The men of US Special Operations Command are heroes. But are their deeds heroic?

Summary:   The FM website discusses facts and insights too harsh for most to see (as seen in the 16 thousand comments during the past 4 years).  Today we look at the men in the US Special Operations Command.  Heroes, but not all the deeds we ask them to do are heroic.

In many ways our Special Operations forces are the best we have. Brave, talented, and dedicated.  Sacrificing for the nation on a scale that nobody would do for just money.  They are heroes. But that does not mean that DoD has them doing heroic tasks.

People are judged by what they do as much as who they are and why they serve. Especially so as foreigners look at the deeds of a superpower.  That’s bad, since we increasingly use our Special Operations Forces as storm troopers and Gestapo-like enforcers of US foreign policy. Heavily armed teams bursting into peoples’ homes at night — not in bases, just poor villages — to kill and kidnap.  Training our allies to use enhanced questioning techniques.   Such dark deeds may be effective.  It is often dangerous for our spec ops troops. But it is not heroic in any usual sense of the word.

The responsibility for their deeds lies on our hands, not theirs.  We require our soldiers to obey a chain of command that extends up to elected officials at the top.  Every two years we collectively acknowledge and take as our own the deeds done in our name.

We can loudly shout “hero hero hero” all day long to commemorate such deeds.   That might even convince ourselves.  It will not convince our allies, and our words will have no effect on the enemies made by each raid.

I suspect if continued long enough our spec ops forces will be seen as villains around the world.  As the CIA is today in much of the world.  As our drones are increasingly seen.  Ultimately the US will be judged as much by the means used to enforce our policies as the policies themselves.

The better our troops get at breaking down doors, the worse it is for the US in those parts of the world.

The combination of tactical success and strategic failure is how Empires die.  Unfortunately our Empire is both costly AND unprofitable.  It’s an Empire of the mad.

For more information about our Special Forces

(a)  Some early mentions of torture as a US export

Snippets from a large body of evidence:

(b)  On the FM website about Spec Ops Forces

18 thoughts on “The men of US Special Operations Command are heroes. But are their deeds heroic?”

  1. norman broomhall

    it is not in the future that American Special Ops people will be seen as villains .. they are seen as that now . And villains isn`t the right word at all ….
    FM reply: A voice from abroad goes where few in the US dare to go.

  2. It’s all about perspective. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. At the end of the day these Special Operatives are there to further American goals, not in the pursuit of some abstract notion such as ‘world peace’

  3. Serving in a military – as a mercenary, excuse me, “volunteer” always puts a soldier in moral jeopardy because they agree in advance to participate in wars whether they are just or unjust. We train our troops (I went through basic, class of Ft Dix 1983 D-5-3) on what are lawful and illegal orders, but there is no good response to being ordered to participate in a war of aggression. When you’ve invaded someone else’s homeland and are killing them for having the temerity to try to defend themselves, you are not a “hero” no matter how skilled and dedicated you are. You’re just a tool of the state, albeit a sharp one.

    The disclosures from wikileaks show us that, once again, the military has deliberately covered up civilian deaths based on the principle that, “if we killed them, they must have been insurgents, huh?”

    Bottom line: How many of these people do we have to kill in order to win their hearts and minds, dang it all?

  4. Citizens of our republic are being transformed over a period of generations into subjects of an empire, one that might be described as “Rome on the Potomac”, although a recent characterization of the USA’s central state as an insurance conglomerate (insolvent by conventional accounting standards for insurance enterprises) with a large standing army has its merits too. This transformation process appears to be accelerating as the subterfuges disguising the insolvency of the state unravel. At what point this unstable arrangement fails is hard to predict, but an internal failure seems more probable than one imposed by external forces, because the stability of potential challengers seems even more problematic. The role of military “special forces” units in the outcome probably will be a minor footnote to the history.
    FM reply: I agree with your comments about our Empire. But the US is not insolvent by any standards. Our debt is in our own currency. Net debt is 2/3 of GDP, well below the 100% yellow zone (where Italy has been for many years). That we can borrow with ten year bonds at zero real rates shows that investors concur. That this false claim is politically useful and endlessly repeated does not make it true.

    Our liabilities are far higher, future promises with no standing in law (unlike our debts). Congress can change these, and eventually will. Adopting a mixed public-private health care system like that of Germany or France would w ipe away much of that expected future burden.

