By Captain Eric H. May
[Editor's Note: Please also see "Captain Courageous and the Shockingly Awful Quicksand War. `First In' Honors: The Infowar of Capt. Eric H. May", also featured in the March 26, 2008 Lone Star Iconoclast, which provides important background on this work]
Capt. Eric H. May
My name is Eric Holmes May, born 1960. From 1977-1980, I served in the U.S. Chemical Corps in the 1st Cavalry Division, holding ranks from private to sergeant. In 1980, I entered the University of Houston Honors College, and while there received my commission as a second lieutenant (December 15, 1983). I completed my degree in Classics (Latin & Greek) in 1985.
After graduation, I attended the Military Intelligence Officers Basic Course at Ft. Huachucha, Arizona, where I remained for a year working on special projects for the Director of Reserve Intelligence. In 1986 I attended the Defense Language Institute (DLI) at the Presidio of Monterey, California, where I completed the Russian basic and intermediate courses. In 1988 I was selected as an inspector/interpreter for the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty team, and afterwards worked on special projects for an intelligence asset in the area of Washington, D.C. Afterwards, I attended the Military Intelligence Officers Advanced Course in Ft. Huachuca, Arizona.
In 1990 I returned to civilian life, teaching languages (Latin, Greek and Russian) for Houston’s Mt. Carmel High School (where I was elected teacher of the year), and serving in the Army Reserves as an expert on Opposing Forces (OPFOR) doctrine and tactics with the 75th Division (Exercise). In 1991, I began to write op-eds for the two Houston daily papers, the Post and the Chronicle. Most of my op-eds were about education and general-interest topics, but twice (after Operation Desert Storm), they were strategic warnings. My first strategic op-ed, “Success of Desert Storm being judged unfairly” (Houston Chronicle Outlook, August 12, 1992) was based on my insights as a Desert Storm volunteer. In it I stated that, had we invaded Iraq after liberating Kuwait, we would have ended up in a quagmire like Vietnam. My second strategic op-ed, “Somalia intervention not as simple as it seems” (Houston Chronicle Outlook, December 3, 1992) advised that we were making a big mistake by going into a little-known African country called Somalia — an opinion borne out by later events.
In 1993, I became the public affairs officer for the 75th Division, and attended the Defense Information School in Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. In 1995 I began a new civilian career as a freelance executive speech writer for many prominent Houston companies: Texaco, Enron, Compaq, Hill & Knowlton — you name ‘em. At the same time I was the editorial writer for NBC affiliate KPRC-TV. I continue to publish op-eds in the local and national media, mostly for clients, without my own name. I am what is known in the info biz as a ghostwriter.
Early Iraqi Freedom published essays
Before the fall of Saddam Hussein’s statue April 9, 2003, I had published two more strategic warnings, specific to the new Gulf War. The first, “Don’t laugh at duct tape, it saves lives” (Houston Chronicle Outlook, February 23, 2003) urged greater domestic caution in light of the pending conflict, particularly at Houston’s chemical plants. Government agencies (e.g., EPA) started issuing the same warning late this summer — half a year after my initial analysis. The second op-ed, “Visions of Stalingrad: Claim victory in Iraq now” (Houston Chronicle Outlook, April 3, 2003) flatly predicted that the Iraq war would turn into quicksand, and perhaps spin out of control into a world war. Here is the op-ed’s concluding paragraph:
“Military intelligence officers are accustomed to being told that their field is a contradiction in terms, and that they are the bearers of bad news and worst-case scenarios. But it seems to me that fortune is no longer smiling on our heroic liberation of Iraq, and I’m afraid we may learn too late that we have stepped into quicksand.”
Nowadays when I search the Internet, I find the word quicksand frequently used in mainstream media to describe Iraq (around 5,000 times in my search), but I used it first by a month. George W. Bush certainly got us into the Quicksand War, but I sure as hell named it.
As my op-ed suggested, I was plenty skeptical about the American media’s presentation of the war. After all, I had been trained at the Defense Language Institute to evaluate the techniques and tendencies of the Soviet media, which some of my most intelligent Soviet-emigrant instructors assured me had duped them for decades on the realities of the world. I never forgot the important lesson that smart people could be misled by “the big lie” (as Hitler used to call it) of a false media picture.
