Monday, December 22, 2003
Word from the front: A good friend of mine who's in the Air Force sent me this e-mail that has been making the rounds in military circles from SSgt. Parker Gyokeres.
Good lord what a week. I'm going to remember the 14th of December for a very long time. This marshy valley region is the area of Iraq that rose up against Saddam after the first gulf war. The uprising was cruelly crushed and many innocent people were "punished". On Sunday those people stopped being afraid. We got that bastard. The man who claimed he was the living incarnation of Suleiman, [sic] one of this regions greatest warriors, the man who swore he would fight to the last bullet and breath, and commanded his troops to kill as many "American Dogs" as they could, came out of his rat hole without a fight. That event alone did more for the Iraqi morale. He had weapons in his hands for god sakes, if he had chosen to fire just one shot we would have been taking him while he resisted, his capture would have looked like a final struggle at best, martyrdom at worst. But he came out like a whipped dog, looking emaciated and filthy. "Number One" on our list looked like a big hairy pile of #2. After all that, we gave him a medical checkup and fed him. What a country.
We have heard many times that one of the big problems is that every Iraqi, at some level, was concerned that sooner or later this boogieman would pop up and do what he did best for many years. Hurt somebody. Many times he didn't even have a reason to hurt people. He just did it to keep them scared, if he ever came back, even a little, he would be plenty pissed. And when Saddam was pissed, lots of good people died. That never left the minds of every person we talked too every day. One of our favorite games with our interpreters was to ask them where he was. In all seriousness they told us he was not dead, and that he was probably either in Baghdad running the resistance or in Tikrit. I know of one who was seriously concerned that he was in the USA, planning to strike back. Before you laugh, consider the cult of personality he had produced over 30 years of rule through terror and force. They only knew him as the most powerful and all-knowing influence in their lives. This interpreter was convinced and concerned that he was planning a terror attack in the US to punish us for what we had done. In his mind Saddam was that all-powerful and vengeful. The general consensus, us included, was that he was never going to be found. (We won't ever get UBL, but that's not nearly as important, or would be nearly as effective as Saddam's capture.) I'm very happy that we got him and thrilled that we got him alive. The decision to let the people of Iraq judge and punish him is not only the only solution that will guarantee the people of Iraq satisfaction, (and trust me they truly deserve it.) But it guarantees his suffering at the hands of people that were raped, tortured, murdered, and stacked like cordwood in huge warehouses because in the eyes of the government they didn't deserve a simple burial. This man was evil for longer than half of its inhabitants have been alive. His image and influence was omnipresent and ruled over every aspect of their relations with everyone they ever came in contact with, lest that person be an informer, or a member one of the many branches of the secret police. The Iraqis I know want to skin him slowly and roll him in salt, and then they want to really hurt him. They feel the real need to give the bastard just a little of his own medicine.
Please let me make this abundantly, perfectly, crystal clear, under no circumstances, should you confuse the issue of why we are here in Iraq, with the fact that this man will never again be able to kill children because their parents spoke out against him. There are those that think we shouldn't be here at all. Believe it or not, that opinion doesn't offend me. I disagree, but it's a free country. I may not agree with a thing you say, but ill defend to the death your right to say it. I actually believe that, and that's why I'm glad I'm here for Christmas. You have your viewpoints, and I have mine. I'm just incredibly fortunate to be here in Iraq doing something to change the way the world feels about us.
I've said it before. If we pull this off we will be the kind of nation we want to be, the type of nation we represent ourselves to the world as. We don't have to call ourselves the Democratic Peoples Republic of the United States of America. Nobody buys that crap. Calling yourself a 'Democratic Peoples Republic' and running a political reeducation camp at the same time is going to get you an old fashioned ass kicking. We are just Americans, dammit, the good old USA, and the reason we are the leaders of the free world is that we love freedom. Freedom of speech and the press, freedom of religion, freedom to own an arsenal and act like an idiot if you choose to. Freedom to do whatever the hell you want to do as long as you don't hurt anybody doing it and Uncle Sam gets his cut. Our defiance against our lack of freedom made us who we are as a nation. Our willingness to fight for our freedoms and the ones of others defines us as citizens in this world. In my eyes it's as simple as that. Our system works best because we are free to do what we want to do. It pisses us off as a nation to see governments that abuse its citizens. It has been the overriding desire of this nation in this century to free the oppressed, right the wrongs, and fix the terrible problems caused by other terrible people. That U stands for United, by the way, and we don't like people trying to hurt some of us to make the rest of us weak. Yeah, you hurt us by crashing a few planes and killing some people, but now you pissed us off. Ask the Japanese how well that worked out. "I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant" said the general as he watched the attack planes depart in the darkness for Pearl Harbor. That conflict killed over 40 million people and left 150 million homeless. All in the name of fighting tyranny and oppression. What makes them think we will shirk from this fight? People at home screaming "no blood for oil" that's what. The gas in the tank of our deuce gets trucked in from Kuwait. The oil from here gets sold for the people of Iraq. Thought you would like to know.
