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Keep defiant convoy in context

In "Three Kings," a movie set during the Gulf War, an American soldier is taken prisoner and calls his wife back home to explain on a cell phone. The scene was fiction.

In Iraq, however, such scenes are fact. Last week a young woman phoned her mother on a cell phone to explain she was being detained for disobeying orders. A group of reservists, charged with delivering jet fuel in treacherous conditions, had refused to carry out the order. She was calling Mom for help.

In a so-called "normal" war, the consequences of that defiance would have been harsh and swift.

But Iraq is not a normal war. The disobedient soldiers were released, the officer who gave the order was written up and the Army wrote the incident off as a "temporary breakdown in discipline."

It was a befuddling series of events.

For, contrary to the old maxim, an army doesn't travel on its stomach. It travels on its discipline. As with any unit formed to carry out a common goal — from football teams to concert choirs — the military demands discipline. Without it, things unravel.

That's why the incident with the jet fuel is so troubling. The disobedience was alarming, but the relative lightness of punishments is also cause for concern. Indeed, Iraq is not your father's war. It's not even the president's father's war. And it's difficult to define the rules of engagement when people are struggling just to define the type of engagement.

But discipline is a must.

That said, it should also be said that refusals to obey orders are not that uncommon in the military. The publicity surrounding this incident, however, made it unique. It calls into high relief the stress on reservists. It calls to mind the extended tours of duty, frustrations of waiting families and the morale of the troops.

Still, faith — not fear — should be the watchword.

During Vietnam, soldiers took to wearing the phrase "Kafka for President" on their helmets. The reference was to Franz Kafka, the Czech writer, who was known for writing frightening, surreal stories. The message was "This war has nothing to do with reality."

But then no war ever has or ever will. Every war, at its heart, is chaotic, surreal and other-worldly.

In fact, when the situation begins to look like a scene from a fantasy novel, that is when training and discipline become paramount.

The "jet fuel" incident raises questions about both, but it doesn't undermine either. More than 55,000 reservists are still in Iraq obeying orders.

The defiant convoy should not be brushed aside, but it should not be blown out of proportion.

In a war, surreal things happen. As the loved ones at home receiving cell phone calls from the front can attest.