Sunday, December 31, 2006
We knew on Thursday that this was going to happen quickly, but obviously couldn't say anything. There were rumors flying YES about a Sunni, or baathist die-hard, plot to capture and execute as necessary literally busloads of schoolchildren to prevent 6 AM today - amongst other fears and pressures.
About other "pressures": I am persuaded that its one thing for 7th century death-cultists to harbor nutzoid scemes and pathologies and strategems - and quite another when we begin to subscribe to them. Beginning with Clinton's Ramadan bombing pause - right up through our Gitmo guards wearing latex gloves to keep their infidel-paws from defiling the Holy Quran - I'm real jaded of late to qualms about "cultural sensitivity" - to put it mildly.
----Wait a sec! You're telling me we're handing out Ko-rans to these nutters in Gitmo? How'd copies of "Mein-Kampf" for German POWs sound? Thought not.
Either the Koran is the Holy Text these slavering dogs are unworthy of, or blue-print for a thousand jihads - in either case it should be witheld! Thats the trouble with cognition-repression.
There's a third possibility - and that is that the Quran contains in it the holy writ of Allah and his injunctions for the world - including our immolation. Which we could duly set about doing ourselves, or alternatively - cowering behind marines we force to wear latex gloves because our tacit admission is just that - we are indeed infidels worthy only of throat-slitting for our disobediance to the holy writ of Allah. Well, argue with that. What does our behavior SAY TO THEM. (and to our posterity, more importantly). Anyone else beginning to feel we're not much more worthy than slaves? No, LESS! For surrendering in abject prostration to a century already defeated millenia ago. For surrendering to nothing more than chutzpah and psycho-bullying. What the hell sucked the marrow out of our bones? How the hell do you exalt the Japanese Emperor while asking your sons and daughters to die fighting his adherents in the Pacific. This is a recipe for more than defeat --- for negotiated collapse!
Anyhoo - Saddam. Noone earned a beheading more, yet none died more humanely in Iraq in 2006. I am however, ashamed and surprised at my reaction. I wanted him strung up as much as anybody, or made to suffer endlessly - but all I saw up on the scaffold was a scared, frail old, bushy-eye-browed grandfather, suddenly human. Somehow dignified, somehow lucid and composed.
Its a running joke in Baghdad that Plan "Z" was always Saddam. If Iraq were losing 1,000 a day - we always had Plan "Z". Order would be restored within one hour under Plan "Z". The plan would take 30 minutes to transport Saddam from prison to Iraqi TV broadcast center. 15 more minutes for him to get dressed. 4 minutes for him to clear his throat and make himself presentable, and one minute to step to the microphone and utter one two-word phrase . . . . "I'm baaaaa-aaaaack."
I woke up this morning around the same time as Saddam, (assuming he slept), in the same city, upset over having to do maintenance on our trucks. (bummer). He faced the gallows. I couldn't help but transpose myself, to put myself in his shoes. (We know perfectly well what he'd do in mine - begin killing his way to the top). Un-controlled carnage happens everyday in Iraq - but rarely does anyone face the certainty, (not the likelihood - THE CERTAINTY) of the moment and exact time of your departure. Before and after. I knew Saddam was alive (and scared) when I awoke. I knew he'd be gone by the time we reached the trucks. Watching the video at lunch of the certainty that'd occurred only a few short hours prior gave a luster of wistfullness to more than just me. Plan Z was gone forever, along with the unwelcome assurance it provided all of us sick of the barking mad insanity in Baghdad.
And I in his shoes - I question my own composure. Then again it was TV. And TV's tricked me before.
I think this is all celebrity syndrome - if I were to diagnose myself. Saddam was larger than life. Reduced to just life, in an instant, when the the noose went around his neck - and the mind recoils from the incongruity of it all.
And more than a little bit is "Ozzy" syndrome. Thats what we call my Step-Dad. And he and I would sit outside and mockingly chortle of the "unfairness" Saddam was dealt. (Faux)-honoring him with the (faux)-respect which (wasn't) due him. It was our way of internalizing the clinically insane Arab (and Western - for that matter) press and the defense it offered him. In this inverted, mock-universe - Saddam's accusers were liars, all he ever tried to do was build a better country for his people, and in any case Israel and the US were worse. And for the Coup - We'd both vote for Hillary and she would set the universe to right. We euphemistically call Ozzy's new home by the River "Saddamsewee" both in mock honor of Saddam, and in mockery of the small size of Ozzy's parcel. ("Hoppsewee" is a legendary, palacial Plantation home in our neck of the woods.) And Ozzy, when you're reading this - know that our mock-hero stands and trials-by-media have changed forever - and I'm just as forlorn as you. Its probably good we're not together this evening, for our collective mock-grief would overwhelm us both. Just like when they got "Baghdad Bob" - our lives have never had the same entertainment since.
