Roger and Me
Scott Ritter describes how Pink Floyd's music affected him deeply
On Veterans Day, November 11, Randy Credico, a New York-based comedian/activist/journalist, asked me to come on his show, which he does for WBAI, a listener-supported radio station in New York City.
As a bonus, Randy’s co-host for the program was the legendary Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd fame.
The show was great, and the three of us had a wide-ranging discussion on the situation in Ukraine and the state of the world in general.
But I was left with a bad taste in my mouth.
Not because of anything either Randy or Roger said or did, but rather me.
Scott Ritter will discuss this article, and answer audience questions, on today’s episode.
Like any famous person, especially those involved in the arts, Roger has accumulated a massive following. I count myself among them. And yet, when it came time to acknowledge the impact Roger’s work had on my life, I fumbled the opportunity in typical fan-boy fashion: “Hey, Roger…I just want to say this…The Final Cut was one of the defining albums of my ‘80’s experience…I listened to it all the time, and I took it to heart.”
As if Roger hasn’t heard that line a thousand times or more.
I wasn’t a Pink Floyd fanatic growing up. While the “hip” kids in high school were enthralled with the intellectual expansiveness of The Dark Side of the Moon, or the idea of swimming in a fish bowl or running around the sun, I was playing football, stashing a six-pack of beer off the ancient Roman road that ran near the school so my peers and I could sneak over lunch to pass a bottle around, all the while thinking how cool we were. My taste in music ran more to the Rolling Stones and Some Girls, and “Just my Imagination” was the motivating factor in getting the courage to ask Betsy Ensign out to the prom (she said yes.)
The Wall came out in 1979, but I was too busy racing in the streets with Bruce Springsteen while navigating the discipline of the US Military Academy Preparatory School to pay it much mind. After all, Asbury Park was only a stone’s throw away from Fort Monmouth, and the Stone Pony was calling my name (Bruce fans understand.)
The army and I turned out to be incompatible, and I gravitated to the Marine Corps, seeking an establishment more in tune with my Cold War-driven fantasy of defending America from the evil scourge of Soviet-led communism. I attended college (Franklin & Marshall), studied Russian history, culture, and the language—all the while continuing to drink beer and play football.
In the summer I attended Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, where I was put through a physical and mental wringer designed to find out if I had what it took to be an Officer of Marines. The Senior Course, in the summer of 1983, was particularly grueling, with a series of physical challenges like the Small Unit Leadership Exercise (1 and 2), and the Combat Endurance Course, designed to test your ability to dig down deep inside and persevere when every fiber of your body and synaptic junction in your brain was screaming to quit.
I did not quit, and during the graduation parade I took my place at the head of my platoon as the honor graduate.
As October 1983 rolled around, I was getting calls from my Officer Selection Officer, Captain Sanchez, to commit to being commissioned upon graduation—in short, to decide if I really wanted to follow through with my goal of being a Marine Corps officer.
It should have been the easiest decision in the world. After all, I had put myself through the combined hell of Camp Upshur and Brown Field, all the while pouring myself into my Russian area studies so that I could better “know my enemy.”
War, however, was no longer an abstract concept. In the spring of 1982, the British and Argentinians fought a ten-week-long conflict over the Falkland Islands where the British Royal Marines factored in heavily; during our 25-mile forced march during Senior Course, our instructors would remind us of the famous “Yomp” done by the Royal Marines in hiking across the wintery expanse of East Falkland island from San Carlos to Port Stanley, and during our fireteam- and squad-level assault drills, we would be motivated with tales about the Royal Marines assault on Mount Harriet (the Royal Marines had a Color Sergeant assigned to the Officer Candidate School, and he was the source of these stories.)
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The concept of war and death took a more personal turn when, in October 1983, the US Marines participated in the invasion of Grenada, and had their barracks blown up by a suicide bomber in Beirut. The images of Marines fighting in Grenada, while pulling bodies out of the rubble in Lebanon, dominated the news cycle, and it gave a young man pause while considering his future.
It was the talk of the Falkland Islands over the summer of 1983 that drove me to purchase The Final Cut upon arrival on the Franklin & Marshall campus in September. The album captured me from the start. The experience of summers past, learning the art of combat at the hands of skilled instructors, introduced me to the reality that war was about killing—or to be more precise, about me killing another human being before they killed me.