  5. I don’t know what to make of the claim that our special ops soldiers are “heroes”; the term has become rather elastic in the last few decades. Yes, their jobs are dangerous; yes they are highly trained and very capable. But since when does merely doing your job raise you to heroic stature? Were it so, there are a lot of 19th and early 20th century coal miners quaffing the ale of Valhalla. — Not that I would deny them, for they are surely more deserving than those the Valkyries commonly are said to invite to the feast.

    Do they do it for the money, our highly trained and competent special soldiers? Probably not — I’d say it’s job satisfaction. There’s nothing wrong with liking your dangerous job, and doing it well…but again, it doesn’t make you Horatio at the bridge.

    You seem to be saying at once both that our special soldiers are heroes, and that the orders they obey are something less than heroic. (What is the word we need to describe these orders: “scurrilous” perhaps– or merely “idiotic”?) There is something wrong with this, it seems to me. Don’t heroic deeds make the hero? If a man bravely carries out evil orders, or dies while acting out a farce, then he is, at best, tragic, never heroic.

    It’s a recruiting tool, that hero-mythos, you know. It’s one thing to “join our heroes keeping America safe”, but who would enlist to “join our tragic boys to die absurdly”?

    I guess I’ll never get that job I’ve been hankering after, at Minitrue.
    FM reply: It’s not complicated. A hero is a person admired for courage and other noble qualities. Patriotism, duty to nation, willingness to sacrafice oneself for the sake of others — they show all of these traits. Therefore they are heroes.

    More generally, our men and women in uniform deserve our respect for their service. Any taint from the specific tasks to which they are assigned (such as the Marines assistance to US corporations in Latin America in the early 20th century) sticks to us, who bear the responsibility for the Republic’s policies and deeds.

  6. Roberto Buffagni

    As my commanding officer used to say, “la guerra ti toglie la vernice”, “war scratches off your paint”. If under the paint you are good, you become very good; if under the paint you’re bad, you become very bad.
    It’s true, no doubt. But once upon a time somebody else said. “Corruptio optimi, pessima”, “Corruption of the best is the worst.”
    In these months, we read about a crime in the Italian papers. Carmela Rea, wife of Salvatore Parolisi, a NCO in the Italian Army, vet of Kosovo and Afghanistan, has been found stabbed to death in a wood near Ascoli Piceno, a little city in Southern Italy, close to the barracks of her husband’s regiment.
    Parolisi, the NCO, was a leading instructor in his regiment, large part of which is composed by female troops (yes, in Italy too, since we have a professional army we have women soldiers and officers).
    Very soon a rumour has spread that Parolisi had sexual relations with one or more of the women soldiers he instructed. At first, the inquirers thought that the murder of Carmela, his wife, were a passional crime: jealousy, etc.
    But soon enough it resulted that Camela and his husband NCO were not on so bad terms. Yes, they quarrelled about Salvatore’s philandering, but things were absolutely not so terribly wrong; nor Salvatore’s lover/lovers were so keen on marrying him to make them resort to a bloody crime against his wife (and however, in Italy we can divorce).
    The investigators kept digging, and that’s what it seems that they have found (beware: these are not certain facts, nor the verdict of a court of justice: they simply are the most recent and sound investigative hypothesis which is actually emerged).

    1) Salvatore Parolisi AND many of his fellow NCO and officers in the barracks used to practise a kind of initiation rite on their female recruits. You want a permit, a leave of absence, a little help in training if you can’t score enough points? You come with me in a nearby hotel, and perform various acts the nature of which we all, being older than 12 yrs, can easily imagine. (When I was in the army – without women – this kind of rite performed by the vets against the rookies was called “nonnismo”, “grandpa system”, and did NOT involve sex, but simply jokes more or less bad and humiliating, performing of little services like making bed and gear, shining shoes, etc. As an officer, I did NOT like it, and I remember fondly the occasions when I administered unforgettable punishments to the worse vets).

    2) Salvatore Parolisi and many of his fellow NCO and officers did take part in an organized system which smuggled heroin from Afghanistan, using military devices and transports. In the same smuggling system was involved the Camorra (neapolitan Mafia) which took care of selling and distributing the heroin in Italy and elsewhere. A kind of Air America trick, so to say.

    3) Some of the female rookies instructed, in many kinds of action, by Parolisi and his fellows, have been introduced to the pleasures of heroin by Italian Afghanistan vets. One of them, a female paratrooper, claims that she have been taught about heroin when she was training at Livorno, in “Brigata Folgore” ‘ s barracks. “Brigata Folgore” is one of Italian best special troops outfit, and, by the way, my ancient regiment. Its new habits overjoy me, of course.