Anyway, there will be no return. "The Survivor" is dead, and good riddance. But I confess I do marvel at his departure. And if Mowafiq Al Rubaie's account is true, that one of Saddam's executioners (likely a Shiite shit-head, and thus utterly plausible) uttered the phrase, "Long Live Moqtada Al Sadr" - then we have cause to be truly wistful indeed. We are out of the frying pan . . .
(and we're gonna have to smash up the whole damn kitchen. Don't try and read my mind . . . We made Stalin happy when we ground Hitler into powder too. Didn't mean we didn't have the stones to see 'em both off. There's more than two games in town . . . )
Friday, December 29, 2006
The top: The special, invariably flavored tobacco is packed inside this tiny ceramic bowl and a perforated sheet of foil is placed over it. The lit charcoal is placed on top of this with metal tongs. The disc as bottom sits atop the vase or water-bong portion to catch the falling embers and ash.
Nakhla Tobacco is a popular brand - and there it is - box and (full) bag. This stuff is wet. "Pickled tobacco" is more like it.
Strange flavors, but it inhales effortlessly, and cleanly - with absolutely no burning sensation. What you exhale evaporates almost instantly like freezer-fog, leaving a distinctly fruity (in this case green-apple) flavor in your mouth. Not entirely unpleasant.
. . . And I with my Green Bean Expresso Chai Latte, and Phippsy in his Army Cap, were about to settle down for a long winter's nap. . .
Eh. That's not it either. I was aiming for Land's End, or J Crewe Christmas around the fireplace faux-homey-ness.
In Iraq, a cut takes about 15 minutes, costs about $3 and is likewise an experience unto itself. The most interesting part, for me, is how the barber cuts. He keeps his scissors flowing like an electric razor, never pausing. He cuts, cuts, cuts - swish, swish, swish even on the away stroke. The scissors are constantly opening and closing whether he's cutting or not. The hands are a-flurry, the hair falls to the floor in precise cuts. Then, for a finale, typically they defoliate your eyebrows and forehead by rolling these two, neatly-paired strings carefully woven across their fingers in precise angles (and yes, it hurts.) They pull the strings, (now rolled together) apart with fore-finger and thumb - and out comes the hair, (by the roots).
Arabs are caucasian, and like we pale-faces - they have more hair than they need, in places they don't need it. The rest is history. (I leave the editorial comment to you.)
So I thought I'd have this picture taken and throw it in for context.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
An enormous, super-convoy, of more than 80 trucks lines up daily to bring Christmas goodies (among other things) to all Santa's girls and boys. Convoys run through "Indian Country" just as wagon trains did in their day, from Fort to Fort.
Here one of our trucks gets some adjustments from the fine maintenance company that's just "fallen in" on the previous.
Cliff drives ahead of me, with the fixed truck.
Into the Fog . . . of War.
The good news is this'll keep the bad guys indoors, right? Pretty hard to deliver a mortar or sniper's bullet or car-bomb if you can't see around the next corner. No word yet on casualties today. (In the mid-distance at left are three palm trees that had their tops ripped off by that Fall Squall I blogged about earlier).
I don't mean to over-inflate this. As always, there are Coalition soldiers on other FOBs and bases that get a hell of a lot more than this, in a smaller area. But this is no less lethal. Had I been walking in that vicinity, or driving by when this thing went off. Odds are good I would be in Landstuhl Germany right now, (at best), and not blogging on this - my Eddie Award winning blogsite. Thanks Dirk! (I'm having difficulty getting the code to stick - the Editor stalls out in the "saving" process).
Thursday, December 21, 2006
SGT Kenner and SPC Tripp were helping out this day. Kenner's sporting the traditional "patrol cap," while Tripp's wearing the Aussie "Boonie hat" that I prefer. BOTH are authorized to wear, (thank God).
You'll actually hear people complain about the boonie hat, but it makes more sense in the Baghdad heat, (as the Aussies discovered in their desert). The US Army is "one-size-fits-all," and necessarily so - for an army to function. But I hope I don't have to explain to you the shortcomings of 2 million people thinking with one brain, (there are less than desirable manifestations of this at all levels across all functions of the Army, and we'll leave it at that). Most of the guys who've been in longer refuse to wear it, and berate the rest of us because who do we think we are? Those guys get sun-burn rings 270 degrees around their close-shaved scalps for their obstinance, and they say we "look silly."
