Saturday, October 30, 2004

The Safest Place in the World / Why I Fight

My favorite month is ending in just a few short hours, and once again, I've missed my favorite holiday. Halloween is the closest thing to carneval that we Midwesterners have. The obscurement of identity, the Dionysian release of over-indulgence (candy as kids, and other stuff as adults), the sense that "it will all be over come daylight, so let it all out" all appeal to me. But, as I said above, I missed it again, stuck in dreary eastern Baghdad - during Ramadan no less, the holy month (isn't a month sort of overdoing it?) when a true believer isn't supposed to eat, drink, smoke, have sex, or basically do anything that makes being human worthwhile during the daylight hours. Top it off with the US Army's ill-considered "no fun" regulations (which, if followed to the letter, would make even the most devout moslem look like John Belushi circa 1978), and you have the makings of a shitty time (not to mention the bungholes that try to shoot at me).

All that being said, hopefully you'll indulge me in a bit of homesickness. I even miss the town that I call "The Safest Place in the World" (hereafter known as SPW). SPW is just that: a smallish midwestern liberal-arts-college town with no major highway running through it, little crime, and no large industry - the type of place that is basically a state-subsidized haven for aging hippies and fresh-faced transnational progressives. Hell, the state even provides the former with jobs and the latter with twin senses of entitlement and purpose! This burg is like a mini-Berkeley, except on lithium (we are midwesterners, and of course most of us don't get THAT worked up about most things). SPW has hit all the stations of the cross that a lefty mecca needs to hit: large Unitarian community, Greens outnumber Republicans on campus, pre-recorded Mumia speeches every now and again, Bush puppet heads and guys on stilts trotted out on the Leftist High Holy Days, police gun range shut down due to "excessive noise," sand on the roads in lieu of salt in the winter (it doesn't help any with the snow, but it doesn't disturb the Earth Mother), Jewish student union vandalized with bloody pig head, those charming Che posters in alleyways, doctrinaire Stalinist bookshops posing as havens for free-thinkers (I'm talking about YOU, Boxcar Books) unwashed homeless-by-choice twentysomethings clotting up the otherwise quaint downtown area, and, of course, Starbucks vandalism.

As you can see, I'm fully aware of the (many) shortcomings of this place, but I love it nonetheless. Why? Because in SPW, unlike most of the rest of the world, I can stroll down to a coffee shop (corporate or family - my choice), sit down, read both the New York Times and The National Review, and not have to worry about a FUCKING ROCKET being fired from down the street. I can display affection toward a member of the opposite sex (and that's a SHOUT OUT, Maria!) in public without incurring the wrath of the Holy Police. I can turn on my faucet and raw sewage doesn't pour out. If I disagree with my government (and I often do), no one will come and throw me feet-first into a stump grinder (try telling that to those Black Cross kids who hang out at the library, though: "We live in a police state!" okay...sure guys, just lay off the meth, will you). In SPW I can buy pretty much anything I want or need, and I don't need a home arsenal to protect my purchases. I can drive out to the lake in the summer, drink a few, and unwind without having to keep one eye open for brigands who'd kill me for my shoes. In short, in SPW, I (and everyone else, too) can live mostly as I please with minimal interference from either the government or malignant non-governmental forces.

That's why I fight. I will not allow the backwards reactionaries that throng so much of the world's surface to destroy (or even damage) my home. I don't care why they hate us or wish us ill, the simple fact that they do is enough to motivate me. I will not surrender my values, my loved ones, my freedom to placate the childish impulses of a pack of insane petty tyrants. I will fight them until I'm too feeble to pick up a rifle, and then I'll pick up a pen and take the fight to the marketplace of ideas. I'll continue to fight them in the streets, I'll fight their friends and allies if need be. I'll fight their philosophies, whether they be religious (e.g. Wahabbism and al-Qaida) or secular (communist dictatorship and the like) wherever and however I can. I fight them here, in their backyards, so they won't have time to creep into mine.

I cherish my freedom, the safety of my home, the embrace of my life's love. I cherish the notion that someday my descendants might live on other worlds, and maybe even prosper there. I cherish the idea that my descendants might only know AIDS and cancer from textbooks. I cherish progress, liberty, and joy of living. I cherish these things enough to kill to preserve them. I love these things enough to not sully them by surrendering to my enemies in the vain hope that they "just leave me alone" (ahem, Spain, you might want to start taking notes). If my nation's proactive, often nonlinear approach to this conflict disturbs or bothers some people, so be it. If it disturbs or bothers some people enough that they feel they must take up arms against us, then bring it - I'll also fight them, and so will several hundred thousand of my friends - the best that the United States, Britain, Poland, Australia, Italy, and many other nations have to offer. Push us too far, and those numbers jump to the millions.