    4) Then, probably what happened is the following: that Salvatore Parolisi, the NCO philanderer, was also involved in smuggling heroin, together with his fellow NCO and officers (remembering well how works life in the military, I add that superior and even general officers could NOT ignore what was happening, unless they were completely dumb). His wife Carmela, fed up with him, theatened to speak up about a) what happened between instructors and women rookies b) what unofficial contents could be found in some of the military transports from Afghanistan. The brass – military and criminal, if a difference in such a case can be traced – heard about Carmela’s menaces. Parolisi could not guarantee her silence. So he was forced to take her for a little romantic outing in a pleasing wood near Ascoli Piceno, where she was kidnapped, subsequently interrogated, killed, and let there to rot until somebody found her corpse.

    Until now, that’s all. What can we say, in comment? The the commercial balance Afghanistan-Italy is in good shape. We export democracy, and import heroin. Barbarian criminality, there’s no need of exchanging: we both have plenty at home.

  7. Re: “I suspect if continued long enough our spec ops forces will be seen as villains around the world. As the CIA is today in much of the world. As our drones are increasingly seen. Ultimately the US will be judged as much by the means used to enforce our policies as the policies themselves.”

    Very well-said. The nub of the problem is that once a would-be soldier has “voluntarily” agreed to join the military, he is compelled to serve out his term of enlistment, whether he agrees with the missions he is assigned or not, and whether those missions are just or not. The “all-Volunteer Force” is therefore something of a misnomer; we do not have a volunteer force at all, but a voluntarily-conscripted force – a horse of an entirely different color.

    Today’s special ops grunt, like his draft-era forebearers, is forced – under the threat of punishment, even death (desertion in the face of the enemy is a capital crime, or once used to be, under the UCMJ) – to do the bidding of his civilian masters, no matter how vile, no matter how repugnant the tasks in question may be. Thus, the moral agency of our troops is neatly removed from the equation. This serves cynical policymakers just fine, but serves neither the nation, nor its troops, well. Ask yourself: how many of our troops would still be in Afghanistan if their presence there was optional, instead of compulsory?

    It is significant to note that the Founders employed militia in the revolutionary war, whose participation in the fight was entirely volitional; individuals could come and go as they pleased. This served as a powerful lever which all but compelled our leaders to fight wisely and with well-considered strategic aims – or lese face the prospect of losing many of their men. Perhaps it is time to reconsider the virtues of such a system.
    For more information about the potential uses of an American militia:
    * Militia – the ultimate defense against 4GW, 31 May 2008
    * Lawrence Korb of CAP and CDI advocates a militia, 4 June 2008

  8. “I suspect if continued long enough our spec ops forces will be seen as villains around the world. As the CIA is today in much of the world. As our drones are increasingly seen. Ultimately the US will be judged as much by the means used to enforce our policies as the policies themselves.” This illustrates the power of weakness, as argued by Lind, Van Creveld, Boyd and many others. These brilliant minds have noted, that even when the more powerful cause is the more just, the “David and Goliath” mentality kicks in. in cases of less clear-cut morality, the effect is all the more powerful… rightly or wrongly, people seem to respond to an underdog at a visceral level. Spec operations forces are not taught to seek a “fair” fight; they are taught to exercise overwhelming speed, stealth, and force and kill/capture their targets before they even know what has hit them. Our foes in South Asia and the Middle East, in contrast, come from tribal, honor-based societies which still see warfare as a contest between men, not between technologies. Thus, how we fight matters as much as the outcome. Of course, this rule is not hard and fast, and our enemies have adopted our ways of war. Adaption and change are never-ending in war’s crucible… but the tendency remains.

    Roberto, re: Corruption, initiation rites, and the Italian armed forces. Everywhere, it seems these days, the female is “celebrated” as a warrior whose rightful place is alongside men in battle. Being the dinosaur that I am, my reaction is different. In my view, any nation that is eager to send its mothers, sisters and daughters into battle is a sick one, one whose moral compass is broken. While a man’s death during war is tragic, the death of a woman in battle is an outrage, and an offense against everything we are alleged to hold dear as a civilization. In nature, it is almost always the male of the species who is expendible, so that the female can be safe to reproduce. Think of male worker bees, protecting the queen. Sending women to war while able-bodied men sit on the sidelines is criminally foolish, and it also is literally “killing the seed corn,” because women are the basis of the home and hearth and can bear children, unlike men. That we – especially American (and now apparently, Italian) men – allow and even encourage this says much about our decadent and morally-decayed nature. I am indeed sorry to see that Italian men have gone down into the looking glass like their American counterparts. Well, we’d best hope we don’t have a full-on war with Iran or the Chinese or the North Koreans, because their infantry certainly won’t hesitate to stick a bayonet into that “daddy’s girl” in commo manning the outpost, asleep with her teddy bear.

