Hold your nose and go read it for yourself.I never imagined that after the Vietnam adventure our country could allow itself to do anything that was worse. I was really wrong about that. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars may have resulted in fewer body bags, but the corrosive toll they have taken on the country's character and after effects -- social, medical, economic and diplomatic -- is every bit as bad as those following the Vietnam Conflict, perhaps worse.
The Army is required to produce records of its actions in war. Today, most units keep them on computers, and a 4,000-soldier brigade can churn out impressive volumes — roughly 500 gigabytes in a yearlong tour, or the digital equivalent of 445 books, each 200 pages long.
Field records include reports about fighting, casualties, intelligence activities, prisoners, battle damage and more, complete with pictures and maps. They do not include personnel or medical records, which are kept separately, or "sigact" reports — short daily dispatches on significant activities, some of which were provided to news organizations by WikiLeaks in 2010.
By mid-2007, amid alarms from historians that combat units weren't turning in records after their deployments, the Army launched an effort to collect and inventory what it could find. Army historians were dispatched on a base-by-base search worldwide. A summary of their findings shows that at least 15 brigades serving in the Iraq war at various times from 2003 to 2008 had no records on hand. The same was true for at least five brigades deployed to Afghanistan.
Records were so scarce for another 62 units that served in Iraq and 10 in Afghanistan that they were written up as "some records, but not enough to write an adequate Army history." This group included most of the units deployed during the first four years of the Afghanistan war.
Military recordkeeping has been the cornerstone of the nation's war history for centuries. From the founding of the republic through the Vietnam War, recordkeeping was a disciplined part of military life, one that ensured that detailed accounts of the fighting were available to historians and veterans alike.
The records can hold untold stories that can surface decades after a conflict.
The massacre of civilians by U.S. forces at No Gun Ri, South Korea, in July 1950 came to full national attention only in 1999, nearly 50 years after the fact. Journalists at The Associated Press, working in part with military field records, uncovered the extent of the tragedy. Later, other reporters used the records to show that one purported witness wasn't really present.
By the Gulf War, however, what had been a long tradition of keeping accurate, comprehensive field records had begun to erode. Old-style paper recordkeeping was giving way to computers. And Army clerks had been reduced in number, leaving officers to take care of records work.
According to the Army's "Commander's Guide to Operational Records and Data Collection," published in 2009, the problem became evident months after the end of Desert Storm, when vets began reporting fatigue, skin disease, weight loss and other unexplained health conditions.
"When the Army began investigating this rash of symptoms, its first thought was to try and establish a pattern of those affected: What units were they in? Where were they located? What operations were they engaged in?" the guide says. "The answers provided by investigators were: 'We don't know. We didn't keep our records.'"
And even now, with Washington locked in a game of chicken over taxes and budget matters, still no one calls for the military to be audited.
How crazy is that?