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RED CROSS: Symbol of Blood

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For experienced American combat troops, the Red Cross symbol is associated with the sights and smells of your friend being blown to pieces and his shredded uniform draped high in the branches of a tree, or someone shot through the eye socket.  A Red Cross on a helicopter evokes memories of dusty landings to pick up wounded, dying, or dead.  Others will say that helicopters with Red Crosses and no machine guns leave wounded on battlefields due to ground fire.  And this is sometimes true.

Recently, there was a blood drive in a shopping mall.  The organizers displayed big Red Crosses, evoking memories of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Yes, the Army Generals pretend that troops cheer at the vision of the Red Cross, when the Red Cross, like raw ground beef in the market, means something else.

Watching the Army drag the Red Cross into battle reminds us of how backwards the Army mindset really is.  We have gone through nearly a century of wars while the Army continues to display the Red Cross, and the symbol still draws enemy fire.  How many more wars must we undergo before someone says enough?

The only time I’ve seen troops who practically cheered for medical evacuation helicopters was in Sangin, Afghanistan, with British forces.  British Soldiers in Sangin were fighting well but taking terrible casualties.  The landing zones were hot.  Air Force Pedros would come in from Camp Bastion, miniguns on each side (they carry .50 caliber machine guns these days), with pararescue medics hanging with their legs out the doors and with their rifles in hand.  They roared in no matter what.  The Air Force had no distinctive crosses on their helicopters, and the British never mentioned the name “Pedro” without some level of reverence.  Pedro meant hospital.  “Red Cross” was tantamount to “can’t land because the area was too dangerous.”  Pedro meant miniguns.  Red Cross meant delay.

To this day, the Red Cross symbol leads to unneeded delays and thus saps the morale of our troops, while bolstering Taliban morale and propaganda.

Some Army officers say that mounting machine guns provides a false sense of security on helicopters.  Another fable.  It doesn’t even make sense.  This Army claim is so bizarre that I’m left without a response, so let’s keep moving.

Defenders of the Red Cross will say that Pedro also gets hit, and if anything, that armed Pedros get hit more frequently per capita than unarmed Dustoffs wearing Red Crosses.  That’s probably true considering that we send Pedro to the worst places, because Pedro has guns.  There is no doubt that on average, Pedro is sent to the most dangerous pick up zones because they have two .50 caliber machine guns on each bird.

Our supposedly war-wise Generals say that we are implementing COIN, or counterinsurgency, in Afghanistan.  Why, one might ask, if we are trying to win over Afghans with our COIN war, do we have helicopters wearing a symbol of the Crusades?

image003-1000Protest in Afghanistan, 2012. (Photo credit unknown)

The Red Crosses do these three things:

  1. Red Crosses alert the enemy that the helicopter is unarmed:  If Army Generals insist on sending unarmed helicopters into combat, it makes no sense to telegraph that fact to the enemy. Army Generals will try to change the subject by saying that adding machine guns adds weight, and this is true.  But if they insist on going unarmed, why then force our MEDEVAC crews to alert the enemy?  This makes zero sense.  A General who insists on alerting the enemy that our MEDEVACs are unarmed must think that we are stupid.  He’s saying, “You are so dumb that I can tell you this and you will actually believe me because I wear these stars.  That’s how dumb you are.  And we are winning the war.  Trust me.”
  2. Red Crosses alert the Taliban that they caused casualties:  This is a terrible and free gift to the enemy.  First, the Taliban wound or kill our people, and then our Army Generals insist on broadcasting this fact to every village that the helicopters fly over.  We might as well paper the villages with leaflets saying,  “That boom that you just heard killed our guys.  The Taliban got us!  We thought that you’d like to know. Friendly reminder: Every time that you see the Red Cross, the Taliban succeeded again.”
  3. Red Crosses are an EVIL SYMBOL to many Afghans: This is the “Counterinsurgency” that our Generals brag about.

The Crosses are to Pashtun Muslims as swastikas are to Jews.  (For that matter, Israeli Jews and Muslims also don’t want Red Cross crusaders flying overhead.) I have written about this before, and high-ranking officers have said my reports are incorrect.  They say that Afghans are not bothered by the Red Cross.  Let’s examine this:

From a book called Passing it On: Fighting the Pushtun on Afghanistan’s Frontier.  This book was written by the British General Sir Andrew Skeen, and published in 1932.

General Sir Skeen writes of the Red Cross:



And so at least one General agrees, and he agreed back in 1932.  In places like Afghanistan, the difference between 1932 and today can be minimal.  But just in case our Generals come back and say that I am wrong again, please note this photograph of a poster of evil symbols, tacked up on a wall in a village in Eastern Afghanistan:

crosses tb1000Mark of the Beast: Evil symbols of Afghanistan.

The issue transcends this war.  During World War I, the Germans sank plainly marked hospital ships, sending them to the bottom of the sea.  During World War II, the Japanese, and the Germans (largely Christians themselves), were shooting at Red Crosses.  The Koreans and the Viet Cong/NVA did the same.  Those wars were not about religion.

image009-1000Red Crosses did not ward off enemy fire during World War I

During the Vietnam War, a war that has some similarities to Afghanistan today, Red Crosses alerted the Viet Cong that they’d whacked some Americans, as opposed to unmarked helicopters that might have been landing to deliver more troops or ammo.

Helicopters with Red Crosses landing on hot pick up zones tell the Taliban with certainty that they are not reinforcing or resupplying, but are extracting dead or wounded.  (Helicopters wearing Red Crosses are not permitted to deliver war supplies or combat troops.  They also are not permitted to fly over the enemy, but we ignore that rule, which causes one to wonder if we also ignore the rules prohibiting resupply and reinforcement.)

The Red Cross:

  1. Alerts the enemy that helicopters are unarmed.
  2. Alerts the enemy that they have caused casualties.
  3. Alerts the enemy that the helicopter is not carrying supplies or reinforcements.
  4. Is an “evil” symbol in Afghanistan.
  5. Reminds our forces of losses.  (Every time you see MEDEVACs fly you think someone got hit.)
  6. Boosts enemy morale.
  7. Provides Taliban with propaganda tool. (“The Crusaders are back.”)
  8. Provides Taliban with second propaganda. (“We killed Crusaders.”)
  9. Is a glaring symbol of top leadership incompetence, hidebound bureaucratic parochialism, and the willingness of ranking officers to deceive the public and elected representatives while peddling BS to our own troops.
  10. Doesn’t work.

Some will blame the President for the Red Cross debacle, but if we are to blame this President, we’ll have to reach back and blame Presidents who have been buried for decades.  If we are to blame something on Presidents, let’s at least stick to what they are responsible for, and to what they should reasonably be expected to know about.

The Dustoff issue is huge if you are a wounded trooper, or a Taliban commander who wants to know if he caused casualties, or who wants free morale boosters and propaganda tools.  But on the national scale, the deaths caused by helicopters wearing Red Crosses are mere angel dust, and will escape a President’s attention if we don’t bring it up, and point out how poorly the Army is managing its affairs, and how badly the Army is serving our troops, our sons and daughters.  The Red Cross symbol is not the disease, but a symptom of something fundamental.

The Red Cross has become a symbol of intergenerational Army inanity, and our failure in Afghanistan.

Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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