Hawks like Cotton calling for Iran war are ignorant of battle's human toll

"So you served in Afghanistan?"


"It must have been tough. I really think we should have turned the whole Middle East into a glowing crater."

I've had that dialogue so many times I don't even care to count. I'm still a little shocked every time I hear that sentiment. A "glowing crater" — it sounds pretty cool, but I hope most of the people who have said it to me while leaning in for that personal moment with a wink and some kind of knowing smile said it because they think it's what I want to hear. A verbal celebration of savagery in response to an inhuman enemy.

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It's a string of letters and numbers to you. I get that. But to me, it's exactly where I was standing when I first shot at another human being.

Did I hit him? Who cares. I didn't care at the time because I was in between the initial reaction of "Holy-mother-of-God-that-was-a-rocket-propelled-grenade-that-zipped-by-me!!" and the roaring adrenaline rush that comes to a paratrooper wanting nothing but to hear the blood-curdling screams of his enemy in the Afghan night.

Six years into a "Short, Victorious War," I got my chance to experience ultra-violence on a scale many of the readers of this newspaper cannot even comprehend: Commanders ordering us to unleash a 3,000-round hell-storm of machine gun fire, followed by a dozen or so mortar and artillery rounds, with an utterly world-ending finale of five GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions. Ten thousand pounds of ordinance — about a 200th of a kiloton, to kill one guy in a Toyota truck who had shot 30 rounds of AK at us from over 1 kilometer away. That simultaneous detonation was so utterly massive some of us were physically thrown by the shockwave, and the mountain was on fire for most of the next day.

There's a point to this tale of gratuitous violence, and I hope you pay attention.

Of late, there has been a lot of saber-rattling regarding the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Certain members of our legislative branch appear to have more in common with the Likud party of Israel than with many of their countrymen, insisting that stricter sanctions and increased suffering on the part of the Iranian people will break the will of the Islamic Republic, and that if the sanctions fail to stop them from developing a nuclear weapon, a swift military solution will solve the problem.

These people are what I call "unrealistic."

In no uncertain terms, they are leading us on the path to war, just as the neocon architects of the Bush Doctrine led me and my comrades into a 14-year-long campaign with zero strategic objectives or coherent instructions. Tom Cotton, the infantry platoon leader-turned-freshman U.S. senator from Arkansas, with a healthy building list of constitutionally inaccurate open letters, apparently thinks that a short air campaign to stop the Iranians will be a cakewalk. He likens the campaign to 1998's Operation Desert Fox, and thinks it would not involve major ground operations.

An attack on Iran will not resemble Desert Fox by any means.

Desert Fox's attempts to neutralize potential WMD manufacturing and storage sites, and the Israeli airstrikes to destroy the Iraqi nuclear facilities in the 1980s were "easy" because the French had built Hussein's reactor in plain sight, and eight years of sanctions and bombing every suspicious piece of hardware in the no-fly zones had significantly degraded Iraqi air defense capabilities.

The Iranians had these opportunities to learn that we could strike anywhere with near-impunity, and adjusted their plans accordingly. Some of their facilities are underground and hardened to such a degree that even our improvised "Bunker Buster" munitions from the 1991 Gulf War could not touch them, and those things were — I kid you not — custom-made from howitzer barrels to destroy a single target. We have nothing conventional in the arsenal up to the task.

The complete destruction of the Iranian nuclear facilities would require the deployment of nuclear weapons.


This is why Secretary of State John Kerry has been working his tail off to negotiate a peaceful solution, because our alternative is not just a short series of precision strikes, but a long, arduous campaign through mountainous terrain against an army featuring some of the best partisan operators since Jean Moulin and the French Resistance. These people are not joking around.

The Iranians would never forgive us if we attacked, and would likely do everything in their power to build and operationally deploy a nuclear weapon as quickly as possible. Within days of such an attack, we would see every Iranian moderate who supported the peace talks hanging from Tehran light poles. Iran could also mine the Strait of Hormuz, hit a carrier strike group with swarms of Exocet missiles, and do a whole grab-bag of other bad things to us. This doesn't even account for the number of dead soldiers in a ground campaign, which I assure you, would make the recent "Global Death Blossom" look like a tea party.

Make no mistake, we would win. The American strategy of "overwhelming violence of action" can win. But at the end of it, we would be nothing more than a blood-slathered pack of barbarians perched on a pyramid of skulls in the eyes of the world, and any future American diplomatic endeavor would forever be tainted by such a flippant, thoughtless military action.

Why do I want to prevent this war? I have been to war twice. It's a disgusting, bloody and violent affair that ruins the lives of innocent people and soldiers alike. These war-hawks have never had to wash the blood of a 6-year-old boy out of their uniform like I have. They have never had to see a kid come into an aid station with a fistulated colon because some trigger-happy American platoon leader ordered his machine gunner to spray a crowd after a roadside bomb attack the year before. They've never looked into the eyes of a kid with a year-old wound oozing feces out of a hole in his stomach, and they've never had to watch good men die.

Never make the mistake of forgetting the humanity of the people you see through the looking glass.

Bryan Box is a veteran of the 173rd Airborne Brigade and is currently using his Post-9/11 G.I. Bill at UAA to earn a bachelor's in biology with dual minors in physics and chemistry, which he considers a gift from the American people he is truly grateful for.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Bryan Box

Bryan Box is a veteran of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. When not studying as a Biological Sciences major at the University of Alaska Anchorage, or fulfilling his duties as vice president of Student Veterans of UAA, he spends his time writing and experimenting with advanced agricultural techniques.