Should we be the world's policemen? I can't answer that. But imagine terrified people sharing the freedoms that you better not take for granted. We truly can't afford to not pay the price for that effort. If there's one thing that our system makes enough of, its money. Soon Iraq will be a free country under its own self-rule. There's a gift for the world, a gift that self-proclaims the purity of its intentions. And a gift worth every penny we spent on it. I'm not espousing fighting wars and invading every dictatorship on the planet. That is truly not necessary. I can't even say if invading here so quickly was a good idea. God knows we gave that bastard 11 years to clean up his act and behave according to the agreement that he signed. WMD wasn't even a factor. The way he mooned the world and wiped his butt on his promises, as nervous governments went nuts trying to get him to behave, the guy was asking for somebody to open a good can of whoop ass on him. We probably should have spent a little more time to get some friends together before administering it. But, being the biggest kid on the block, we didn't have to. So we went in solo and pissed off the rest of the world. If they didn't help us do the hard work, they don't have much right to bitch about what we do and don't find in the country. Like I said, WMD isn't important. If we found it now, the whole world would say we planted it. Come to think of it, so would I. It would be too easy and there's not a single procedure that you can enact during its discovery that we wouldn't be accused of rigging. In the end, it took digging in backyards for over 10 months to find Saddam. Patience is a virtue that is almost always rewarded. But if we weren't here he would still be killing truly innocent people by the hundreds. That is a horrible truth that unfortunately is also happening in places we can't affect right now. But we can affect Iraq, thanks to those that came before me, and those that terribly, never came home. In the end it's as simple as that. American lives are incredibly precious. Not a single one should ever be lost in vain. As of now, sadly, almost 375 men and women have died bravely serving their respective countries in Iraq. No country participating has not felt the pain of loss in this conflict. Each one of those lives cost us more than I can ever write about with my meager words. But if you asked them if they were willing to die for the freedom of others they would probably have told you that the price of liberty is steep, but it must be paid. I know I would. Without hesitation. Those men and women came here as volunteers, just as I did. All I can say is this; Freedom is not free. That is why this enterprise absolutely must be finished for the honor of those we lost. Regardless of what you think about the way we got to this point in the first place. You simply must finish what you started.
But guns and precious lives aren't always the answer to fix terrible problems. We spent over 30 years fighting a war with Russia that only we could win, a war of simple economic power. They busted the bank trying to keep up with us and it broke them. More positive democratic changes have been made in China in the last 10 years for monetary reasons than in 40 years of cold war. North Korea makes outrageous threats in order to coerce us to make deals that prop [up] its failed system. Every time they make bellicose and belligerent statements about our "evil ways", we prove again that we are winning the battle against that terrible government. In the end, what's going to free those people is the almighty green. Not an invasion, or an air strike on a troublesome nuke plant. Just the patient confidence that our system works for good, not against it.
I had to be here for a while to realize that we needed to do this in Iraq. Or at the very least, that what we did here was the right thing to do. When I left for Iraq I was ready to see a quagmire. A black hole of lost money, misguided efforts, a hostile populace, and broken morale. In short, I expected Vietnam. I haven't been able to find it, and I was looking. Every day I have been here, this country has gotten better for its people. And it's gotten safer too, for us, and them. We are welcome here as the people who are making a real difference. They know we aren't staying. In a month alone the difference has been staggering. And this was all before we found the guy painted on every public wall hiding like a bitch in a tiny hole, too scared for only his own skin to even fight back even with the gun in his hands. The Iraqis saw then that the "supreme leader" was, in their own words, "a shivering coward". They laughed at him publicly in their new free press. That's what I'm talking about. On that wonderful day, and I can't say it enough, everything changed.
There are many here who couldn't even mention his name. When we say it, all the locals cringe instinctively, like they had been struck, they then look furtively about them to see who else around them heard us blaspheme against the devil. It's not an amusing thing to terrify a grown man with a single word. It makes one feel horrible. For us that word is one of scorn and disgust, for them it could get you and your family killed by nightfall, and I'm not kidding. You just vanished. 30 years of that terror will change the psyche of a nation. It's going to take some pain to fix it. That process started with a hairy man in a rat hole being led away in handcuffs.
So for me, the realization that this was, and is, the right thing to do hit me like a lightning bolt; the second I saw our interpreter begin to cry tears of joy at the news that "we got him". He said one thing, hesitantly and very quietly, with a mixture of barely hidden fear and childish hope in his voice. "Are you sure?" I took him by the shoulders, and with a huge smile on my face and the excitement of a child, said; "Yes, Osama, its him! We got him!" He hugged me briefly and stepped back, didn't say a word, and a single tear rolled down his face. Then he took a deep shuddering breath, like a terrible weight had been lifted off his shoulders, and grinned broadly, the smile of a man looking at his bride coming down the isle, a smile of pure joy. At that second, Osama knew that he couldn't be punished for working with us. At that second, I knew that we could leave this country to freedom loving Iraqis, and not worry about our new friends being ok. We both knew it was almost over.
You have not lived until you tell a man he is free and feel his joy.
The night of his capture was filled with celebrations. The oncoming nightshift interpreter told us that the city was one gigantic party. Absolute euphoric insanity. There were people dancing in the streets and lighting firecrackers. Nobody in Iraq slept that night, the celebrating innocent, and the fearful evil. We are 10 kilometers from Nasiriyah, and from where we stood outside our VCC we could see tracers firing straight up into the night skies. Thousands of rounds, and for once, they weren't fired in anger. At least not anger directed at us. I haven't got a single shred of pity for the guy. He's truly earned what's coming to him. It's all up to them. For once in their lives they are truly free to decide the fate that they feel is just.
That was a big day for this country, one of the biggest ever. And I was here to experience it all. What a blessing.
Wow, that was a fun letter to write. See you next week folks. I can't wait to see what that week brings my way. Feel free to forward this to anyone you feel would enjoy it.
Merry Christmas everybody.
I don't agree with everything SSgt. Gyokeres has written, but the description of the joy and relief among the Iraqi populace is something our national media has not adequately communicated. As Gyokeres points out, this is not a quagmire and the vast majority of the Iraqi people want us there.