Monday, December 18, 2006
And I'm just talking about the emails! Dirk made me feel ten-feet tall, (I'm un-worthy!), by devoting an entire post to me and my blog, and ORDERING his troops to participate in what he's calling "Operation Desert Swarm." To load my site with traffic, and well-wishes, and hearty "Merry Christmases" for all us folks over here. (Plus a number of "Happy Birthdays!" for me).
So family and friends of this blogsite, please go there and patronize him, and see what he wrote. Dirk's blogsite is http://jestersrap.blogspot.com/
A word on America. I believe it good to belong to something bigger than yourself. Not some rank ideology, but a purpose and love and respect for that which is greater than your ego. The defining difference is does it elevate the ideological over the interpersonal? And with America, it plainly does not. Our country celebrates and revels in the individual. Individuals like Dirk Star. Like Me. Like Marcus Hall. Like "Skinny Little Blonde", "Skeet", and "Kentucky Brat."
I speak only for me, but I am not brave. I am fulfilled. Infused with meaning and purpose. If you took away my love of Country, there'd be nothing left. (maybe a bar-tab, and an ORA coin). It is my life-long love affair with America that leads me where I go, an unseen hand (I think I know whose) that guides.
Love of country is not a nebulous abstraction, either. Better men and women than I have gone before me, laid down their lives - so that I might live out my wind-blown, aimless "walkabout". And the shocker is they never knew me. They died for promise. A Promise. And I'm not OK with being indifferent to that.
America was founded with the best principles and ideals to hand. 220 years later, they still are. I will not shrink from them. I will not neglect the blood-debt I inherited on my birth. There's a reason they burn our flag. And its because its worth burning. Its more than a flag. To be born American is to have won the lottery on life. Pity that too many are unacquainted with the world outside our borders, and its history.
No sweaty, stinky, bearded zealot will ever come near the people and the country that I love. Not if I have anything to say about it, "By God", as we say in the South. Our fates are bound together, and that isn't said NEARLY enough in our rapidly atomizing, ego-centric West.
Fear doesn't go away, its never very far - but you've you've climbed all the little hills when you realize its irrelevant. A recent acquaintance of mine, said his old First Sergeant had taped this missive up in the lid of his own foot locker, to be seen every morning when he opened it. "Be Brave. You have no choice."
We err. We make mistakes and misteps, but the goal is eternal, the ideals unflagged, the Constitution un-sullied, and the soldiery unflinching. It fills you up till your cup runneth over - when bright, star-brilliant, outrageously individual folks (I call them Americans) send you anonymous love and gratitude from home. It recalls the promise.
And from Baghdad, we reciprocate fully, in spades. May the sun shine on all of you, and as the old Irish toast goes, "May those that love us love us, and may those that don't - may God turn their ankle - so that we may know them by their limping."
I'd like to leave you with the words of Pat Conroy, SC's most famous (adopted) son. After many years as a War-protestor, and exile and excommunication from his alma mater, the Citadel, he had an epiphany in the home of one of his old classmates, many years later. They had played on the basketball team together, and this friend shipped off to Vietnam and led a platoon in combat, as was the purpose of his training. Conroy lay awake at night, wondering of the nights of horror his friend had been through, as Conroy himself led war-protests in Beaufort. He pondered on the time and space between them, and how he'd wound up in this kind man's house a welcome guest after all that. In his speech to the graduating Citadel cadets of the class of 2000 (?), entitled, "Why I wear the Ring", he said he'd learned: "That America is worth dying for even when its wrong."
All the Best,
Sunday, December 17, 2006
I had two more great pics of Iraqi friends, some made famous by recent documentaries. I just cut them, before publishing. I'd love to show them to you, but can't in good conscience. They're great people. But I can't do anything to jeopardize their lives more than they already are. A District chairman was murdered today, and three of his cohorts on the council were abducted.
"To what end?" I ask myself over and over. I remember the first time I asked myself that question - it was almost ten years ago when I was reading a Time Magazine piece on the civil war in Algeria. There was a picture of a six-year old boy with his throat slit and hung from the drop-bucket in a well. Nazis wanted to kill Jews, but they did it behind closed doors, for the most part. The Khmer Rouge killed people for the crime of being literate. Commies terrorized and labotomized in every corner of the earth. But killing an un-formed child, a mass of clay, a native son - not an "other" - and making a display case of your barbarity with his body - is a new rubicon we've crossed, I feel. Its an assault on hope, and faith in humanity. Every evil we've faced down in our history reached out with its forked tongue to the youth. Evil's not that stupid.
But perhaps this is the unvarnished, unmitigated, un-diluted variety. A rarity? This is the devourer of humankind, and the only place I find reference to it - is in the midlle east. And in - the Bible.
