...the American Soldier.
Sorry Navy. Sorry Air Force. To me the Most Outstanding Person Of 2005 is still The American Soldier, whether Army or USMC. I don’t doubt the professionalism and courage of airmen and sailors alike, but I think it is clear that in this conflict the foot soldier bears the brunt of the fighting.
After the initial elation about the Iraqi elections, the news about the enormous gains made by the religious parties came as an anticlimax, and I suppose that many of those who supported OIF with heart and soul, myself included, may have felt at least momentarily fooled. Basically, it seems to have turned out that offering a population which has never really known democracy, not necessarily leads to that population making the right choice when given the chance to elect its leaders. By which we assume that the right choice would have been the secular parties. And why not? We westerners, thanks to our unrestricted access to online and printed data, and flooded with visual and audio information, are in a better position than Ahmed Q in, say, Yemen, to understand what a godforsaken fucked up region the Middle East is. We rightly lay the blame for that at the feet of the region’s dominant politico-religious ideology, Islam, which indeed is fast becoming a burden to humanity’s progress.
In the particular case of Iraq however some caveat concerning the wits of the average Iraqi voter may be justified. After all, Iraq just emerges from fifty years of secular regime, and the average Iraqi’s experience under it may in fact have been the strongest argument against secular rule. It is the religious parties which for the greater part had to lay low during Saddam’s rule, and so their ascent during the December elections is not illogical per se. In Iran, where mullahs have ruled for 25 years, the people, when given a fair chance to cast their vote, would in all likelihood have elected secular leaders.
Therefore I would urge our American readers, who are all too aware of the blood, sweat and tears shed by your troops and their relatives, not to lose heart. For rule of law and democratic representation to take hold and blossom is in fact a very quaint and tough, if not unlikely event. Russia e.g. is a country which throughout the ages has produced countless eminent leaders, statesmen, artists, scientists, engineers, writers, poets and architects. Regardless its troubles, regardless the horrendous crimes against humanity committed on its soil, when speaking of Russia, we do not mentally connect it with backwardness like we do with the Middle East. And yet in Russia, an educated and gifted population lets its right to democratic rule slip away towards some de facto tyranny under a former KGB agent who literally said that the demise of the Soviet Union was one of the greatest geopolitical disasters of the 20th Century. By which I mean to say: the path to democratic rule is long and hard and by no means evident.
The task facing America is enormous, and great perils lie ahead. Even after all the suffering, success, even in the long term, is not guaranteed. But you have been down this road before. I remember seeing a short film taken just before the end of World War II, about the liberation of a concentration camp by GI’s. If there were still soldiers among them who, before entering the camp, doubted deep in their hearts why they had fought so long and so hard, I guess that after going through the gates that feeling was gone. At one point, the camera zoomed in on the still face of a US soldier, kaki clad, steel helmet on. He was dead pale and his black eyes, twitching so it seemed, tried to cope with the horrendous scene in front of him: piles and piles and piles of half-skeletons in grotesque bearings, mouths disfigured in painful snarls, hollow eyesockets looking up to a sky they would never walk under anymore. In Spring 45 the full horror of Nazi Germany finally came to light, against which even the most vile crimes of Saddam Husseins regime pale in comparison. In Spring 45, "Germany" was a filthy word. People of the free world did not look upon Germans the way they do today. Here was a country which in the span of a mere 70 years thrice had invaded the west, and caused havoc and loss of life on a scale not seen before in history. In Spring 45, and in the immediate years afterward, people, when taking the word "German" in the mouth, subconsciously connected it with untold evil and barbarism.
Yet Americans believed. With what now seems sheer improbable good will and vast amounts of that unique American "can-do" spirit, they took to the task of implementing democratic rule in Germany, when in 1946 nearby Czechoslowakia passed the so-called Benes-Decree, named after its president, which effectively ruled the deportation of a couple of million ethnic Germans, and which was thought of by the free world as a non-issue, or rather as something deserved.
Yet Americans believed.
That is why, despite the hardships and the setbacks, and plans not seeming to unfold the way we would like to, I think America should carry on in Iraq. For you have done this before, and a positive outcome was much more unlikely than it is today. For there is no other way, since quitting will make look the Vietnam aftermath like a fait-divers. And last but not least, for you have the most magnificent armed forces the planet has ever seen, and militarily you are simply – INVINCIBLE.
PS: speaking of your fine military, find a good sample over at CDR Salamander. He has an amazing story about a Staff Sergeant James Gilliland, who from his Ramadi sniper nest called "Hotel" killed a terrorist at a distance of 4,100 ft.