Saturday, April 02, 2005
"Which is the real Iraq? The one described by soldiers who say the picture is brighter than the public is being led to believe? Or is it the wasteland of war growing ever more dim?"This dilemma calls for an anthropological experiment: a liberal columnist tries to get inside the head of a strange, alien creature - the American soldier:
"Army Spc. Paul Schlicher of Fort Lewis says the Iraq he has come to know isn't the same place most Americans keep hearing about.So far so good. Let's just add that this is not the insides of just Army Spc. Paul Schlicher's brain. These sorts of experiences seem to be shared by the overwhelming majority of American servicemen and women coming back from Iraq.
"I crawled inside his brain to see the situation as he sees it.
"The landscape of brown is what hits a soldier first. The Middle East is surreal, like something out of a fantasy book, a blanket of sand unfurling forever. A thought flashes over and over. What is it that Dorothy said about Oz? We're not in Kansas anymore?
"The Iraqi people leave an impression. Some are good people. Some are less so. Many Iraqis are poor and do not have running water or electricity. They bear the scars, psychological and physical, from the rule of Saddam Hussein. The despot is gone, and the people are so relieved.
"Spates of violence, from random gunfire to suicide bombs to assassinations, still keep Iraqis on edge. But here is the amazing thing: The joy of the people goes on. Their resilience inspires. They may not have much materially and they may have seen horrible things, yet they remain happy, deriving pleasure from their families, their newfound freedom and life itself.
"They are grateful for the presence of U.S. soldiers who are planting seeds of democracy in challenging terrain. Their gratitude makes a soldier's job worth it."
The liberal columnist is even willing to grant the soldier sincerity: "It is clear he sincerely believes everything that comes from his mouth."
But then the doubt sets in:
"I weigh his views -- about Iraq, about the military, about how the media look at the war. I weigh it all against a United Nations report that just came across my desk. The report says malnutrition rates in children under 5 in Iraq have doubled since the U.S.-led intervention. When Saddam was overthrown, about 4 percent of Iraqi kids were going hungry, the report says. That figure is now at 8 percent.Why?
"So, which is the real Iraq? The country described in bleak terms by the United Nations? Or the land of optimism that inhabits soldier Schlicher's mind?
"I'm leaning toward the sobering report over the upbeat point of view as seen through one soldier's eyes."
No answer. End of the column.
Because the negative view always sounds more believable? Because 140,000 American soldiers on the ground in Iraq are too close to the action, too caught up in it all to offer a sober, objective assessment, while the United Nations with hardly any personnel inside Iraq can take a broader, less biased view? Because the "international community" has no agendas, while soldier do? Because the United Nations, which embodies the collective view and wisdom of the whole humanity is naturally more credible than mere individuals?
I don't know. Perhaps I should crawl inside the liberal columnist's brain to see the situation as he sees it. But, call me a chicken-hawk, I'm too scared.