I've known this young man since he was a teenager in our youth group. When he finished high school in 2003, knowing our country was at war, he joined the Army. The Army, as it often promises, allowed him to see the world. It also showed him other things. Below, with his permission, I am sharing his thoughts in his own words completely unedited.
United State of Failure
One soldier’s point of view
As I write this, it is January 8th of 2007, eight days into another year in the history of the world. Here in Baumholder, Germany where my base is located children are playing soccer down at the soccer field. Soldiers are eating lunch over in the chow hall. Back in the States men are just now headed out to work, teenagers are off to school. Somewhere a baby is being born in a hospital, and somewhere in Iraq a soldier is breathing his last breath as an Iraqi whispers “Allah Akbar” to himself and sneaks off unseen. The soldier’s family will get word in a few days of their loved one’s demise, and will set off on the long road of continuing their life wondering what could have been if he had never joined the Army, if the war had never started. But even while that happens, life will continue on in America and in the rest of the world, the children will continue playing soccer and the men will continue to go to work, the teenagers continuing to go to school..and over time that soldier will be forgotten by all but a few that were close to him. And why not? To the average American, to whom the war is distant and unknown, who sports a yellow ribbon magnet on their car and skips past the second or third page of their morning paper where the events in Iraq are listed in as little detail as possible, the war is happily kept out of sight, the growing number of dead young Americans being delagated down to just that, a number. They dont want to see the blown apart young men, to hear their screams as the medic works to save their lives. They are perfectly content to not share in the choices these soldiers make each day, to kill or not to kill..its not their job, its not their life. If given a blank map, most could not point out the nation that the officials they elected into power are sending thousands of young men that will never make it home. So why should they care about one? The answer is simple: they dont. Of course if brought up into a conversation about it they will reply “Aw thats awful” or “ Shucks thats terrible” but they will never grasp the whole picture..ever..and they would not want to if they could. It’s simpler just to call him a hero and go on with the day. Any serious opposition to the war is met with fierce comments of being unpatriotic. The American tradition of dissent and questioning authority has been replaced with an attitude of “Just shut up and go with it”. Protesters like Cindy Sheehan are seen as upstarts and troublemakers. America is quickly switching from “The land of the free” to “The land where you are free to beleive anything we tell you”.
Usually, its the young people of this nation that rise up, that are the most vocal in questioning the powers that be, but the youth of America today have been dumbed down by a school system that crushes individualism and protest to power. High schools in America today more resemble prisons than places of education, with police patrolling the hallways and metal detectors at the gates, random classroom and locker searches, and a general attitude of distrust among the teachers towards the students. It works great for the government; if you teach the population early to keep their heads down and their mouths shut, its a lot easier to get them to accept whatever you feed them when they get older. And with one of the worst education systems in the developed world, they wont have the intelligence to fight back if they wanted to. Never mind what we are doing to the future of our country, Just as long as the few privately educated rich continue to hold power over the progressivly dumbed down population.
Proof of this lies in how quickly America bought into the war-fervor that drove us to Iraq. Most people, not even knowing where Iraq was in the world, and without the education and intelligence to find out answers for themselves, were more than willing to allow themselves to beleive Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, so willing that they looked past the rest of the world telling us they werent quite sure, and jumped right into the worst armed conflict this nation has seen since Vietnam
I’ve been to Iraq. I’ve seen the hatred on the faces of Iraqis as I walked past. I’ve seen innocent people die because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time or just because a soldier felt like shooting somebody because he was bored while on guard. I’ve seen the Iraqi army tie a man upside down and beat the soles of his feet with a bicycle chain because they suspected he might be an insurgent, I’ve seen them hold a blindfolded man down and stick a knife to his neck to make him beleive they were going to cut off his head for the same reason. I remember our rules of engagement; if you see someone looking at you for more than 10 seconds kill them because they might be a spotter, if you see someone on a cellphone kill them because they might be coordinating with insurgents, if you see someone on top of a roof looking at you kill them because they might be a sniper preparing to take a shot, if a man is digging a hole in the ground kill him because he might be planting an IED. Somewhere in the midst of all of this I started wondering to myself, what freedom are we fighting for? The man shooting at me is not shooting at me because he is a member of some terrorist organization, he is shooting at me because of the freedom I’ve denied him, because of the friends and family killed for the most innocent of things. Iraq has turned into a nation fighting to be free of those that are fighting to free them.
Who then are we trying to defeat? If every Iraqi we kill spawns another brother or father or son that picks up a rifle and starts fighting against us as well, then when does the victory come?
We are no longer viewed, at least from my perspective, as liberators and helpers to the common Iraqi. We are viewed as invaders and occupiers,and just as no American would ever put down his rifle if a foreign power invaded America, neither will the Iraqi who’s life is worse now than it was before we came put down his rifle until we are gone. It has become a battle of will, and unlike the common American who lives in his comfortable little box with his MTV and his SUV and McDonalds who will personally lose nothing if America is defeated in Iraq, the average Iraqi lives with the violence and fear and is affected by every event that the American looks past while reading the morning paper, and has a lot more at stake.
One lesson America has to learn from this is that there is no nation or people on this earth that we are superior to..that an American life is worth no more than an Iraqi’s. Its nothing for an American to hear that 30 or 40 Iraqi’s died in a carbomb in Bagdad and give it no extra though, but when they hear that 10 Americans were killed in one attack it seems to hit them harder. If Americans put no concern into Iraqi dead, then what concern do we put into bringing Iraqi peace?
The day seems to be getting closer where America will have to realize what the rest of the world already does..We have failed. We have failed the Iraqi people. We have failed our soldiers. We have failed the children in our schools. We have failed at being the great nation that we imagine ourselves to be. But then again, we dont have a very good track record when it comes to listening to the world, do we?