Friday, June 09, 2006

“Not What I Expected”

Their experience with the Americans has been nothing like what Saddam had taught them all those years. Instead, Iraqis found out that most Americans are very courteous, kind, and respectful.

My new friend had already worked with the Americans here for a year or two before I got to this operating base, and he had made some very good friends of them in that time, so it wasn’t difficult for him to strike up a friendship with me. I was sad to be leaving friends behind that I had made at my previous operating base, but in retrospect, I’m glad I came here, because of a friendship I would have missed.

On one of the first days I arrived here, I went to the gym to work out. As I was sitting at one of the bench machines, I began to notice and observe a very dignified Iraqi gentleman who was working there. I felt strongly impressed to go speak to him. In nothing flat we had each made a new friend. I tried out some of my Arabic on him, and he was very impressed.

Over the next few weeks I would see him at the gym nearly every day. Part of my regimen was a half hour discussion with him of new vocabulary. We both began to look forward eagerly to these mutual education sessions. I became his English teacher and he became my Arabic teacher. It was soon clear that his English was better than my Arabic, so most of our discussion was in English, but he was very patient with me and very approving when I would understand and be able to use a new word, phrase, or concept in his native tongue.

My friend’s son is in college, and he had always wanted a computer. Being that I had stayed within my personal spending budget for several months straight, I was able to purchase a refurbished laptop for his son, for which he was profusely grateful.

We learned a lot about each others’ backgrounds, families, and religions over the next several weeks. I gave him my address, phone number, and e-mail so that he could contact me in the United States. He said that maybe his son would try to come to America to further his education, and I made it clear that he or any of his family that visited America would be always welcome in my home.

Knowing that I will soon be going back to the United States, my friend braved the somewhat dangerous roads to Baghdad in order to purchase me a dishdasha (a type of traditional robe worn by men), a yashmagh (headscarf) and khal (a sort of coil that holds the yashmagh in place). It is very nice and something that I will always treasure. Of all he gifts I have ever received, this one has perhaps the most meaning.

But what I treasure most is what he said during our discussion as he gave me my gift. He told me that Saddam had always taught the Iraqi people that Americans were mean and vicious and that they were to be feared. In Saddam’s public pronouncements, in the newspapers, and in the public schools, this became the party line. ‘So when the Americans first came to Iraq, we were afraid of what you would be like. But it was not what I had expected. We have found that you Americans are very kind and very generous and we are grateful that you are here to help us fix our country after all the problems of Saddam.’

It has not been what I had expected either. Just like anything you have never experienced is hard to imagine, Iraq has been much more than I expected. I’m glad that I have been here. I’m glad that I could serve. I’m glad that I have been able to make some very special friends.

16 comments:

Frank said...

Ive started a new military site like myspace for us military I hope you can join and pass it along. www.imservingmycountry.com

Kim said...

Frank,

I wish this last post could get out to so many more people. It is important that Americans understand the majority of Iraqi's truely appreciate America's presence there. Glad you are safe. Keep it that way!

Elizabeth said...

Is this gym a local Iraqi gym, or a gym on the base? Do local Iraqis use gyms on U.S. military bases?

Matt said...

I'm glad you were able to sneak this post in Frank. I was starting to worry. I find your perspective truly interesting. Keep up the good work. I think the military MySpace is a cool idea. Haha.

Marlyn said...

This one brought tears to my eyes, Frank. Maybe it's because George left yesterday for Mississippi then Afghanistan. We've been wondering how he could keep everyone posted on his happenings - your site might be the answer. Thanks.

WW said...

That's a lovely, heartwarming little item, but aren't you forgetting the families of the people tortured and killed by American forces?

Or is it your position that no such things have happened? Could it be that you think there's nothing wrong with American torture 'n murder because it's what our enemies do and therefore we should do it to their civilians and combatants too?

Or do you simply think that to mention U.S. atrocities is anti-American because any truths that don't put us in a lovely light should be ignored?

Just asking. See if you can spare me the usual smarmy lecture about how I hate my country, okay? I condemn murder and torture no matter who does it, and that includes American forces.

Kat said...

First, Frank, thank you for you lovely post. Chatting with people from Iraq and even Iran, I've enjoyed making new friends and learning about great people via the internet. To do it in person would be fantastic.

One thing is for sure, these friendships will stay with you as much as anything else.

Please ignore the discordant noise from WW. He thinks he is Danny Ellsberg outing the great secret of the war. LOL

Matt said...

Frank,
Please allow me to respond in your absence:

" It won't be for freedom, because Iran's leadership is elected."

If you're referring to a President which has no power, whereas the Supreme Leader Ayat Allah Ali Khameini has it all, you're right.
If you're referring to a President where the election was so close they had to have a run off because nobody voted, you're right. If you're referring to an election where to make it look like people were voting they broadcasted footage from the Majiles election of '04, you're right.

" It won't be for human rights, because the U.S. military has a policy of torturing enemy combatants and civilians."