  9. Unfortunately, and I can speak from the perspective of a Veteran of the USMC 1972-75 Sgt- E-5, anytime, anyone who is a member of the US Military — of any branch, who participates in an illegal war — is guilty of international crimes under Numberg 1-2-3. The ONLY “legal war is a war of self defense, on one’s own soil. Any other actions are simply aggression under the quise of ‘preemtive self defense’ And is a lie.
    Good Luck America, you really need it.

    1. I think that’s too broad. A foreign government can request the assistance of US forces to repel invasion or supress internal rebellion. The UN can authorize military assistance (not, of course, replacing the need for Congressional approval).

  10. Seems to me that as the threats we face morph into a widely spread but sparsely populated germ that can move with relative safety (terrorism), as our intel allows, we need the ability to surgically implant the anti-bodies(SOF) that will take out the offensive substances that are undesirable. To quote Mr. Blank from one of my favorite movies, “Grosse Point Blank”, “If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there.” So spare me the bad American bit about blowing down doors in A-stan, or anywhere else, in the middle of the night in order to get a target we have been after for near a decade. As for other countries, they may not like us but they will respect us.

    Heroes come in many varieties but when it comes to talking about baddest of the bad such as our Navy SEALs, all I have is the upmost admiration for their dedication. Yes, it is a calling for which their personal makeup is perfectly suited. However, unlike a multi-million dollar weapon system that gets trashed, these men cannot simply come off the assembly line when an order is placed. Their use is special and had better be treated as such by their superiors, military and civilian.

    You want to talk first responders, let’s do that. Coal miners. Sure. Airline pilots. Ok. Dads. Why not. As I said, there are many flavors of heroes but we happen to be talking about the ones that protect our country. Maybe you think all this fuss is over nothing. That is your privilege. But I thank God for people like the men & women (even if not on the front line) who help get the job done.

    Some comment about the volunteer service not really being volunteer. I remember being no. 93 in the draft in 1969. That was a draft and not voluntary. My father had served with the Army in An Khe, Vietnam and when he came home he told me to get my student deferment and stay in school. That was a choice. He knew. His dream for me was to finish college as the first in our family. But I digress.

    There are a bunch of liberal, anti-war whiners commenting here and obviously our leaders have not been very smart over the last few decades, but the dangers are building around us are real. And while we gaze at our navels worrying about our finances, an inept CINC, our enemies are plotting, positioning, growing, probing, stealing intelligence, etc. I, for one, am not a believer in the world becoming more “civilized” over time. It just becomes sneakier and more dangerous. So the challenge to me is to stop looking so much in the past, except for what we can learn from it, and look forward to what precipice is coming up that we are about to fall over.

    1. My guess is that hardcorpspatriot has not read the post — just the title (in fact, his reply makes no sense as a reply to this post). It’s a commonplace problem, leading to catphony in the comments. People talking past one another, responding mostly to tribal signals. Liberal — bad, soft, internationalist, etc. Conservative — anti-scientist, authoratarian, racist, etc. You’re bad. No, you’re bad. Blah blah blah. This tendency makes Twitter the perfect communication medium for 21st Century Americans. It’s the equivalent of waving flags; no intellectual content required.

      “we need the ability to surgically implant the anti-bodies (SOF) that will take out the offensive substances that are undesirable … If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there”

      We don’t have sufficent information to make deductions about hardcorpspatriot, but such statements give me the chills. One reason we shut down the comments was the large number of comments by people auditioning for jobs with an American secret police (or even Gestapo). They love the State, its power and glory — not the Constitution, whose specific provisions they regard with contempt (even while treating it as a fetish object (much like Crusaders killing while wearing the cross). Holding people forever without trial (not just those captured on the battlefield). Torture. Assassination. Inevitably these tools become used on America citizens; and then become commonplace. It’s not news that there are so many such people; nonetheless the reminders are disturbing.

