Sunday, November 29, 2009


I met Rachel, a US Army field artillery officer, at the Cağaloğlu hamam today. She told me that the army has shortened its field artillery course from six months to four. Still not short enough: We're all on Twitter now. Fortunately, she understood my new space constraints. "In the line, it's fine," she said, summing it up. Firing outside the line, however, buys you a one-way ticket to Leavenworth.

She was fascinating -- she was a very pretty young woman who was the only woman in her field artillery class, and had the highest kill rate in her combat unit, apparently -- but Claudia reminded me that I was actually there to get a few good quotes about the about renewed Turkish interest in the Ottoman bathhouse tradition, not to learn how to fire field artillery.


  1. Yes, Claudia nearly died of outraged pacifism when she heard those words. But the key point is that these kids -- and she was indeed a kid, no older than about 23, I'd say -- are *not* being trained to be cavalier about what they're doing. For her, the most memorable message of the training she'd received, or at least, the first thing that came to her mind when she was asked to describe it, was, "Screw this up and you will be spending a very long time in jail."

    Now, of course that's as it should be: If you're firing field artillery in a densely populated area and you miss the target, there's a real likelihood you'll kill civilians. But obviously, she was not given the message, "Don't worry, it's war, everyone makes mistakes." She was clearly being told, from the first moment of her training, "You make a mistake and we will hang you out to dry."

    Obviously it's jarring to hear a pretty young woman use the words "kill rate" to describe her accomplishments. But no fair person could have walked away from that conversation thinking, "These American soldiers believe they can kill everything in sight and get away with it." What they were saying was absolutely clear: If we hit the wrong target, we go to Leavenworth.

  2. Never walk into a Turkish bathhouse unarmed :)