My readings of the international press, my own observations and a few choice conversations led me to believe that the American media had self-mobilized to support the war effort, much in the same way it self-mobilized to support the war effort in World War II; it had become something of a national propaganda agency, like the former Soviet TASS, or like Nazi Josef Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry. 911 was waved like a bloody shirt. Whatever did fit the war picture (e.g., patriotism and profiteering) was hyped, while whatever didn’t fit the war picture (e.g., lack of WMD evidence and lack of terrorist connection evidence) was neatly omitted. The propaganda crested as U.S. forces approached the city of Baghdad, which they began to surround for an eventual assault…
Battle of Baghdad
You might now remember that on the night before the Battle of Baghdad began Saddam had promised us an attack… Well, he kept his promise. Friday night at 8:30 p.m. (Central), I was watching CNN showing the predawn of Saturday 5:30 morning half-way around the world in Baghdad…
All at once the skyline of the besieged city erupted with the flash and report of sustained explosions. The CNN people (Aaron Brown and Fredricka Whitfield) reacted with surprise, saying that U.S. public affairs hadn’t alerted them that there would be a major fire mission tonight. I immediately became anxious, knowing it exceedingly unlikely that public affairs hadn’t contacted affected media about a major fire mission in a choreographed war. “It probably wasn’t us doing the firing,” I thought.
In the next few minutes CNN’s reporter Walter Rodgers, embedded with the 3/7 Cavalry, attempted to make a report from the Baghdad Airport. Rodgers’ voice was indistinguishable because of the extreme background noise of artillery impacting around him, automatic small arms fire striking his vehicle and the shouts of the soldiers inside. It was the fog of war, no doubt about it. Aaron Brown offered no explanation of the noise, merely stiffly saying that the network was having technical difficulties.
Thankfully, Walter Rodgers’ luck held. A half hour later Fredericka and Aaron were off the clock and Larry King Live carried an interview between Rodgers and Lt. Col. Terry Ferrell – the commander of the very 3/7 Cavalry under fire at the airport. I had never seen the unit commander in two weeks of the TV war, so his sudden appearance was just more sad corroboration of my theory that we were getting the worst of it in the early Battle of Baghdad. Lt. Col. Ferrell bravely tried to keep a straight face as he told Rodgers that all was well at the airport, but ended up in tears; Rodgers was too choked up to pick up the conversation. The put-up interview was yet more tragic corroboration of my sad analysis, and I began to cry along with Lieut. Col. Ferrell and Rodgers, for the boys of the 3/7 Cavalry, remembering that I had once been a young cavalryman, too.
Over the weekend I picked up around twenty “indicators” (to use the intelligence term) of a cover-up of the Battle of Baghdad, which I believe began with the attack against the 3/7 Cavalry. To all but a few people, the CNN surprise about the explosions and the consequent events seemed little more than sloppy journalism, maybe frayed nerves, but I had the military and media background to see through the shadows and into the sun: We had come under attack from Iraqi forces. It wasn’t our explosions that had been blowing them up — it was the other way around!
Eight hours later, when it was morning back in the United States, most Americans thought nothing if they tuned into the news to find that the president had suddenly decided to go and visit Tony Blair in England; that last night’s build-up to the Battle of Baghdad had been supplanted by the contrived human interest story of Private Jessica; and that the Pentagon had cancelled it’s 1230 (Eastern Time) Saturday briefing, with no reasons given. The tone of CNN, which I continued to watch, was secretive, and at times apologetic. Aaron Brown said that there were things that they couldn’t talk about now that they’d later explain… Reporter Christiane Amanpour chaffed at the conduct of the American misinformation campaign, and came close to condemning it on the air when she said that there were “substantial contradictions of fact” between allied and independent media accounts of events.
Media duly continued to broadcast Jessica for two days, then bombings meant to get Saddam for a third; they broadcast everything but the Battle of Baghdad. On Wednesday, April 9, public affairs contrived a pulling down of Saddam Hussein’s statue and word generally spread that the battle (never shown before and never acknowledged as begun) was over. Frustrated by the failure of the American media to cover the much-awaited battle, millions of Americans turned to the English-version Al-Jazeera online for their news — and it promptly crashed (probably interrupted on White House orders).
The public had (and continues to have) no idea that the Iraqis did make their promised counterattack on April 5, at the Baghdad Airport and later across Baghdad, inflicting hundreds of casualties while fighting a rearguard action as they dispersed into the underground. On the basis of twenty years of military service, I infer that the Battle of Baghdad is what was raging every minute the media was airing or printing distraction.