      “{the world} just becomes sneakier and more dangerous”

      There is near-zero evidence that this is so. But our government has devoted vast resources to making Americans fearful, and hence more easily led. We see here one of their successes. The stink of his fear rises from his words. It’s sad that all the power of a superpower, spending more on intel and military than the rest of the world combined, does not make us feel safe.

    2. Another writer who has noticed this odd but commonplace behavior:

      “Know what else I noticed? There are a whole bunch of people who like to comment on articles who don’t actually read them. They miss the conceit of the entire article that’s set up in the introductory paragraphs and jump from the title to the entries. I’m also not sure they read the entries. It’s basically title, entry title, pictures, comment. So yeah, for them, this column will be a bit of a confusing train wreck.

      “And even though they are the worst people in the world afflicted with all manner of masturbatory-induced venereal diseases, maybe you’d be good enough to point them to the first two paragraphs above. And don’t worry about them getting offended by the preceding sentence. They won’t read it.”

      — From an article by Gladstone at, 28 August 2011

      If you are not reading, take a look. It’s one of the most constently high-quality websites I’ve seen.

    3. As I have so often written on the FM website, fear like that of hardcorepatriot has not just happened. Some rich folks spent much money to make this happen (with the cooperation of the US military, intel, and security agencies). Fear makes a people more malleable, easily led, willing to exchange real liberties for illusiory security.

      For the latest tranche of evidence see “Fear, Inc. – The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” by the Center for American Progress, 26 August 2011.

  11. As informative and useful as the FM site is, I often wonder if the adulation sometimes expressed its authors for the soldiers of the US military doesn’t exacerbate the problems of these ridiculous wars that the US is currently engaged in. Are they really heroes? Unfortunate or crazy to have gotten themselves in such situations? Sheep? My guess is there are elements of all of the above.

    1. I agree, that’s a concern. Progaganda of war advocates often conflate the war (directed by our senior political and military leaders) with the men and women of our armed forces (who have no say in the matter). If you support our troops, you must support the war. I reject that logic. I believe that my fellow authors on the FM website all agree that we may or may not agree with American’s overseas wars, but we support those fighting them.

      American history contains too many instances in which we inadequately supported our troops both during and especially after our wars. Let’s not do so again. For more about this please see Section One of this FM Reference Page.

  12. ‘Top Secret America’: A look at the military’s Joint Special Operations Command

    A new article about JSOC

    ‘Top Secret America’: A look at the military’s Joint Special Operations Command“, Washington Post, 2 September 2011 — Opening:

    The CIA’s armed drones and paramilitary forces have killed dozens of al-Qaeda leaders and thousands of its foot soldiers. But there is another mysterious organization that has killed even more of America’s enemies in the decade since the 9/11 attacks.

    CIA operatives have imprisoned and interrogated nearly 100 suspected terrorists in their former secret prisons around the world, but troops from this other secret organization have imprisoned and interrogated 10 times as many, holding them in jails that it alone controls in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, this secretive group of men (and a few women) has grown tenfold while sustaining a level of obscurity that not even the CIA managed. “We’re the dark matter. We’re the force that orders the universe but can’t be seen,” a strapping Navy SEAL, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said in describing his unit.

    The SEALs are just part of the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command, known by the acronym JSOC, which has grown from a rarely used hostage rescue team into America’s secret army. When members of this elite force killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May, JSOC leaders celebrated not just the success of the mission but also how few people knew their command, based in Fayetteville, N.C., even existed.

    Especially note this, a tangible example of the dying American Republic:

    The president has also given JSOC the rare authority to select individuals for its kill list — and then to kill, rather than capture, them. Critics charge that this individual man-hunting mission amounts to assassination, a practice prohibited by U.S. law. JSOC’s list is not usually coordinated with the CIA, which maintains a similar, but shorter roster of names.

    Journalists in our capital’s leading newspaper no longer find remarkable that the military (and President) routinely disregard important laws. It gets only a brief mention in the article.

  13. Fred Reed looks into America's soul

    From the great article by Fred Reed (America’s only remaining guru) “A Sordid But Instructive Interval At Soldier of Fortune Magazine“, Playboy, March 1984:

    “The intriguing thing is the glorification of unprincipled ruthlessness, not of killing per se but of sordid, anonymous killing. The readers do not imagine themselves as knights jousting for damsels in fair fight, or as lawmen in Amarillo, facing the bad guy and saying, “Draw.” They want to shoot the bad guy in the back of the head with a silenced Beretta. Brown had discovered antichivalry. There’s a lot of it out there.”

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