25 October 2006


Digby points us at a short video from the BBC protraying some of the day-to-day life of US soldiers in Iraq.

It seems that the soldiers depicted in the film are tasked with rooting out insurgents, who are of course bad guys because they are fighting the American presence in Iraq. A big part of how they go about this is the soldiers just hang around. Sooner or later, they get shot at an Iraqi. So then they shoot back and hopefully kill the guy who shot at them. Voilá! Insurgent eliminated.

I guess that the hope is that if they hang around long enough, Iraq will just run out of insurgents. US troops have to be in Iraq—until Iraq runs out of people who doesn't like that they're in Iraq. Then they can leave.

It's like a Beckett play.

It's not like they only spend their time waiting around to get shot at. There's also stopping cars to see if they're full of insurgents, breaking into people's houses looking for insurgents, interrupting locals to see if they know where there are any insurgents, stuff like that. Digby observes,

Those poor Americans fighting in Iraq seem like decent guys who are doing a thankless task. But if you were an Iraqi you'd hate their guts.
That was certainly the the feeling I got reading an account by Lt Adam Tiffen on The Sandbox at Slate's Doonesbury site.
She looks relieved, and then she continues hesitantly. Her hands clasped together as if in prayer. “What will I do? How long will he be gone? I cannot stay here alone. It is dangerous here. Please bring him back tonight. If you do not, where will I go? Who will protect us?”

Behind her, I can see that her daughter has tears in her eyes. I turn away from their stricken faces. Glancing at the soldier behind me, I can tell that this is as difficult for him as it is for me. In a quiet voice, I give instructions to the private standing behind her husband.

“Alright, take him back out to the vehicle, and let's get ready to go. Let the CO know that we are done here.”

Accompanied by the subdued young soldier, the man leaves the room and walks outside without so much as glancing at his wife or his children.

“Ma'am, do you have family you can go and stay with? Is there someone you can live with until all of this is resolved?”

She thinks a moment, and then replies: “Yes, my husband's family lives in Baghdad. I could take the children and go there.” I nod my head and attempt to look encouraging.

“I recommend you do that. I honestly don't know how long your husband will be gone.”

It's worth reading the whole account. Lt Tiffen is truly a stand-up guy: decent, polite, thoughtful toward the Iraqi family with whom he's having this encounter. In his situation, I'd be proud if I could handle it with half the grace and humanity he does.

But look at what he's being asked to do. A good man being put in a place where the very best thing he can do is politely afford a family as much dignity as possible as he takes the father away, perhaps never to be seen again. Even if every American soldier were like Lt Tiffen—and while I am sure that many are, I also know that some are not—how is it that this can make things better, either for Iraq or for the US?

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