If I’m wrong, why didn’t they report it? Wasn’t Baghdad the climax of the war that they had set us up to watch? Well, they changed the programming because it turned into something worse than an anticlimax — a military disaster, and just the kind of thing to undercut public support for the war and public confidence in the commander in chief. The media stayed true to the administration plan and false to the American people by covering up the Battle of Baghdad for George W. Bush and the pro-war factions, Republican and Democrat, in control of Congress. It was clear to me from then that we had slipped off our constitutional foundation.
At noon, April 8, 2003, I began a solitary protest of the war and collection for the fallen of the 3/7 Cavalry at my alma mater, the University of Houston Honors College. In the next two weeks I sat and took collections from the pampered elite of America for forty full hours. They gave but twenty dollars of emergency relief for their less privileged peers (or their widows), who had tried to go to college the hard way, as I did: after an Army tour. The same craven bunch hoorayed when I told them I believed the Army had assassinated Al Jazeera journalists on orders from the White House. They were generally jingoistic about the war — as long as it was less fortunate Americans who were fighting it.
The Honors students were of service in one thing, though, despite their inhuman indifference to their brothers (American and Iraqi) suffering in the war. Despairing of their humane assistance, I appealed to their avarice, and with far better results. I posted a bounty offering $100 to any Honors College student who would effectively refute the proposition that there had been a big battle in Baghdad over the prior weekend.
The foreign students, ever more enterprising than the homegrown, made up the first posse for the truth of the Battle of Baghdad, saying that they would discover what had really happened from foreign sources. The next day they came back, jabbering to each other in a bewildering array of Asian languages, then told me with wonder what I already knew: that from Morocco to Malaysia, independent media were reporting that Americans had been fighting and dying in Baghdad all weekend.
My brother Baptists, the Righteous Republican students, promised to claim the prize by researching the liberal American media, joking that such a media as ours would make the worst case it could against the war, because it was pacifistic, leftist and inimical in the ongoing kulturkampf (a word they learned from right-wing megastar Rush Limbaugh — along with all their ideas). The next day they came back even more confused than the foreigners. They said apologetically that they couldn’t find anything at all about the missing Battle of Baghdad in the liberal American media!
On April 13, I wrote an op-ed “3/7 Cavalry, tragedy and travesty” for Frank Michel, the associate editor of the Houston Chronicle, who had been a colleague for more than ten years. He sealed it and put it in his desk, with witnesses watching, because he knew that I knew what I was writing about. He told his colleagues that the essay was history.
Scouting to Georgia
CNN’s Aaron Brown had an on-air conversation with Walter Rodgers (evening, April 9), in which Brown cryptically noted that CNN had been with the 3/7 Cavalry at the Baghdad Airport. He then asked a strange question, given the rosy picture the media had painted of the war: “Do they (the 3/7 Cavalry) feel safe, now?” Rodgers’ reply was as grim as Brown’s question. He said that Lt. Col. Ferrell had addressed the assembled squadron that afternoon, and had summed it up for all the command when he said that “no one will ever feel safe again until they get back home to Ft. Stewart, Georgia.”
April 22, 2003 I began my annual bicycle tour a bit early this year, and took it in the direction of Ft. Stewart, Georgia, some 1,000 miles away from Texas. I wasn’t in a hurry, wanting to take the pulse of our people. Along the way I discussed my observations of April 5-9 with dozens of common people at the diners, hotels, stores and post offices where I stopped to chat. I found that many of them remembered various things about the information picture that didn’t quite fit right, but that none of them could give an explanation for what, if anything, it all meant. Events were fresh on people’s minds, then, and as I explained it all they had an easy time seeing through the deception of the times, but after we parted they left the topic and the talk behind them and returned to their normal lives, content that even if there was a bit of funny business going on in Iraq, everything was still fine in America.
I reached Ft. Stewart May 14 and went to the Marne Chapel, one of the 3rd Infantry Division churches, and there met with a Colonel Dennington, a Special Forces chaplain. He acknowledged the Battle of Baghdad and its dead, telling me that more soldiers than just the 3/7 Cavalry had perished. He urged me to cover it up for the greater good of the war effort, and said a few things that a reasonable person might have thought menacing. I still have Colonel Dennington’s receipt for the paltry donation of the University of Houston Honors College, which I carried to Ft. Stewart first for my fallen comrades, and second as a cover for getting inside their Army post in time of war to find out what the hell was going on!