We do have an occasional slip up, not as bad as the Iranian gov't's track record. I recommned you look at http://www.sosiran.com/HTML/English/eng1.html Click on Brutalities. I also recommend you look at http://www.daneshjoo.org/ and http://www.regimechangeiran.com/ Frank might not respond for a bit due to the fact he told us that he would be out for a while. Keep fighting the good fight, Frank!

Matt said...

WW, I did say we slip up occasionaly. It's not something I'm proud, but it proves our military is just a collection of humans like everybody else. I don't like it when they torture people. However, you have to look at things from a total view. Frank did a post a while back on Abu Ghraib when Saddam ran it. Yes, our military slips up with regards to torture on occasion. Yes, the guilty should be punished so it doesn't happen again. However, they don't do it nearly as often or on a consistent basis as these countries we go up against. Lest you forget, when we went into Fallujah there massive rules of war violations: http://www.military.com/NewContent/0,13190,GH_Fallujah_112004-P1,00.html If you prefer PowerPoint, look here: http://www.sftt.org/PPT/article11222004a.ppt I wouldn't accept that excuse from my child, everyone's doing it. I'm not trying to defend at Abu Ghraib. I'm defending our military who often comes under attack by people like yourself, sir or madam, who feel they are no better than the enemy. They perform a job and do it with honor, pride, and conviction. Today's men and women are the reason we have an all-volunteer military. I don't think for a second that if the military didn't have the required amount of forces that they wouldn't hesitate to draft people. Please view that PowerPoint presentation. Thank you.

Matt said...

"At Fallujah, the U.S. military used white phosphorous munitions as an offensive weapon, even though this is banned by chemical weapons treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory."

They used white phosphorous to illuminate enemy positions. They never used it on the enemy as an offensive weapon.

"Torture is now U.S. military policy."

Where's the proof? Would you be referring to Abu Ghraib? Would you be referring to the two of six proven cases at Guatánamo? The reason we get that feeling is because the media takes stories like Abu Ghraib and Guatánamo and keeps replaying them. Whereas in the case of the massive violations like I showed you in the PowerPoint (did you view it?) by our enemy are rarely if ever shown. War is an ugly business. Nobody likes or wants war. If you think "torture" is new to the post 9/11 military, I suggest you look at some of the things our forces did back during WWII, such as one instance that was well-documented in "Band of Brothers" when Captain Winters gave German POWs cigarettes and then shot every one of them with a Thompson. However, I'm not going to go on as I respect our military and appreciate what they do. They slip up occasionaly but they protect us and keep us safe, which I very much respect.

Frank Staheli said...

Elizabeth,

The gym I speak of is on our base. It is open to military members as well as base employees, which includes Iraqis as well as people from a multitude of other nations.

Frank Staheli said...

Marlyn,

I feel for you and George and your family as he embarks on his great adventure. Believe me, as I'm almost done with mine, it does come to an end so that families can be reunited. And it is so worth it. I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything in the world. I just wish I had had more of them. Take care. I'll be thinking of and praying for you and your soldier husband.

Frank Staheli said...

WW,

You raise a great point, and no, I will not lecture you, because you are right. It is an honor to belong to a nation where murder, even in wartime, is punished to the full extent of the law. If the Haditha marines are guilty, they should be punished. FYI: I touched on this in a previous post entitled "Abu Ghraib and the Need for Moral Clarity".

A friend of mine is part of the Marine JAG (Judge Advocate General); rumor has it that 3 Marines will be tried for the equivalent of murder and 4 for something like manslaughter. I agree with you, that we should condemn torture and murder no matter by whom it is committed.

Stayed tuned in the next week or two for another post to be entitled "The Hidden Meaning of Haditha".

Frank Staheli said...

WW,

Some of your comments lead me to believe that you have your mind unalterably made up. I'm not saying you're necessarily wrong (you're often right, in my opinion), but you appear to be very dogmatic in your scathing approach.

I hold out hope that you have a few fair bones in your body. That's why I throw down the gauntlet to you. Read every post on this blog and then tell me what you think (so far I think you have only read one post).

Am I fair or not? Am I right more than I'm wrong, or vice versa? Did you learn anything or not? Let me know what you decide.

Matt said...

Thank you for bringing that to my attention ww. I didn't know that the ArmyTimes had said that the State Department and Defense Department's claims were wrong and contradictory. As for viewing the link you gave me that showed an establishment of torture as standard policy, the stuff described in there I had heard before, but to hear it again was needless to say sickening. I completely agree those responsible should be punished and ammends must be made so it won't happen again. I'm not disagreeing with you in the least on that.

Tom said...

"I changed my mind when the evidence showed that there had been no WMD or links between Saddam and al-Qaeda, and that the United States had established a policy to use torture."

Huh? So let me get this right. If president, you would have sent in the troops, but once they discovered there were no stockpiles of WMD you would have pulled them out, leaving the Iraqi people to their fate? Or you among the tin-foil hat wearers who claim that "Bush lied!"

Re the "torture", well that's a bit complicated. What you consider to be "over the top" defines where you come down. I'm in favor of waterboarding if that's what it takes to get what we need out of them. I've no problem with what we're doing at Gitmo.

But I guess I'm not as morally pure as you are.