May 12, 2004

Letter from Fallujah

A Marine in Fallujah wrote the following letter to his father.

"Dad -

We are approaching a very significant phase in Falluja. Very soon, we will execute the first "joint patrol" into the city. The concept is that Marines and elements of the new Iraqi force will enter the town together. To suggest that the cessation of hostilities is fragile is an understatement. The environment is very fluid and one day things look better but the next we gather intelligence that suggests we are making a mistake. The leadership has gone way out on a limb here making a tremendous gamble that the course of action decided on will bring some degree of stability to this area.

Of course, in order to allow the Fallujans a chance to stabilize themselves, we must eat a little crow. We know that people are running around the city proclaiming that the Marines were defeated and the insurgents stopped us. To our dismay, this has even been picked up by our own media. Again, I can barely stand to read it. However, we fully realize that the only way the Iraqis will take control of their own destiny is to regain some of their long lost self image/national pride. They were crushed by Sadaam brutally for 35 years, the last 12 of which, the US also had its way with them. They saw us cut right through the worlds 4th largest military in 1991 and then enforce no fly zones along with limited offensive actions against them with impunity for the next 12 years. Finally, we destroyed a regime and occupied their country in less than 3 weeks last year.

Regardless of whether or not the Iraqis hated Sadaam, all of these elements above resulted in a tremendous amount of shame in this culture. Later, when we captured Sadaam and put pictures and stories in the media of him surrendering like a lamb and sticking his tongue out for doctors, that was further humiliation. Until they start to feel some pride in themselves as a nation, we cannot expect them to want to vest themselves in its future. If that means we have to stand by and let them strut, that is what we will do. It is very hard to swallow as there is not a Marine here who does not know in his heart that we could have taken the entire city down if we were allowed. The whole environment requires discipline and confidence.

The more I am exposed to Iraq, the more I am convinced of the damage done buy the brutal regime that ruled it for so long. A special forces officer and I were talking this morning and he made the analogy that Iraq is like an abused child. If you abuse a child and raise it in a closet, you cannot expect it to be well adjusted and socialized when you let it out 20 years later. It may take decades to excise all of the damage. It is a rough analogy but it certainly applies here. The depth of ignorance is astounding. Because the people were so isolated and lived in such fear of the special police and sundry other henchmen, they are very susceptible to rumor and disinformation. Many people here hate us as they do throughout the world because they see us as grossly wealthy and our opportunities and "blessings" make the absence of their own all the more angersome. Envy breeds resentment which breeds distance which breeds ignorance.... You get the picture.

I cannot tell you how many crazy ideas that the people here actually come to believe are true about us. In the mosques, they preach that we are only here for the oil and that we want to colonize Iraq. Worse, they preach that the Marines are going to rape the women in order to crush their race and expand our own. It goes on and on. As a western educated person, your first inclination is to reach out and reason with people. However, the ignorance fear and hatred are so profound in some pockets that reason is almost impossible. Soon someone shoots at us and then we respond. You can only imagine what happens after that. Finally, there are leaders here trying their best but who cannot gravitate away from western values and logic. These values and approach are often perceived as weakness. Weakness is seen as opportunity for the terrorists.

The lingering problem are the many different factions who are completely mercenary in their interests. Hard to believe but the insurgents care very little for the innocent people and easily justify their deaths so long as their individual agendas are furthered. This is pervasive here, particularly with Islamic extremists. They are merciless on the citizens. I have no ideas how many summary executions these people have committed on the citizens of Iraq who they perceive as cooperating with the coalition but it is in the thousands. We have seen it happen. We found one body in Falluja as the Marines advanced that was clearly tortured (feet cut off, head bludgeoned in...) before being killed. There are more stories than I can recount. The criteria for a death sentence here? - Refusing to fight for the terrorists or maybe taking a job emptying portajohns on a US base. If you are thought of being a spy, your entire family is at risk.

I realize that little of this probably makes the news. Perhaps history will explain our journalistic failings because I simply cannot.

As for the Abu Garayb atrocities, that is exactly what they are. I have been inside this prison several times. I never saw anything like what is now on the news but we did see a general lack of discipline among the service members in there when we arrived. We are horribly ashamed that fellow service members would do such a thing. It does not matter that it was Army or National Guard. Most Marines and Sailors in the Regiment have had their hands on detainees. It is a very emotional and taxing situation especially if the guy was just shooting at you. However, these prison guards didn't go out on patrol and capture the Iraqis, nor did they conduct a raid and grab them in a very dangerous operation. They simply failed at every level to maintain even the most basic standards not only of US servicemembers but as human beings. They traded the Nations moral high ground and fueled the extremists message of hate as a result of their weakness.
Unfortunately they did it not just to themselves but every where a Marine or Soldier patrols tonight across the globe and even for every American citizen who travels abroad and naturally represents the United States.

What do we do? I can only imagine this is what people must be asking. I can only share what the Marines here believe. We stand and fight. We honestly and absolutely accept responsibility and do our best through out actions to convince the world that those acts were conducted by criminals and are not indicative of our values or intentions. We continue to go on patrol and do our best to kill the terrorists and protect the people. We stay tolerant one second longer. We adjust to a very fluid environment and stay faithful to our values. We live up to what the American people expect of United States Marines and we maintain high expectations of the American people. We share our courage with both the Iraqi people and even our neighbors, fight like hell when the situation dictates and maintain our humanity through it all.

It may sound very glossy to many people but there is the luxury of focus here. No angst sitting in a Starbucks listening to some idiot opine about something which he knows very little or having to suffer through campaign ads that try to make hay out of America's stumbles.

People need to have faith that the young man throwing grenades two weeks ago and who was ordered to stop has not lost faith and still believes what he is doing is right. Whenever I am blessed enough to take a second and recognize "that guy" it shores up my personal weakness and makes my situation seem trivial.

For what it is worth, even though the Marines constantly ask the media guys here if "the American people still support us...?" Like anyone else, he wants to be reassured but he clearly expects the answer to be "yes." My take is that it is easy to support service members but it takes conviction to support the continued liberation of the Iraqi people and the pursuit of terrorists around the world - especially on the dark days.

Sorry it has taken me so long to write."

I only wish our leaders could be as wise as this Marine.

Posted by Ted at May 12, 2004 8:18 PM