April 8, 2004
One wonders whether high-ranking American military officials are actually the psychological innocents they appear to be or whether they simply know that they have to spout nonsense in order to retain their jobs. After the incidents in Fallujah last week, when Americans were killed and their bodies were dragged through the streets by a delighted mob, a phalanx of bemedalled uniforms fanned out through TV land to assure us that these actions did not mean that the Iraqis don't adore us or eagerly welcome us into their country. Can there be anybody in the world dumb enough to believe this?
The slightest tincture of imagination tells us that occupying armies cannot be objects of affection, and particularly not among the young men of a nation. Males between the ages of sixteen and thirty are, perhaps obsessively, concerned with maintaining their pride. This they can scarcely do when they are forced, by threat of death, to be subservient to foreigners who stalk about their streets with tons of military gear dangling from their belts. American soldiers, who are portrayed by the American media as youthful idealists risking life and limb to move about the world spreading good wherever they go, are not seen that way by other people. If we could, just for a moment, set aside our own pridefulness in order to imagine the pride of others, we might begin to gain a more realistic perspective on the world.
I know that if I were still under thirty and a foreign army came here to command our nation, I would join with other young men to strike at them in any way I could. And this I would do, no matter what their motive in coming, even if they came here to remove an evil ruler.
I was struck by the remarks of an American soldier I saw on TV recently who proclaimed that the Iraqis are cowards. And why are they cowards? Because they will not come openly into the streets and fight, with their kitchen knives and homemade bombs, against an army possessed of tanks and guided missiles. Instead, they skulk about in secret, and launch surprise attacks. This young soldier's attitude, which I suspect is fairly typical, should tell anyone with ears to hear why soldiers are unlikely to be ambassadors, winning friends and influencing people. I was a soldier once and I know that the beliefs we were encouraged to develop - that we could go anywhere in the world, and do whatever we decided to do, and pity the poor slobs who got in our way - were not designed to make us loveable.
The American people would do well to recognize that so long as we are ruling Iraq with the iron fist of military force, there will be elements of the population there who will fight against us with every device and every tactic they can make use of. And when, upon occasion, they are successful enough to bring down some Americans, they will be happy and celebrate. That's human psychology at its most basic. Only when we get these truths straight in our minds can we accurately access the cost of our Iraqi adventure and decide rationally whether the prices we pay match the benefits we get.
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