Conceptually, I was fine with that concept. Kill or be killed.
I always imagined that if my time came, it would be a moment of violence—a bullet striking my body, or a shell ripping me apart. There wouldn’t be much time to think—just a flash, and then I would be gone.
Roger Waters changed that. His song, The Gunners Dream, told the saga of a young man, a gunner in a British bomber who was ejected from his aircraft, falling to the ground and his certain demise.
Floating down, through the clouds
Memories come rushing up to meet me now
But in the space between the heavens
And the corner of some foreign field
I had a dream.
Damn you, Roger Waters. Death was no longer instant, but rather a lengthy process where one had the chance to consider his fate, and the circumstances which conspired to bring him to where he was, falling to his death.
This song scared the hell out of me.
It was Parents Week. My father was flying out from Hawaii to watch me play football for the first time ever. Throughout High School, the demands of serving in the Air Force prevented him from attending any of my games, and the distance between Lancaster, Pennsylvania and his duty assignments in West Germany and Hawaii made it impossible to sit in the stands on a Saturday afternoon. Faced with the reality that his son’s short career as a high school/college football player was about to run its course, he flew out from Hawaii to catch the game, where he would walk me out on the field at halftime, along with the rest of the seniors and their fathers.
But my mind wasn’t on the game, or my father.
It was on the Gunner.
I sat in the darkness of my room, listening to that song over and over. This was back in the day of vinyl records, and every time the song ended, I would reach out, lift the arm on the record player, and place the needle back on the space where the song began.
And listen as Roger sang about what the Gunner would tell his mother after the service, as she was “walking slowly to the car,” about why he died, and in what cause. The entire gist of the song, to me, was the question of whether the sacrifice was sufficient to the cause. I was no longer a young, impressionable high school football player whose ambitions ran to sneaking a beer with his friends or whether I could gather the gumption ask a girl out to a dance.
I still played football, and I still drank beer. But issues surrounding girls had moved on from the simplicity of a high school dance, to more complex issues like marriage and starting a family of my own. Death had a way of interfering with such plans, and here I was, contemplating my death, and what it would mean…and whether it would be in vain.
Roger guided me to the answer.
A place to stay, enough to eat
Somewhere, old heroes shuffle safely down the street.
Where you can speak out loud about your doubts and fears
And what's more, no one ever disappears
You never hear their standard issue kicking in your door
You can relax on both sides of the tracks
And maniacs don't blow holes in bandsmen by remote control
And everyone has recourse to the law
And no one kills the children anymore
No one kills the children anymore
I could do that, I thought. That’s something I could give my life for—a life where no one kills the children anymore.
I had a hell of a game—I caught several passes, including one that helped set up the winning score, a dramatic 55-yard touchdown pass with time running out on the clock. My father walked me out on the field, and after the game I told Captain Sanchez that I would accept my commission in the Marine Corps.
All because of Roger Waters.
Fast forward to February 1991. I was deployed to Saudi Arabia as a member of General “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf’s intelligence staff in support of Operation Desert Storm—the military campaign to evict Iraq from Kuwait, which had been invaded and occupied in August 1990. My job was mundane—I sat at a desk, tracking the battle damage assessments relating to Iraqi SCUD missiles and missile launchers. Any vision I had of a hero’s death had been swept away by the drudgery of reading intelligence reports, looking at videos of air strikes, and scanning satellite photographs for any evidence of destroyed Iraqi missiles.
As tedious as my work was, I was driven by the fact that the issue of killing Iraqi SCUD missiles had become one of the most important of the war. One of Iraq’s objectives was to get Israel to join the conflict, thereby putting the multi-national coalition of nations, including many Arab nations such as our host country, Saudi Arabia, at risk, since no Arab nation would fight on the side of Israel against Iraq. To accomplish this, Iraq fired dozens of SCUD missiles at Israel, destroying property and striking fear into the hearts of the Israeli people.
The reports coming out of Israel were heartbreaking. One of the big fears was that Iraq would use chemical weapons against Israel. The Israeli government handed out gas masks to its civilian population, and families were instructed to seal off a room in the house where they could retreat to in case of a chemical attack.
