Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Faces Of Iraq

the children, they smile -- some barefoot, some sandaled. Four sisters and a brother cling tightly to the lanky bringer of candies and hugs, the pale-skinned stranger, the soldier, the man. Mother steps aside a moment, allowing her daughters and son to receive a permanent impression of manhood, of provision, of courage.

Don't think for a moment that these children feel pain. They don't remember the "Saddam Time"; they may never have had running water or power or clothing with tags. How is that a lesser condition if it's the greatest they've ever had?

And now the greatest is growing. The school in the village is being improved: more air conditioning, more desks, more supplies. If the teachers refrain from selling them for personal gain, then these children will see an improved educational environment this fall.

I wonder what their experience will be 10 years from now... they will be recognized by their society as adults, half of them married, half of them working to contribute to the family home. I wonder if they'll be glad the Americans came, provided, and left? I wonder if the country will sustain the momentum we're trying to pass on? I wonder if they want it?

I wonder if they'll think it would have been better if we never came at all...

I hope not. I prefer to think "we made a difference to that one" applies here. I'm willing to bet my friend Tom (pictured) thinks so.

Tom is a soldier in our unit, participating with the Civil Affairs mission we have received for infrastructural improvements on the local school. So far I have been given the choice of whether to go out or not (participate with the mission), and I have refused. I'm torn -- between giving these mothers and children just a little something more and risking that two-mile stretch of road between our base and the school -- something I promised my mother I would never do unless ordered. I'll keep you posted. -t


At 8/03/2005 1:45 PM, Blogger Mary Godwin said...

Frames of reference ... It's a "lesser condition" if it's less than they would have known had the infrastructure of the country not been blow to hell in a handbasket by "Shock and Awe," and an "improved educational environment" might be best considered along those same lines. I do think we need to clean up the messes we make/have made in Iraq, but I have conflicted feelings about the sometimes emotionally necessary claims of having acted "honorably" or "generously" or even "compassionately" for the investments made in doing so.

Am I glad for the candy and gifts given to the children? Oh, yes. But there's something disturbingly "wrong" with this picture/this story: it seems to attach a sense of "Good Samaritan" to a military mission that would never have been necessary had that same military not bombed the crap out of the "civil affairs" in the first place. The children are beautiful, but the image risks perpetuating an American mythology currently underwriting U.S. imperialist actions: Iraq is "better off" because we took a war and an occupying force into their country. Frames of reference ... "One day at a time" works to celebrate the faces of those children, but open the frame of reference, and much more difficult issues/questions begin to press for answers.

All that being said, Tommi, I remain proud of you for the work you do - particularly your courage to process through your thinking "out loud" on this blog, and if you want to go outside the gate ... go. I know your heart. Just do what you can to keep the story straight when you go.


At 8/03/2005 4:28 PM, Blogger bdg said...

I, too am proud of your hard work and the dedication you have to making sense of the world into which you have been thrown followed by responsible action. While I care that you are safe, I know life can't always accomodate our trepidations. Being responsible to what you know will often take you into harms way, but rarely steer you onto a wrong path. Follow your informed heart, but be ever so careful both for your sake and for the sake of those hearts that would break at your loss.

At 8/04/2005 11:47 AM, Blogger James said...

As to the last inserted segment, I am selfishly grateful for your decision to decline the mission of leaving your...haven - if it can be called that. Have no shame in doing so, either. You are already giving as much "help" as can be provided.

At 8/05/2005 9:12 AM, Blogger submandave said...

Perhaps I'm an interloper, but I think you have bought the "conventional wisdom," Mary, that everything bad about the infrastructure in Iraq (electrical, plumbing, structural, etc.) is because "we broke it." What is apparent to me is that Saddam had been, for decades, robbing Peter to pay Abdul, diverting funds and resources from less favored areas (e.g. Kurdistan, the Shiia south, etc.) to benefit his croneys and supporters in Baghdad, Tikrit and other locations. A large part of the lesser services experienced in those regions is a factor of more fair distribution of resources. Also, when speaking of power distribution problems, especially in Baghdad, one can't discount the effects of intentional sabotage by Ba'athist hold outs who specifically want to foster the impression that "things were better under Saddam."

