Former Marine Dakota Meyer is one of a very few living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Most of the nation’s highest military awards for combat valor are awarded posthumously. He’s a farm boy from Kentucky, with a background faintly resembling that of World War One hero Alvin York. President Obama draped the medal across his chest in a ceremony in the White House last week.
Meyer was awarded the medal for repeatedly returning to an Afghan village (Ganjgal), under withering enemy small arms, mortar and grenade fire, to rescue his comrades.
Meyer’s patrol of combined Army/Marine/Afghan troops was ambushed in the Ganjgal valley early one morning in 2008. A group of four marines were surrounded, trapped inside the village as enemy fighters rained bullets, mortar rounds and grenades on them from the surrounding hillsides. Requests for fire and air support from the four trapped Marines were repeatedly denied by Army officers working the command operations center in charge of the area. After forty-five minutes of listening over the radio to their repeated pleas for help, it became clear to Meyer that the command operations center would not be providing fire or air support, so he jumped in the back of an unarmored truck equipped with a machine gun in the bed (apparently similar to the “technicals” employed by Somali warlord fighters) and with fellow Marine, SSG Juan Rodriguez-Chavez at the wheel, took off to save his trapped comrades.
Traveling through a fusillade of enemy fire, they swept into the valley repeatedly, retrieving wounded and the dead, Afghan and American, on their way to rescuing the trapped Marines. But when they finally managed to reach the trapped Marines, it was too late. All four were dead. When Meyer was asked if he thought he would die in the rescue operation, he responded that he was certain of it. When asked why he did it anyway, he explained that you either got your comrades out or died trying. “If you didn’t die trying”, he said, “then you didn’t try hard enough”. That is the Marine Corps way.
The two Army officers in the command operations center that refused to provide fire and air support were issued General Officer letters of reprimand, effectively ending their careers.
SSG Rodriguez-Chavez was awarded the Navy Cross, its highest honor for bravery in combat. An Army Captain, Will Swenson, who drove on later runs of the technical, was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but the paperwork was lost or delayed, thus his award has not yet come through. Marine Lt. Ademola Fabayo manned the machine gun on later runs, with Meyer out of the truck on foot. He was also awarded the Navy Cross.
Ganjgal, the Afghan village in which the events transpired, is still held by the Taliban.
What a senseless waste of life. What a senseless need for heroism. How similar is this story to countless others during Vietnam, or even to Blackhawk Down in Somalia? When will we ever learn? Traipsing around a foreign land in full battle gear is an invitation to ambush and attack. Yet still, we send brave warriors to the vanguards of the empire to do just that, and in the case of this ambush, refuse them the air support they need to survive.
At least Meyer’s actions and attitude afterwards should be compelling evidence that troops in combat don’t fight for God or country or mom or apple pie. They fight for each other. They instinctively understand that they depend on each other for survival. There is no human bond greater than the bonds fighting men have for each other. Military units in combat represent the purest form of communism. From each according to ability, to each according to need; they know it is their only hope for survival.
The irony that it requires nearly pure communistic selflessness to defend capitalism’s rapacious selfishness is utterly lost on the warmongering capitalists. The capitalists ask selflessness and heroism out of troops like these in order that they can protect their way of life founded upon selfish indulgence. Something will eventually give.
Some day soon, perhaps after having been refused one time too many the implements, like air support, that they need to survive, these brave troops will awaken to the realization, as did Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, that their selflessness is being ruthlessly exploited by capitalists and their political lackeys that could not care less for their welfare or for the costs they are being asked to bear. Here’s General Butler in a speech given in 1933:
War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.
I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.
There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.
It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.
I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.
I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.
While Dakota Meyer and the others are more than worthy of their medals, they seem a bitter solace for the sacrifices asked of them, and of the lack of support they were provided. More to the point, they do nothing to salve the loss of the soldiers and Marines that even their bravery could not save.
(For more on the Dakota Meyer story, see Sixty Minutes piece aired last Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011, Medal of Honor Recipient recalls deadly ambush)