When the notification came into Israel of an Iraqi missile launch, the air raid siren would sound, sending people scrambling to their shelters, where they would don their gas masks and await the all-clear signal. One of the first missiles to strike Israel still had some of the inhibited red fuming nitric acid, used as an oxidizer in the missile’s engine, in the body of the missile. This oxidizer activated the sensors of the first responding hazardous materials teams, which interpreted the acid as a chemical weapon.
While the Israeli responders further investigated the source of the sensor activation, Israeli families remained huddled in their shelters. Some of those who waited were young mothers, who had placed gas masks on their infant children. In some cases, the masks did not operate properly, and the children suffocated to death in the arms of mothers too terrified by the prospect of the presence of chemical agent to remove the masks from their struggling babies. Eventually, the Israeli responders determined that there was no chemical attack, and the all-clear alarm was sounded.
But by then it was too late.
“No one kills the children anymore…”
In running the numbers on the reported kills of Iraqi SCUD launchers, I was struck by the fact that while our intelligence held that Iraq possessed a force of 19 mobile launchers, the US Air Force had, by week two of the war, declared that they had killed over 60.
Something didn’t add up.
I started scouring the intelligence reports and concluded that we were killing something else besides SCUDs, a fact the continued launch of Iraqi missiles against Israel and Saudi Arabia only underscored.
I quickly concluded that Iraq was employing decoys designed to confuse the US Air Force pilots, and that unless we figured out how to discriminate between a decoy and the real thing, Iraq was going to keep launching SCUDs at Israel, thereby threatening the entire war effort.
Prior to Desert Storm, I served as a weapons inspector implementing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty between the US and the Soviet Union. In March 1990 I was selected to be on an inspection team conducting what was known as a “radiation detection experiment” (RDE) inspection of Soviet road-mobile SS-25 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to make sure they weren’t SS-20 missiles, prohibited by the treaty, in disguise.
As a result of this inspection, I was able to observe 18 SS-25 launchers up close and personal, including two which, according to the inspection procedures, had the covers of the missile launch cannisters removed, allowing inspectors to peer inside and see the front end of the missile, inclusive of its single thermonuclear warhead.
After the inspection, I prepared a series of sketches based upon my observations which attracted the attention of the CIA, which sent me to a secretive US Air Force intelligence organization, known as the Foreign Technology Division, or FTD, located in Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, outside Columbus, Ohio.
FTD was involved in developing an airborne millimeter-wave radar that would be fitted on a B-52 bomber, enabling it to find SS-25 missile launchers hidden in forests and destroy them before they could launch their deadly missiles at American cities. The FTD analysts were very interested in my observations, especially those involving material composition, which they used to refine the algorithm of the targeting computer which processed the radar data. In short, FTD was trying to reconstruct as accurate a radar cross-section model of the SS-25 to improve the likelihood of detection and interdiction.
Sitting in Saudi Arabia, I remembered my visit to FTD. I made a few phone calls and determined that the radar in question could be used to discriminate between a real SCUD launcher and a decoy. However, FTD would need information about the construction of the SCUD decoy launcher so they could create an accurate computer model that would facilitate target identification and discrimination.
I worked with Air Force battle damage experts to come up with the top three “kills” of SCUD missiles. I then drafted a request for a strategic reconnaissance (SR) mission to be conducted by special forces which would investigate the kill sites and gather intelligence about the construction characteristics of any destroyed Iraqi SCUD decoys that might be located there.
To my surprise, the SR mission was approved, and I was sent to King Fahd Air Base, where the US Navy SEALs had a special detachment equipped with souped-up dune buggies known as “fast attack vehicles,” or FAVs, which were being used to rescue coalition pilots shot down behind Iraqi lines. The operational concept was simple—the SEALs would strap me into a mesh stretcher on the side of a FAV designed to hold a rescued pilot, and after being inserted into Iraqi-held territory, drive me to the SCUD kill site, securing it while I did my forensic investigation.
Before the mission could be launched, however, the Air Force came back with an update on the target. Rather than being a SCUD decoy, the site in question was a Bedouin tent. Apparently, the heat signature given off by the Bedouin family and the herd of sheep they had brought into a long tent was like that expected from a SCUD missile and launcher. All I would find at that site was a dead Bedouin family and their deceased flock.
“No one kills the children anymore…”
However, the SEALs weren’t the only game in town. Shortly after the revelation regarding the Bedouin tent, I was approached by a secretive organization known as the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, which oversaw the work of units such as Delta Force and the Nightstalkers of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, a helicopter unit that specialized in supporting commando operations.
