An American Tragedy

Ph2006061601066 "Brian visits the only other Bedford father who had lost a son in Iraq. On November 15, 2004, 19-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Travis R. Desiato, who grew up with John Hart, was searching for insurgents in a row of houses in Fallujah. He went through the door at the end of a hallway. Six insurgents opened fire. For the next several hours, fellow Marines fought room to room, sometimes face to face with insurgents, to recover his body and send it home to Bedford.

Travis’s father, Joe Desiato, meets with Brian in a small examining room of his pediatric practice. Brian wants to know whether the protective plates of Travis’s body armor had shattered when fired upon. One of Travis’s plates did shatter, his father says; but given the ferocity of the attack he doesn’t believe better body armor could have saved him.

Ambush The pediatrician says he respects Brian’s efforts to get the troops better armor, but prefers to deal with his own grief by reflecting on the valor of young soldiers willing to die for their country and one another. "I think Brian, in forcing the armor to the vehicles, has saved a number of people’s lives," he says. "But it becomes a very delicate tightrope of how to be an activist without making it political and using your son’s death as a tool to espouse your views and have anyone listen.""  April Witt


As in Dreiser’s novel (and the movie) there is something particularly, poignantly American in this article. 

Perhaps it is the will to trust displayed by the paratrooper’s parents, the will to believe that those who should do "the right thing" will do the right thing.

Perhaps it is the anger which the paratrooper’s parents felt against the pacifism of the Unitarian community of Bedford, an anger which transformed itself into a realization of belonging in Bedford after the son’s death.

Perhaps it is the unbending resolve of the paratrooper’s father to take action against the high and the mighty who have not "done the right thing."  His son died of a bullet wound in the neck.  Vehicular armor was not the issue but the father took up that fight nonetheless.

Perhaps it is the pediatrician who will not allow his son’s sacrifice and that of his comrades to be "appropriated" by the usual assortment of politicals for their advantage. 


" recover his body.."  The willingness of men to do this is a frequent occurrence in war.  It always makes me aware of my own inadequacies.  Long ago, a lieutenant colonel of my acquaintance made a serious mistake in the middle of a night time fire fight and died as a result one hundred yards outside the gate of the compound inhabited and defended by his command.  He was not a popular man.  He was not a very smart man.  He was not a very good leader.

There were three attacks made across that open space the next day for the sole purpose of recovering his body.   These were attacks made by groups of volunteers.  Most of the officers had been killed the night before and groups of enlisted men decided that they were going to go out and bring in the "old man’s" body.  They did so.  There were four wounded.  If I had been at that end of town, I would have stopped this recovery effort.  I do not believe in sacrificing live men for dead ones.


It is a very tricky thing to start assigning blame for what happens in combat.  It is less tricky to assign blame for bureaucratic inertia, lobbyists who don’t care about much of anything except contracts or a lack of the "vision thing" on the part of leaders who are expected to have vision.

For Christ’s sake (literally), why can’t a country that can build space stations, make body armor that is light, comprehensive, cooled in some way and impervious to small arms fire? 

Pat Lang

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9 Responses to An American Tragedy

  1. Green Zone Cafe says:

    Iraq exposes a fundamental decadence in America: our elites no longer make tough decisions, no longer care about anything more than their own careers, no longer engage their intellects in problem-solving, no longer “can-do.”
    One time in the Green Zone, I was told by a USAID bureaucrat that if I made a specific policy proposal, I would “become a target.”
    I replied that the soldiers rolling out the gate every day were always real targets, and that they risked their lives to protect and support us, and that if we did nothing, it’s all a waste. I said I would be happy to be a mere bureaucratic “target” to move a solution to the problem forward. It was very frustrating to see issues and problems fester for months without resolution because nobody wanted to make a decision and become a “target.”
    As one reserve officer on the MNFI staff said to me: “There’s no seriousness.”

  2. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Yes. No seriousness. Just a lot of screwing around with studies, acronyms and systems. pl

  3. Green Zone Cafe says:

    I did a lot of PowerPoint presentations, work plans, scopes of work and other “plans.” Always reprogramming. Of course getting approval to actually execute and follow through to completion was almost impossible (this is post-CPA; the CPA was the other extreme, you could do anything you wanted, including steal money, unfortunately).
    Iraqis who have worked with us must have the impression that we are bullshit artists that are always promising, never delivering. I feel a little shame about the things I said the US would be doing, that never got done.
    It would be comic if it wasn’t so tragic.

  4. Sonoma says:

    Green Zone Cafe is too easy on himself, if all he feels now is “a little shame”.
    There are those who had the Bushites sized up going into this disaster. Millions around the world, in fact.
    Pejoratives are cheap currency. Suffice to say, those who still support the Bushites GOP are no less than American fascists.

  5. bh says:

    Body armor is important, but good leadership will save more soldiers’ lives than good body armor. In some cases, soldiers have no choice but to bust into a room where they can be fired on by six ememy soldiers. A good leader’s role is to minimize the number of times that has to happen.
    When military leaders give up the initiative to the enemy, our soldiers become targets instead of effective combat soldiers.
    There is something radically wrong with a military strategy that is almost entirely dependent on body armor and armored vehicles to prevent combat deaths.

  6. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Thanks for telling me. I thought leadership was unimportant. pl

  7. bh says:

    I was trying to keep my posting short. I am very frustrated that many of the Bush administration’s critics, particularly timid politicians, tend to focus on the questions of body and vehicle armor instead of challenging fundamental military strategy. John Murtha seems to be the only Congressman to demand that the administration overhaul its Iraq strategy.
    As you have pointed out many times before, war is a zero sum game. Either you fight it or you don’t.
    For a little while, there seemed to be some pressure on the administration. Now it has faded away, and Bush blunders on. We need change now. How can it happen?
    There is far more informed debate on your blog than in the Washington Post and New York Times put together.

  8. jonst says:

    On a different note…but still staying within the subject of blame/combat…any comment on this?

  9. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Hagee is trying to do the right thing as best he understands it. Ledeen is what he is… pl

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