in a world war. The aim is less to establish blame, but tighten up on procedures to ensure the mistake is not repeated.

Of course, each time the Germans introduced a new aircraft design that resembled the silhouette of an allied plane, the risks started all over again. When the United States military sensibly introduced camouflage suits in Normandy in 1944, they suffered many casualties because until then the only troops to wear camouflage in combat were the Nazi SS. The new uniforms were hastily abandoned.

The US’s most senior officer to die in WWII was a lieutenant-general, bombed - with several hundred others - in error by his own air force in July 1944, prior to a big ground offensive.

Military historians estimate that casualties caused by friends, not enemies, may amount to between 2-3% of battle deaths in the two world wars.

- A history of friendly fire, BBC.co.uk, July 14, 2008.

3. Libby Busbee is pretty sure that her son William never sat through or read Shakespeare’s Macbeth, even though he behaved as though he had. Soon after he got back from his final tour of Afghanistan, he began rubbing his hands over and over and constantly rinsing them under the tap.

“Mom, it won’t wash off,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” she replied.

“The blood. It won’t come off.”

On 20 March last year, the soldier’s striving for self-cleanliness came to a sudden end. That night he locked himself in his car and, with his mother and two sisters screaming just a few feet away and with Swat officers encircling the vehicle, he shot himself in the head.

At the age of 23, William Busbee had joined a gruesome statistic. In 2012, for the first time in at least a generation, the number of active-duty soldiers who killed themselves, 177, exceeded the 176 who were killed while in the war zone. To put that another way, more of America’s serving soldiers died at their own hands than in pursuit of the enemy.

Across all branches of the US military and the reserves, a similar disturbing trend was recorded. In all, 349 service members took their own lives in 2012, while a lesser number, 295, died in combat.

Shocking though those figures are, they are as nothing compared with the statistic to which Busbee technically belongs. He had retired himself from the army just two months before he died, and so is officially recorded at death as a veteran – one of an astonishing 6,500 former military personnel who killed themselves in 2012, roughly equivalent to one every 80 minutes.

...

For William Nash, a retired Navy psychiatrist who directed the marine corps’ combat stress control programme, William Busbee’s expressions of torment are all too familiar. He has worked with hundreds of service members who have been grappling with suicidal thoughts, not least when he was posted to Fallujah in Iraq during the height of the fighting in 2004.

He and colleagues in military psychiatry have developed the concept of “moral injury” to help understand the current wave of self-harm. He defines that as “damage to your deeply held beliefs about right and wrong. It might be caused by something that you do or fail to do, or by something that is done to you – but either way it breaks that sense of moral certainty.”

Contrary to widely held assumptions, it is not the fear and the terror that service members endure in the battlefield that inflicts most psychological damage, Nash has concluded, but feelings of shame and guilt related to the moral injuries they suffer. Top of the list of such injuries, by a long shot, is when one of their own people is killed.

“I have heard it over and over again from marines – the most common source of anguish for them was failing to protect their ‘brothers’. The significance of that is unfathomable, it’s comparable to the feelings I’ve heard from parents who have lost a child.”

Incidents of “friendly fire” when US personnel are killed by mistake by their own side is another cause of terrible hurt, as is the guilt that follows the knowledge that a military action has led to the deaths of civilians, particularly women and children. Another important factor, Nash stressed, was the impact of being discharged from the military that can also instil a devastating sense of loss in those who have led a hermetically sealed life within the armed forces and suddenly find themselves excluded from it.

That was certainly the case with William Busbee. In 2011, following his return to Fort Carson in Colorado after his third and last tour of Afghanistan, he made an unsuccessful attempt to kill himself. He was taken off normal duties and prescribed large quantities of psychotropic drugs which his mother believes only made his condition worse.

Eventually he was presented with an ultimatum by the army: retire yourself out or we will discharge you on medical grounds. He felt he had no choice but to quit, as to be medically discharged would have severely dented his future job prospects.

When he came home on 18 January 2012, a civilian once again, he was inconsolable. He told his mother: “I’m nothing now. I’ve been thrown away by the army.”

The suffering William Busbee went through, both inside the military and immediately after he left it, illustrates the most alarming single factor in the current suicide crisis: the growing link between multiple deployments and self-harm. Until 2012, the majority of individuals who killed themselves had seen no deployment at all. Their problems tended to relate to marital or relationship breakdown or financial or legal worries back at base.

The most recent department of defense suicide report, or DODSER, covers 2011. It shows that less than half, 47%, of all suicides involved service members who had ever been in Iraq or Afghanistan. Just one in 10 of those who died did so while posted in the war zone. Only 15% had ever experienced direct combat.

The DODSER for 2012 has yet to be released, but when it is it is expected to record a sea change. For the first time, the majority of those who killed themselves had been deployed. That’s a watershed that is causing deep concern within the services.

- US military struggling to stop suicide epidemic among war veterans, Guardian.co.uk, February 1, 2013.

 

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About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

 

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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)

 

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