It seemed they had found an actual Iraqi decoy SCUD missile launcher, complete with a decoy missile loaded on top.
On the evening of February 21, 1991, I flew up to Ar’ Ar’, the northern Saudi Arabian town whose airfield served as the forward operating base for JSOC forces involved in hunting for SCUD missiles in western Iraq. There I met the JSOC staff and arranged for a series of meetings with Delta Force operatives and Nightstalker pilots the next day to plan the best way to get the intelligence information I needed from the decoy SCUD.
The mood on the part of the JSOC staff was grim, and after a few questions, I found out why.
On the morning of January 20, a Delta Force patrol, operating in western Iraq, was preparing to settle down for the day in a hide site (Delta hid during the day, and patrolled at night, mimicking the operational patter of the Iraqi SCUD force, which primarily launched its missiles under the cover of darkness.)
The patrol leader was a veteran Delta Force Sergeant Major named Patrick Hurley. Hurley was one of the founding members of Delta Force, and had participated in several major operations, including the Iran hostage rescue mission, and the invasion of Panama. He was widely respected in an organization where respect was earned, not given.
The weather was horrible, with the troops on the ground subjected to freezing rain driven by a howling wind. While inspecting the positions of his patrol, Hurley lost his footing, and fell down a steep cliff. While he was able to make it back to his vehicle, the team medic immediately immobilized him, fearing Hurley had suffered a spinal injury. The team then requested a helicopter be sent in to evacuate Hurley for additional treatment.
Back in Ar’ Ar’, the request was received and approved, despite the horrible weather conditions. Two pilots, Charles Cooper and Michael Anderson, volunteered to fly the mission. They were joined by their crew, Christopher Chapman and Mario Vega-Velasquez. Two Delta Force medics likewise volunteered to accompany the flight to care for Hurley once they loaded him onto the aircraft.
On the evening of January 20, the helicopter, an MH-60 Blackhawk, took off from Ar’ Ar’ and began the five-hour flight to the spot in western Iraq where Hurley’s patrol was hiding. Despite worsening weather conditions, which reduced visibility to near-zero, Cooper and Anderson were able to make it to the landing zone identified by the Delta Force patrol. Once on the ground, Hurley—secured in a stretcher—was loaded onto the helicopter, and Cooper and Anderson took off for the return flight to Ar’ Ar’.
Just a few kilometers to the south, in a similar hide site, a British SAS patrol was situated. This patrol, which was also involved in hunting SCUDs, had been in a firefight with Iraqi forces, and one of their senior enlisted men had been shot in the chest. JSOC had offered to divert the MH-60 helicopter carrying Patrick Hurley to their location to evacuate the wounded SAS trooper, but the trooper refused, opting to remain with his unit.
That decision saved his life.
In the early morning hours of February 21, Coopera and Anderson, attempted to land at Ar’ Ar’, encountered heavy fog which completely obscured the runway. While circling around to spot the runway, their MH-60 helicopter crashed into the ground, killing all seven men onboard.
The knowledge of the deaths of these seven men shook the men operating out of Ar’ Ar’. The special operators who made up the JSOC community were a closely knit team of professionals who had trained and fought together for years. But as saddened as they were at the passing of their comrades in arms, the deaths of these warriors only redoubled their determination to get the job done.
And that job was killing SCUDs.
I fed off their enthusiasm, and soon was concocting a plan to be inserted into western Iraq, where we would inspect the Iraqi SCUD decoy launcher and see whether we could sling it under a MH-47 heavy lift helicopter, and simply fly it out of Iraq.
The war ended with this mission having never been carried out. Iraqi missiles continued to strike Israel up until the last day of the war, and it was a source of frustration upon the part of all those involved in the SCUD hunt, including myself, that we were not able to successfully prevent these launches from occurring.
After the war, I joined the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), which was charged with overseeing the elimination of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. I was given responsibility for hunting down Iraq’s SCUD missile capability. From December 1991 through October 1993, I worked very closely with the men of Delta Force, including several who had been with Patrick Hurley in Iraq, and helicopter pilots from the Nightstalkers, trying to account for all of Iraq’s SCUD missiles.
By November 1993, the investigation had progressed to the point where I felt confident that we had accounted for all of Iraq’s SCUD missiles and launchers.
