A larger percentage of Iraqis voted in the elections of December 15, 2005 than ever vote in the most contested elections in the United States. After watching them vote, I will never look at my privilege of voting quite the same again.
I don't know about you, but if I have two experiences that are equally excruciating, I will automatically think that the one I am undergoing now is much worse than the one that happened in the past. Even if the experience in the past was more excruciating, the one I'm undergoing now still seems the worst.
This is my opinion of what is happening to many Iraqis currently--the ravages of Saddam were terrible and the ravages of the current terrorists are nearly as terrible, yet because one "remembers" what is happening to himself now better than what happened in the past, many Iraqis think life today is worse than it was under the iron-fisted rule of Saddam.
I was witness, however, to a day not so long ago when virtually no one preferred to dream of the days of languishment under Saddam. In fact, it was a day that most if not all Iraqis remember most fondly as one of the best days of their lives.
God bless, by the way, the tribes in and around Ramadi, Iraq, who have finally come forward and dared to call the insurgents what they really are: terrorists. (More about this in an upcoming post.)
On election day, December 15, 2005, my job was patrolling a main supply route between military forward operating bases (FOBs) and manning a hilltop that serves as an observation post (OP) used to surveil the supply route road. Not far from our OP was a small village of maybe 300 people.
As I manned the machine gun in the turret of my humvee, I noticed several people in the school yard. Unlike most school days, the people in the school yard were mostly adults. This day being in a sense just another day of work for me, I initially wondered to myself why so many people were in the school yard. Then it occurred to me: it's voting day.
I grabbed my binoculars and began to observe more closely.
Our replacement platoon arrived shortly after noon that day, but for the 4 hours or so that I watched the school yard, there was always someone coming in the school yard gate, excited to exercise their franchise. Groups of people stopped to chat in the school yard and on the streets leading to the school. Often the ones returning from their polling place smilingly held up their purple fingers as a token of both joy at having voted and as encouragement to those who had not yet voted. Many of them shook hands and hugged each other. And everyone was happy.
Later that evening, back at the FOB, I got on the internet to see national voting results--to see if our village was an anomaly. I was more than pleasantly surprised to see that it indeed was not. I am an emotional person (my mother's genes are to blame for that) but I kind of became embarrassed as I tried to hide from the other soldiers who were in our command post that night a few tears of excitement. I saw pictures of long lines of happy people. I saw a plethora of pictures of people with purple thumbs. The Iraqi military, supported somewhere in the background by Coalition forces (and, I like to think, angelic hosts) provided a masterful job of protection on election day, as very few incidences of death or injury occurred.
Voting that day took a great deal of courage, for their were many threats of violence. And maybe the resulting satisfaction is a great deal of why, for at least one day, there was joy all around.
I'm sure in a few years, when free elections are something to be taken for granted in Iraq, people won't be all smiles as they were that day, but it will be a day and event that for many years many Iraqis will be proud to tell their children and grandchildren that they had the privilege of participating in.
I have never gone to cast my vote wondering whether I would come back alive. After serving in Iraq, and watching the joy on Iraqi faces at having the privilege of voting, I will never look at my voting privilege quite the same. Now that you've read this, I hope you won't ever again take voting for granted either.
Pray for Iraq. May their future be as free and as joyful as was their December 15, 2005.