Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Observations of Rural Iraqi Life

I have been getting some updates from the NCO in Charge (NCOIC) of our guys out at the remote site, which I hope to be able to sanitize and post soon. This soldier is one of our finest, a strong leader, caring brother-in-arms who really has a heart for his soldiers (and apparently the Iraqis too).

He sent along the following, which I reproduce unedited in its entirety. My response and other remarks will follow.

I don't know if you have written anything about the way these people are living as I have not read all of your articles on the site. We have visited some of these people’s homes and businesses and as you know, they have an extremely poor way of living.

In one little boys room that he was so proud to show me, he had an AK-47 propped up next to his bed. Although it was very clean, there was nothing in it. There wasn't a television, XBOX, box of toys, or anything like that. The little boy, probably around 8 or so, had a thin mattress lying on the ground and a piece of wood propped on 2 objects holding it up for him to put what little items he had on. Even though these people had nothing, they still offered us what little they did have. They tried to give everyone water, made tea for us, and even gave us some goat eggs. The tea that they served was actually pretty good. They served it on what appeared to be their fine china. To a normal American back home, it would have been something we would sell at a yard sale for around $1.00.

The thoughts of these people who walk around shoeless and wear the same clothes every day, stay in your head for a long time. You want to just take the family and help them as much as you can, but understand that you can only do what the Army allows you to.

I don't know, it’s just something that I wanted to tell you. It is a sad thing and I only hope that what we are doing over here truly makes this land a better place for them to live. It makes you think that what we have at home and take for granted on a daily basis makes us privileged. I know that the next time that I can't afford that new car, or in-ground pool in the back yard, I will think of some of these people and realize that I have a special way of living right there in the United States.
I replied:
Mrs. Dadmanly and I took a short term missions trip to Tijuana Mexico once to help build and repair homes. It was much the same there. People all over the world live this way, and we live in such incredible comfort and luxury. They don't even miss it or realize there's that kind of world out there. The Mexicans we met were far happier with what they had than most Americans. Perhaps that's true for these Iraqis you're meeting. I hope whatever they see in movies or on TV (if they even get to that) won't go to their heads and make them discontented with what they have. They might be better off not knowing.
Now this conversation, and the environment he describes, strikes me as very revealing on a number of levels.

For rural Iraqis, I think this may be the first contact they’ve had with Americans, and they probably don’t know what to make of us. That they are generous and gracious should not be surprising, that’s culturally expected throughout the Middle East. That they seem to have little fear of the Americans, and an innocence in dealing with us is perhaps somewhat unexpected.

And then, if U.S. National Foreign Policy and the vagaries of International Relations are virtually unremarked on throughout heartland America, which has surely been my experience, how much more detached from such issues are rural peoples in a country largely isolated for 40 years or more? Perhaps centuries? These Iraqis that my Soldier describes were probably disconnected even from the former Baathist regime, other than to whatever extent they ran afoul of it by sorry accident.

But it is startling to read about something as simple as a young Iraqi boy showing off his room – I would think having it to himself is probably a grand thing – and his only possession, and perhaps not his but his father’s, an AK-47. From the region where these people live, I can be very confident the firearm is for self-protection and perhaps the occasional meal.

Please also note the tone and content of what my NCO wrote. This is important. I’ll admit, he’s a fine soldier, a Romeo, one of our best. But he can be pretty raucous, is far from saintly but an honest guy, and is about the norm for those of us who are, say, more committed to the military and its values than not. He’s pretty average in attitude, for one of our better leaders. He cares deeply for his soldiers, and would sacrifice his life for any of them if he needed to. (That may sound extravagant, but believe me it’s not, and it’s not uncommon.)

(If you read this SL, please don’t poke me in the eye.) Note the humility, the sensitivity, even what I might dare to call the innocence with which he sums up this humble dwelling and the poor people who inhabit it. Consider that this rough man, who is willing to fight on behalf of all those who sleep peaceably in their beds, sees this scene and responds with a deep appreciation for his blessings.

I’m not kidding, this is a deeply American trait, and the best of our Soldiers possess it in great abundance.

So when you read about wars and rumors of wars within this Global War on Terror, and you happen across the cynical and tossed off allusions to “crimes” committed in your name, know too that far more often, there’s a big hearted man or woman on the front lines nearby. He may be kneeling down, offering a piece of candy to small child. He may be greeting a village elder with a handshake and his hand to his heart. She may be helping the ladies of a small village escort their children through a market unharmed.

The American Soldier. Quite unlike anything you've heard. And we are all blessed that that is so.

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