It is a huge assumption to think that the delapidated state of schools and unsanitary conditions of sewage and potable water systems throughout Iraq, and especially in rural areas, is because we blew them "to hell in a handbasket." Contrary to what detractors of the Iraqi campaign would have you believe, we did not carpet bomb the entire country. I'm not saying we didn't break some stuff on the way in, but I am saying that a lot of what we've fixed so far was broken long before we ever came on the scene.

At 8/05/2005 9:37 AM, Anonymous MissBirdlegs in AL said...

Agreed, Submandave. From my reading, I understand there is a lot of stuff we didn't "blow to hell", but had been allowed to just wither away while Saddam built another palace. Seems to me, each $25,000 he paid the families of Palestinian suicide bombers would have been much better spent on his country & his people. Thanks, Tommi, for the difference you folks are making in their lives.

At 8/05/2005 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Under Americans the the new Iraqi government some children are without electric power.

Under Saddam's Iraqi some children were slaughtered and buried in mass graves.

I think it's safe to say things have improved.

At 8/05/2005 4:02 PM, Blogger Mary Godwin said...

I'll certainly yield to the point, Submandave, and concede that an unequal distribution of wealth in a Saddam dominated Iraq left rural areas of that country underdeveloped so that funds could be used for "another palace," but to couch the American military presence in images of humanitarian justifications is nonetheless to build a "backstory" for an invasion that, on those grounds alone, would never have been unacceptable to the American public as justification for a war, particularly given that (SO) many other places in the world (Sudan to name a most pressing example) might more reasonably merit super-power intervention on that count.

Are we fixing what we broke? Yes, in MANY cases ... and "what we broke" can be measured in terms quite beyond the scope of material realities only. Are we fixing what was broken before we got there? YES! And that's a very good thing to do as long as we have the resources and people in country who are willing to do so. But to "sell" a war on terrorism with images of "Samaritan" do-gooding in Iraq is to distort reason at the cost of displacing a more responsible American response to a level of neediness in other places around the globe that far surpasses the needs of rural Iraqis, needs including those of the 18% of the American children who are right now living at the level of "food insecure."

NONE of this is to minimize Tom or Tommi for the daily investment they make in lives they are able to touch as they complete their missions on duty in Iraq. I KNOW individuals are making a difference; I KNOW infrastructures are being improved and protected where there are people and resources to do the job. I am proud of my daughter and those with whom she serves, but I DO put in question, nonetheless, the matter of integrity with which American as a nation is acting. I do put in question the motivations of our current administration and a president who, now lacking fruition for a rationale used to prompt initial actions, continues to justify the occupation of Iraq as "a war on terror."

"Accountability" is sliding to the edge of our field of vision, and I'm disheartened by a propensity to gloss that slide with images of humanitarian service no matter how moving the images can be. The people of a great nation can hardly be expected to balance their own checkbooks, to tell the (whole) truth, to keep their word, to honor and protect the rule of law, to do what they say they will do when they say they will do it, and be relied upon in that commitment if the President of the United States cannot be relied upon to set an example in leadership in honoring those same qualities.

For me this discussion is less about who the Iraqi people ARE or about who they have been; this is a discussion about who the American people are! My concern is whether or not - ALL things considered - we are who we want to be remembered for being. Read that last thought with an emphasis on "ALL things considered" in order to do justice to my meaning here. If this discussion were just about "freedom," it would be easy. If the needs of Iraq's rural communities could justify the investment of a nation in going to war, even that would be an easy conversation, but it's more complicated than that - WAY more.

Just as each American must answer to the complex realities of living each day accountable to a network of competing demands, even more so must America as a nation do so. The assurance of national INTEGRITY is the best hope we have for insuring a country in which it makes sense to call our children to equally high standards:

Balance your checkbook. Hold yourself accountable to the varied and competing demands on your resources. Prioritize, act carefully, and soberly weigh ALL of your responsibilities before committing yourself to action. Conserve your resources whenever and wherever it is reasonable, responsible, and possible to do. Be willing to sacrifice when personal integrity demands it. Spend wisely. Always pay your bills. Avoid debt. Invest all that you can in securing your future. Do unto others no more or less than you would hope they would to you.

Expect no less of your country.


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