Embedded with a Superior Alien Power
Perspectives of Iraqis and Afghans Allies, Some Flash Fiction, Plus Various Kindle Deals
First and foremost, Happy Fourth of July.
My family has lived and died in and for this land since the 1630s. May it be a beacon of truth and freedom for everyone.
For me, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address captures the meaning of independence and the price of it.
When the Meek Embed with the Strong
(Moderate Fallen spoilers ahead)
I have written earlier in "Embedded Far from Home" about how Brendan Murphy's experiences while being embedded with Sabia are based on my and others' times working with foreign militaries. However, another side of the embedded source material played a minor role in forming Fallen: those Iraqi and Afghans who were embedded with us.
Imagine if a vastly superior military from a radically different culture smashed with ease your home's regime forces, and then you were given a chance to work with these foreigners. For most of us, the only thing we could imagine meeting this criterion would involve collaborating with some alien race after an invasion. Yet for many Iraqis and Afghans, it was the opportunity to align with a seemingly unbeatable strange yet friendly force that promised goods with no strings attached and a better future.
In Iraq, I had the opportunity to work alongside Iraqi Army and the Awakening Movement (tribal militias), while my times in Afghanistan had me working next to Afghan National Police (ANP), Afghan National Army (ANA), as well as Afghan civilian workers who worked directly for the U.S. military. What surprised the younger version of me was how many of them had the same initial and change of thoughts as they were embedded with us.
At first, the universal reaction was awe. These local nationals saw us as having unlimited ammunition, gear, and food. We freely gave out excess and would write off anything that was unaccounted for. To them, we were the definition of generosity. Along with the awe came a natural fear. Many Iraqis and Afghans were afraid of displeasing Americans or looking weak.
Another thing we were to them was a unified bloc. The United States military to them seemed completely apolitical and part of a unified front with the State Department. On a deeper level, in their mind, the various services (Army, Air Force, Marines) and agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency (which they would assume anyone not in a uniform was) were aware of each other's actions. To them, The elements of the American government were working together in one master plan that covered every single action each group did.
Most of those we worked with would stay in this state of mind forever. However, some who worked closely with us had their perspectives changed.
Sometimes it was seeing partisan political fights. From my own experience, several Afghans reacted with disbelief, confusion, and sadness with the 2011 Wisconsin Protests that, in part, involved quorum busting. "But this shows democracy isn't working," one Afghan told me. America's political system was the gold standard for them. Seeing people not following it properly was the first crack. The Iraqi insurgents would cite anti-Iraq War speeches made in the United States. Meanwhile, Afghan insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar would contrast the Afghan's ideal of democracy with the dysfunction of the American system in an effort to persuade people to support a more authoritarian model based on a particular Pashtun interpretation of Islamic governance.
Alarming for many, though, were military deceptions and failures. One person who worked with the Awakening Movement told me about how they led a raid that captured multiple al-Qa'ida in Iraq members in Fallujah. However, when presenting the results of the raid, a senior officer in the II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) rebuked my colleague in front of the Iraqi militia, saying there were no al-Qa'ida in the city they raided. The Iraqis couldn't understand why their effort was not being believed. Later, when my colleague explained that the senior officer was trying to show his "success" by filing reports that did not match reality, one of the militia members began crying. In another incident, an Afghan asked why his home province of Ghazni was a Polish-owned battlespace and not an American-owned battlespace. The Afghan said if the Americans were to come and fight, the Taliban would be destroyed. A friend told him there were not enough American soldiers to occupy Ghazni while holding down the rest of the country. The Afghan was flabbergasted. He responded with something along the lines of "But how could the Americans not have already won elsewhere?" Later that month, he left the base. Other Afghans told us that he was going to Iran to find work and "be safe from the Taliban." The man lived on base with us. He had lost all hope in the United States.
Great expectations can lead to great shocks. A common refrain amongst the Afghan soldiers was that "the Americans will never leave." The United States drew down its forces in Afghanistan, still keeping forces in Kabul, but the realization that the all-powerful force would no longer fight the major battles in part led the Afghan military and government to collapse within a week of the first provincial capital falling to the Taliban.
For Fallen, I wanted to capture the initial impression and slow realization that all was not as it appeared. At first, Brendan is thrilled to be embedded, seeing it as a new chance at life and an escape from his decaying situation on Earth. The Sabia are a welcome and generous host, yet imposing at the same time. For every party they put on or support they lend in creating gifts for him to give away, there are refusals to answer his basic questions and references to their belief that war with at least part of humanity is inevitable. He believes he needs to carefully navigate his interactions to be beneficial to his government and people.
As the book progresses, the united front begins to crack. First, the Legion's ideal of everyone belonging to each other in a united force cracks as Esfirs, Berina, and other Sabia show open hostility towards one of their own, Kimya. Even those under her command display indifference. Later on, the arrival of the Defense Force gives Brendan an awareness that there are different factions within the Legion. The Defense Force has its own opinions and expresses anger towards what has been reported back from the Sabia deployed to Earth.
Things come to a head for Brendan personally when his interactions with Mon for the diplomatic meeting in Montana and the hostage negotiations in North Carolina reveal the supposedly stoic and enlightened Sabia are emotional liars with their own hidden agenda. The stress of this revelation compounds with Brendan's PTSD leading to further mental decline.
While the experiences of Iraqis and Afghans who worked with Americans play only a minor role in forming the story of Fallen, the awe and slow, painful adjustment to reality that some went through is a factor in Brendan's story arc. In Risen, Brendan must navigate this reality if he hopes to understand the truth of what is happening and survive the various plot and traps he is mired in.
For Twitter’s #scififri, I gave respect to those who died in the Oceangate tragedy and had some fun with the other.
For those in peril on the sea.
Johnson rejected the fins so the designed could support more power to the water jets. That was enough to get him around the thermohaline circulation. With the system, he could orbit any sight at the bottom of the ocean. Rest in peace, all you sea explorers.
Better Call Saul
Saul gave his pitch. "These solar powered batteries are the best money can buy! Sure, they may be pricier than Vager's fission generators, but can you put a price on the environment here on Bele VI?"
Cathryn shifted in her seat. "We're on the dark side of a dead moon!"
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Until Next Time
Thank you for reading this newsletter update. Next time, I will share the background inspiration for the Sabia bodyguard Kimya.