So SPW, sleep soundly tonight. Some morning soon you'll wake up a little bit colder, with no leaves left on your trees, and I'll be there. I'll stroll down your overhung streets without having to check for armed insurgents in your alleys and I will smile. I'll light a cigarette and sit down on one of your limestone retaining walls and listen to some bedraggled-but-earnest youthful Che-worshipper spout about "oppression" and I will laugh. I'll reflect upon the first dusty snowfall on your many copper and slate eaves and I'll grin from the sheer joy beholding the pure beauty of freedom.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Fall in Baghdad

Gone are the 120 degree days. Gone too are the blast-furnace winds and the swirling dust devils. It actually rained a few days ago. It wasn't a downpour, just a sprinkle, but it came as a great relief to we Americans who aren't used to desert summers. The Iraqis seemed to feel the change too: the cooler air and the little sprinkle seems to have heralded a different, more relaxed attitude. The children have started to return to school, and they all seem very eager and happy about it (even if many of the little boys seem to take an hour or so to walk to school, making frequent stops to waste time in some way or another, but I suppose some things, like schoolboys ditching classes to mess around, are universal). As nice as this all is, I still wish I could see the hills of home covered in the riot of color that mid-October brings. Maybe next year.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Leaving for a Bit

No real posting today. I'm off to do what I get paid to do, and will be away from the solace of the computer center (a $2 an hour solace, that is). Be back in a few days, but until then check out this (rather old) article from VDH:

Monday, October 11, 2004

Cast of Characters, part I: The Translators

(This is the first in a series of posts in which I'll highlight some of the groups of people that make up the scene here in my little corner of Iraq. Since nothing would get done without them it is appropriate for me to start off with our Arabic interpreters.)

There are two types of Arabic interpreters employed here in Iraq. First we have the relatively rare US citizen who is a contractor through a company like Titan. Don't get me wrong here, those guys are great, but I really would like to tell a little about the other group of interpreters, the native Iraqis who work with us day in and day out.

These men (and they are invariably men) undergo the same crappy conditions that we do. They go out on the same patrols, the same dangerous raids, and the same endless, boring overwatch missions. They and their families are targeted for harassment and assassination by the 8th-century goons that we're fighting. The pay for them is good (for Iraq), but not that good. Not good enough to risk life and limb. Not good enough to have almost no free time and never see one's family. Nope, the pay isn't why they do it. To a man, when I've talked with them on why they do what they do, the translators say that they want to serve their country. Not serve the insane despotism of Saddam, or the supposedly incipient Islamic-weirdo state that is glimmering in the eyes of Muqtada and Zarqawi. The translators want to serve their country and what it can be, and what it should be. They want to see services restored, children going to school, and people going to work. To that end, they put up with conditions that would make most people quit and go home.

Most of these guys learned English in school, which meant they went to school, and therefore represent the educated class. They have a lot of resentment toward those countrymen who exhibit immature and irrational behavior that sets back the cause of reconstruction. The translators realize that Iraq will never be the United States. All they want is Kuwait- or Jordan-style government and economy, which is an attainable (and worthy) goal.

I've seen these guys pick up weapons and return fire in fights when they could have just laid low. I've seen them deal with their fellow interpreters not showing up for work and finding out later that the absence was due to assassination. I've seen them do a lot, and they go above and beyond for their country.

So, here's to you Ziggy, Bob, George, Ricky, Tom, Jerry, Sal, and all the others. Thanks.


From the always provocative Jonah Goldberg over at NRO, comes this.

How could Bush think he could pull this thing off? I mean, knowing as he did that there were no WMDs in Iraq, how could he invade the country and think no one would notice? And if he's capable of lying to send Americans to their deaths for some nebulous petro-oedipal conspiracy no intelligent person has bothered to make even credible, why on earth didn't he just plant some WMDs on the victim after the fact? If you're willing to kill Americans for a lie, surely you'd be willing to plant some anthrax to keep your job.

I especially like the bit about the "petro-oedipal conspiracy." (But, as they say, read the whole thing).

Why is it that some people are willing to believe the most outlandish tales about our own officials, but won't even consider, for even a moment, that other nation's leaders might have some nefarious intentions of their own? I especially find it exasperating to listen to someone lay out a torturous theory that supposedly explains the "true motivation" of the administration in deciding to invade Iraq. Without fail, these theories presuppose a cabal of twisted geniuses who cook up needlessly complex plots to enrich themselves by a few million dollars. Maybe I don't understand the mindset of these folks because I haven't been huffing Krylon and watching Michael Moore flicks. Not that I plan on starting to do either of those things, however. I enjoy having whatever loose grip on reality I still possess.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Wild Dogs

There are a lot, and by "a lot" I mean "a shitload" of wild dogs in Baghdad. Most seem friendly enough. They may be feral hounds scrounging meals out of trash and carrion, but they're still dogs, with thousands of years of guided evolution compelling them to run up to humans while wagging their tails. The one useful thing about having them around is that they bark at any biped that moves by. This comes in handy on those late nights spent guarding some god-forsaken intersection next to a disused sewage-filled canal. Even if the guard does zone out a little, no one can approach within one hundred meters without the dogs letting the guard know that something is up. (Not all of my time in Iraq is spent in the grim struggle for survival, on the contray, quite a bit of it is just flat-out dull, like spending the evening watching dozens of insomniac dogs cavort around on a dirt road that leads from the bad end of town to the worse end of town.) Why are all the dogs hanging around us, you might ask? Simple: Americans are nice. Americans like to give out food. Americans don't chase dogs around with sticks. Americans will even pet dogs if the animals don't look completely flea-bitten.