An Army sergeant gives an opinion on America at war, Iraqi reconstructions, the comparison between Vietnam and Iraq, military life, misunderstandings, and where he believes that Iraq is headed. Not anti-American or anti-Iraqi, this soldier still looks at Americans and finds their comfortable lack of understanding and cultural blindness infuriating.
Would you like to give us your name and rank?
SGT, Military Police Corps.
What branch, base, or division are you a part of?
Army, Ft. Campbell, 101st Airborne.
How long have you spent in active duty in the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan?
I went to Operation Iraqi Freedom 1, from March 2003 until March 2004, as part of the tactical signal assets. In October of 2005 to October 2006 I was back in Iraq for my second tour and spent eight months working with one of the task forces in charge of liaison and emplacement of Iraqi police forces.
When not in active duty, where were you stationed?
I was stationed at Ft. Bragg from October 1999 to July 2002.
When you've not been in the field, where were you stationed?
I have been in Germany, minus two tours in Iraq, from July 2002 to April 2007.
What is your overall opinion of the operations given your experiences to date?
Having never seen Afghanistan, I cannot make a fair assessment of that country, but my personal opinion of Iraq is that we are trying to make as much profit as possible. War is a profitable business for industry and media. Misery sells almost better than weapons - human interest stories are a fluffy way of giving people a reason to feel better about their own "suffering" in a "at least I'm not that poor bastard" sort of way.
Do you feel that the democracy and capitalism that we have brought to Iraq has helped or hindered their culture which is so different from our own?
Its a double-edged sword. There are positives - we brought back stable water and power, built hospitals and schools, but what do they teach in those schools? Do they treat everyone in the hospitals, or only those with money? We gave them jobs rebuilding their country, but we pay them in American dollars to the best of my knowledge.
What do you mean by "pay them in American dollars"?
They are not paid in the dinar, they are paid in dollars, or at least they were almost a year ago when I was last there.
Why is that an important point?
The dinar has almost 0 value on the international market; we are the ones who devalued the currency. It went from almost 5 dollars for 1 dinar to .002 dollars for 1 dinar overnight. I know people who bought thousands of dinar for 5 dollars to give away as souvenirs.
Back to your discussions about schools and health care, you mention that the operations include building them and setting up better infrastructure, but you also said, "or only those with money." Could you expand on this a bit?
I was saying that I don't know how the hospitals work; if they actually provide care and do what they are there for, or do they only give care to those with money, like it is in America. We built the hospitals - do we run them, or does Iraq? We set up the entire government so who runs the country - do we, or do the Iraqi people? We are most assuredly the security force in the country.
Do you think there will come a time in the near future when the Iraqi people can, as some people have said, "take back their country"?
Eventually. A better question is take it back from whom? The "terrorists" or us? Peace isn't profitable; simple math. Wars cause new equipment to be needed as old items are destroyed or worn out. New soldiers-to-be need new equipment to be created, which leads to the ways to manufacture it, and so forth. Peace leads to economic stagnation.
I have thought about it a lot while watching things being rebuilt - watching a DFAC and soldier's quarters go from tents to actual buildings; watching us renovate old buildings for our own use.
Do you think that the comparisons between the operations in Vietnam and the operations in the Middle East are fair?
Not hardly. An urban environment changes the game. You have WAY more collateral damage to worry about, way more "innocent" bystanders, way more historical and cultural artifacts to worry about.
Given your activity in the field, what has been your best and worst experiences which have left the deepest impressions on you?
I think the worst is the look on some children's faces when you level a weapon at them for getting too close, and I think the best is that in the dark, quiet hours are truly free to think and grow.
You mention "truly free to think and grow." Could you expand on this a bit? What ways do you grow or need to?
I think that when you sit out on a guard point or on a radio watch long enough by yourself in the night, looking at the stars and listening to the sounds of the world, you begin to realize how small the war, world and we all are compared to the whole entirety of the universe. You find something humble inside yourself and it makes you truly value friends and freedom to come and go and the wild, quiet places of the world.
In a conversation that we had several years ago, I remember you mentioning the children, and how hard it was for you to listen to the things they would say to you and how the Iraqi civilians had called you a "baby killer" and other things like this. Has this environment changed at all?
Iraqi civilians? Hell, American civilians have called me that and worse. I didn't interact with children the second deployment as my team and I were a bit too mission-essential to let us roam about the cities and villages. I have heard its better now from those associates of mine that do interact with the general population. The children not as much afraid of us anymore.
What misunderstandings or hardships to you find come from your own country?
In larger places, they seem to take soldiers for granted. They assume because we ARE soldiers that it is a given that we should happily die and fight for them - that they don't owe us anything for our sacrifices of family and friends for their blind self-absorption. A lot of people seem to assume that of course we should just take over Iraq, because democracy is the best way, which I don't believe that it necessarily is.
Given the United States' desire to spread the Americanized version of democracy, what do you expect would be a better government when, it has been said, Saddam Hussein was the greater of two evils?
In any political system, greed will destroy whatever good may be inherent: communism, fascism, socialism, democracy, republic - it doesn't really matter. The systems are not so much the flaw as the people in power are.
Which leaves what option? Are you suggesting anarchy?
You know, a lawyer once said to me that anarchy is the highest form of moral development. I think that there is a middle ground between communism, socialism and "democracy." I don't really know where it is, but there are good points to all of them that are not mutually exclusive.
When you're not in the field, have you found that your opinion of the U.S. has changed at all as you navigate foreign cultures?
So what changed?
Before I went to Europe and Iraq, I sort of had the feeling like "Okay, well maybe we do things weird in America, but its still the best way." As I have traveled and seen other cultures, I have come to see how much Americans are self-absorbed in their shoes and fast food and all these things that don't really matter, while all around the world and even in America children and other people starve and die and suffer. They give a few cents to a charity to feel good about their billion-dollar houses, and it really sort of pisses me off. I think its that as I have seen other things, I realized that forcing your views, no matter how benign, on anyone else isn't right, and ignoring a problem doesn't make it "not there," it just turns into a cancer. America is rotting from the inside-out, like a leper, and its like it is trying to infect as much of the rest of the world as possible before it expires.
What are your expectations for Iraq given what you've seen and experienced?
In the next few years I would say that we will end up officially and permanently occupying Iraq much like we did in Germany and Korea by opening permanent bases and installations throughout the country in order to better "rebuild" the nation. Our bases in Europe changed more in that region than anything else.
Our influence on culture, music, ideology - you talk to an older German and a younger German, and there is almost a 180-degree shift in things, much like the 90's shifted the way Americans think. I think that our prevalence of pop culture and trend has influenced the Germans greatly. You can tell a huge difference in towns close to a base and towns away from one - the way people act. Its an intangible sort of thing. I don't know the word for it, but I can see it happening in Iraq - their old ways and culture will lose and become history.