Sunday, February 27, 2005

Third World

Soldiers say things - in anger or fear or frustration - they don’t mean, and feel things they can’t or won’t say. They personify insurgents as "haji" - a singular name used as a collective noun - like Charlie from another war in another place and time. It embodies respect for their enemy’s skills at sudden violence, and the contempt fighting men have - perhaps must have - for their enemy. How else could they kill instantly when need arises? At the same time, living in Iraq for a year, seeing the reality of the Third World - the grinding poverty, the living conditions of daily life, the absence of what Americans and the rest of the West and some of the developing world take for granted - clean water, security, schools, civil rights, health care, opportunity - has had a profound impact on the mostly young Americans who joined the army for a host of reasons. It has hardened a few to human suffering, but in most it has kindled or reinforced a sense that Americans are among the most fortunate people on Earth. In many, it has sparked kindness. Soldiers here are almost universally good - maybe in small ways - to the Iraqi kids who flock around them. The kids have come to associate soldiers with candy and soccer balls and pictures, rather than with fear and violence.


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