As far as I was concerned, I had honored the sacrifice made by the seven men who lost their lives back on February 21, 1991. I, together with their comrades in arms, had completed the mission we had embarked on during Desert Storm.
The Iraqi SCUD missile force was no more.
This result, however, was not compatible with US policy objectives vis-à-vis Iraq, which mandated the continuation of economic sanctions against Iraq to undermine and eventually remove from power the government of Saddam Hussein. I briefed senior American national security officials in the Executive Office Building office of the CIA Director, about the results of my investigation.
They refused to accept my findings, and instead promulgated their own counter narrative that Iraq retained a SCUD force consisting of a few launchers and 12-20 missiles. They also put me and UNSCOM on notice that this number would never change.
In large part because of the US interference in the work of UNSCOM, I resigned from my position as a weapons inspector, opting to speak out publicly about the mistruths being told about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction—including the phantom SCUD missile force, rather than sit by silently as American leaders lied their way toward a new war with Iraq.
In 2001, while trying to convince the American people and their representatives in Congress about the truth surrounding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, I came upon a copy of The Final Cut in a music store. Vinyl was a thing of the past, and with it my collection of LPs. I skimmed the list of songs, and memories of my crisis of faith back in October 1983 came flooding back.
I also noticed that an additional song had been added to the album—"When the Tigers Broke Free.” I purchased the CD, put it in the player, and listened.
What I heard tore me apart.
It was dark all around, there was frost in the ground
When the tigers broke free
And no one survived from the Royal Fusiliers Company Z
They were all left behind, most of them dead
The rest of them dying
And that's how the High Command
Took my daddy from me
Eric Fletcher Rogers was a conscientious objector in the early years of the Second World War. Instead of serving on the front lines, he drove an ambulance in Cambridge. However, as the depravations of Nazi Germany became clearer, Eric Roger’s perspectives of the war changed. In 1941 he had his status changed and enlisted in the British Army.
Eric Waters had had his own “Gunner’s Dream” moment.
He was killed in action on February 18, 1943, at Anzio, in Italy.
“When the Tigers Broke Free” was about the death of Roger Waters’ father.
The line “And that’s how the High Command took my Daddy from me” resonated strongly. I thought about Roger Waters being left fatherless, and the impact that had on his life.
And I thought of the children of the men who died on February 21, 1991, and the fact that they would be asking questions from their own version of the “High Command” that took their Daddies from them. Most of those who died were married, and four had children—eleven kids, now fatherless, in total.
I had thought that I had helped bring closure to the sacrifice these men made, completing the mission of eliminating the Iraqi SCUD threat that they had embarked upon before being killed in that helicopter crash.
I thought that, by completing this mission, I had somehow helped provide a reason—the “Gunner’s Dream,” so to speak—to help salve the horrific loss these children had suffered.
But there was to be no closure. The “High Command” refused to accept the result. The “Gunners Dream” was just that—a fantasy.
The children would keep on dying. And others would grow up without the presence of their fathers there to help guide them. It was Eric Fletcher Waters, on an endless loop.
I watched in anger as, in March 2003, Delta Force once again sortied out of Ar’ Ar’, Saudi Arabia, heading into Iraq to hunt down a phantom force of SCUD missiles the “High Command” knew did not exist, but for which they were willing to put the lives of a new generation of American fighting men at risk just to appease the political ambition of others who lacked the courage to join the fighting themselves.
The sadness I felt was captured in yet another track from The Final Cut, the haunting song, “Southampton Dock.”
They disembarked in '45
And no one spoke and no one smiled
There were too many spaces in the line
Gathered at the cenotaph
All agreed with hand on heart
To sheath the sacrificial knives
She stands upon Southampton dock
With her handkerchief
And her summer frock
Clings to her wet body in the rain
In quiet desperation knuckles
White upon the slippery reins
She bravely waves the boys goodbye again.
I look at the legions of Americans cheering on the engagement of the United States in the Ukraine conflict, with tens of thousands of American fighting men heading back to a continent we should have left in peace upon the conclusion of the Cold War, and I realize we haven’t learned a damn thing.
Not a goddamned thing.
The Final Cut has influenced my life like no other album.
Thank you, Roger Waters.
From the pain comes insights which otherwise might have escaped me.
[This article inspired Deborah L. Armstrong to share her thoughts about Pink Floyd’s music.]