Tuesday, April 11, 2006

American Grace

Summary: Anecdotal evidence suggests that peoples the world over prefer dealing with American Troops as opposed to militaries from any other country. This is especially true in Iraq today, as the United States has made a generally very positive impression on Iraqis—especially the younger generation.

One of the things that makes America so great is American Grace. Peggy Noonan recently wrote:
“After World War II, half of Europe had been defeated by America, bombed by it. And yet America had the broad support and affection of Western Europe in the crucial quarter century after that war, in part because of efforts such as the Marshall Plan, but also because of exposure, both prewar and postwar, to American GIs. Europeans came to know who Americans were. American leaders and diplomats did plenty to help America's standing, but in the end the glory went, I think, to the GI Joes, and some Janes too, who won and occupied with American grace. We will find, down the road, that many in Iraq will hold affection and respect for America because of the Americans they met and came to know in our armed forces in the first years of the 21st century."
Isolated incidents in any war zone sometimes do not paint a pretty picture, but the overall grace with which Americans have occupied and served in Iraq is something the populace will generally remember fondly for years to come. I have made several friends here who are genuinely grateful for our presence, despite the growing pains that they know they must endure for the short run.

The positive relationship of Iraqis with American soldiers is particularly true of the younger generation. As I have visited various villages, invariably the youngsters come from far and wide to see us. It was refreshing to know that they had no reason to be scared of us. Of course they want what toys, school supplies, or fruit that we bring, but often they like to talk about what they are learning in school. More particularly they like to show off their newly acquired skills in English. I noticed as well that nearly 100% of children would wave at us on patrol as we drove by, and adults waved much more often when they had their children with them.

A friend of mine in America tells the anecdote of a friend of his from former Yugoslavia. Forgive my ignorance of the details, but she tells of one particular area (of a city, I think) that was divided up into 4 separate zones: American, French, Russian, and German, if I recall correctly. The main point of the story is this—which zone was the most well kept according to her? The American zone. In which zone were the soldiers the most friendly? In the American zone. In which zone did the people feel most safe (from raping, beating, etc.)? You guessed it. People did everything they could to be in the American zone, because of American Grace. (Someone with a better knowledge of history may know of similar stories regarding the division of Berlin, if so please share them…)

It is important to be firm in any tenuous situation. America has, overall, done a good job at this in Iraq (especially as this has been mitigated by shoddy American media reporting that has resulted in Rules of Engagement (ROE) being restricted).

It is also important to show grace and respect whenever it is warranted. In most situations in Iraq, grace and respect are called for. For the most part, America has done a good job of that here as well. Based on general public opinion here, the current generation of American G.I Joes and Janes is projecting an image of America that will be fondly remembered and appreciated for generations to come. The polish with which most American military members perform their duties here is equal to the reputation created in—and expected based on—past conflicts.


Anonymous said...

You state "based on public opinion here" Can you link or state any sources so I may strengthen my argument with friends who say we are making things worse? Thank you Judy E. Colorado

Frank Staheli said...

Judy--excellent question. The main source I can give here is my own experience. I also visit a couple of Iraqi blogs from time to time--exiledshalash.blogspot.com and pearlsofiraq.blogspot.com. They are honest, as sometimes they have good things to say and other times bad. Depending on how much time you have, you might check out the compendium of all Iraqi blogs at iraqblogcount.blogspot.com. From the American press, some good articles are linked in my recent post "News from the Non-Conformist media."

Frank Staheli said...

Another excellent account--an eyewitness one at that--of both how grateful the Iraqis are for us to be back as well as how sad they were that we left too soon in 1991 is included in the book Saddam's Secrets by Georges Sada.