It’s the first rule of a mission, after all, and every leader should know it: You always scout things out thoroughly before you act. If the president had kept this basic rule in mind, we wouldn’t be at war now.
Infowar — the last published essay
After returning to Houston (via bus) I kept low for the rest of May and most of June, as the Houston Chronicle waited for the military to let the media tell the story of Baghdad. According to my editorial contacts Frank Michel and David Langworthy, the military had ordered the media to suppress the Battle of Baghdad when it was raging because real-time reports would have compromised operational security of an ongoing operation (a valid concern). Things went crooked, though, when the military ordered the media to continue to suppress the story after operations were concluded. David and Frank agreed that this put the Pentagon and the White House outside the parameters of the Constitution, but they weren’t going to stake their careers on any futile heroics – the big bosses were telling them what to tell the public, and it wasn’t the truth, but it was a paycheck.
On June 25 General Clark came out against the Bush war on CNN Crossfire, and on June 27 I sent the Houston Chronicle’s opinion page editor, David Langworthy, my “Worried about the quicksand of war in Iraq” denouncing the Bush war plan and attacking the integrity of the commander-in-chief. Encouraged by the New York Times publication of Ambassador Joe Wilson’s op-ed against hyped WMD claims July 6, the Chronicle finally published my op-ed July 8.
Afterwards, I believed that I had caused a fair amount of anger in the White House with my words and deeds, because my editors carried no letters to the editor in response to someone who had called George W. Bush a liar, avoided my calls, and stopped publishing my op-eds — even going so far as to take sudden vacations to be away when my essays arrived for editing. On the advice of friends and family I ducked out of circulation for a while. Between July 17 and September 21, I stayed inside my home. The timing of my move underground was fortunate, perhaps, because other critics of the war (e.g., David Kelly of England and Ambassador Joe Wilson of the U.S.) became targets for retaliation by leaders of their respective countries during July. As a matter of fact, Kelly’s strange death came the evening of the day when I went into hiding.
I began to call this state of affairs, in which speaking the simple truth becomes dangerous, infowar, and it’s being waged against the American People. My media contacts (among them Thom Shanker of the New York Times, Barbara Phillips of the Wall Street Journal and Frank Michel of the Chronicle) have confirmed my pessimistic analysis: the infowar is real, reporters are frightened of the Bush people, and no one is talking or writing about (or allowing anyone else to talk or write about) the Battle of Baghdad — until public outcry makes some explanation unavoidable.
In other words, the media are afraid to tell us what a few of us have known from the start until we find out for ourselves — they’re not doing their jobs. In the meanwhile those who favor continued military action are smiling with the knowledge that every passing month of public ignorance about the human cost of the war pulls America deeper and deeper into the Arabian quicksand. Ever loyal (to the war), the American media is now beginning to discuss the need for a draft. I’ve got a feeling that the brats of the Honors College of the University of Houston are about to find out a new word, conscription, and their interest in it will be far greater than merely academic.
Ghost Troop, 3/7 Cavalry
So now we come to it… Ghost Troop, 3/7 Cavalry is the unit comprised of all the unacknowledged dead soldiers from the Battle of Baghdad, who are receiving no just reckoning or recognition because the media lied — and continue to lie – about the Battle of Baghdad. We have a Watergate cover up on our hands; worse, we have a war. I have assumed command of Ghost Troop and, according to the oath I swore when I accepted commission as an Army officer, I have self-mobilized (under my former rank of captain) to oppose the Bush cover up of the unpleasant realities of Iraq — especially of Ghost Troop, 3/7 Cavalry. I consider myself to be in a state of revolution against an unconstitutional, unconscionable abuse of the public’s right to know — the first freedom guaranteed to Americans. So long as there is no talk of what actually happened in Baghdad that weekend in April, there is no freedom of the American press. The fix is in, my friend, and America’s in a fix.
The $100 offer to find out the truth about the lost weekend in Baghdad still stands. In fact, given the depth of the denial, I’ve increased it to $1000 for the reporter who breaks the story of the Battle of Baghdad — and thirty pieces of silver for his or her megamedia parent.
Captain Eric Holmes May, MI, USA
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