"To what end?" What kind of "new order" can you build on that much wanton cruelty and un-tempered barbarity? What "social order" do you hope to build on the backs of children slaughtered with less conscientiousness than a goat?
It took me awhile to work it out, and I understood why after September 11. When the planes hit those towers, my imagination ran through all kinds of ridiculous scenarios. I simply didn't - COULDN'T - comprehend what I was watching. (Like so many of you, no doubt). Its almost appaling, looking back at my initial impressions. Because I had not grasped the imagination of the killers. I had nothing in my background to aid me in understanding. No wisdom, or experience to aid comprehension. I don't devote any time or thought in my life to the depth of evil and its manifestations. The "Problem of evil" maybe, "serial killers" twisted sociopathy perhaps - but nothing on this scale. Nothing this pure, 200 proof. I think I'd go manic depressive if I did. It was so beneath bearing the thought, so far beneath my appraisal of evil in the world, so beneath contempt.
Its purpose is fear, and the will to power. Its means are atrocity. Its end is supremacy. There are no universal truths, they believe, no transcendant morality - if they can kill, conquer or cow all those who espouse those ideas. It's worked like gangbusters in the Middle-east for well on 1300 years now, and like everything else in our world, in our time, from SARS to Dell Computers to Latin Hip-Hop - its going global. ("Jihadism" is most definitely a pathogen - like AIDS or Avian flu. My intent here is not to liken Zarqawi to "Inspirons", or "Daddy Yankee".)
Sorry, the purpose of this post was not to veer so far off on a tangent. The purpose is to acclaim "friends", and wonder what we'd do without them.
Sunlight, and friends. The human mind is hard-wired to depend on them.
Masgouf - a Iraqi specialty. (Visible in previous picture as well). This is a flayed carp of some native variety, seasoned and spread in little "snow-shoe"-like wire cages suspended on little contraptions on the periphery of the fire. Dee-lish! The meat flakes off like white cake.
Here 1SG Winchester and the lovely, most gracious hostess Nadia practice making their own bread.
And the "piece de resistance", shwarma kebab - made that day. Seasoned meat, with layers of mutton fat between layers of spiced meats. Lemons, fat, spices, and some local seed (spice) pod called "hulls" are in this roasting heap, and they combine for an absolutely delectable meal with our homemade bread.
Here, the local lad on the kebab shreds some for me to sample. He works at a feverish pace in front of that hot, gas-fired roaster. The genius of middle-eastern meat dishes such as this is that everything continuously marinates vertically as it renders and melts - and the "tender" is there to slice off the perfectly delectable shreds as they reach perfect roast. Un-toppable.
Marcus, (SGT HALL), happened to amble by and we were able to debrief him on his recent trip way up to Erbil, in the heart of Kurdistan. He said it looked more like Southern California than Iraq, and many others have said likewise. If the Western press isn't telling you, our best dreams did come true in Kurdistan. Outside of one suicide bombing which took the lives of upwards of 23 US Soldiers - we've lost approximately THREE in as many years, up there. All the news you hear about Kirkuk and Mosul are because those two cities straddle the Sunni Arab/ Kurdish faultline. Historically they didn't, but Saddam was about 55% of the way through his "Arabization" plan for both cities when we invaded back in 2003. (Think Milosevic in Bosnia). Now the Kurds, the ones that survived the "Anfal" campaign, want their homes back. Polls reveal their unwavering support for us. So take heart, Americans! Now its up to us not to abandon them, (again). The Korean contigent has the Erbil province, and they're doing a fabulous job by all accounts. Foreign companies are setting up shop there, and HIRING. A small taste of what Baghdad could be . . .
Oh, the PIC! (above) Here Marcus pulls security for Santa from the gunner's hatch in the sleigh. Not even Santa is safe in Baghdad.
Here's me trying to blow smoke rings to decorate the tree with for the grand finale of the evening.
And here he demonstrates the proper response and Army discipline resulting from getting stuck (by me) four times up and down his arm. While they had to "fish" for my vein, Cliff only broke the skin one time in one place. I had to poke the poor bastard four times to get a "flash".
A flash is when the blood spurts up into the "flash chamber" to let you know you've hit paydirt. - - - That's not entirely true - I hit pay-dirt on my first go, only the tiny catheter, which is left behind after the initial stick - got kinked like a garden hose on one of Cliff's vein valves. We had to withdraw it, which did in fact reveal the bent kink, but meant that I had to stick my buddy three more times, from his wrist to his bicep.
Hands were shaking like a leaf. I would not make a good infidel-throat-slitting jihadi.
Cliff took these of me shortly after O'Reilly in my annual tradition of photographing myself on my birthday to provide a pictoral aging animation. I've done this for ten years or more, and in that time - I've aged twenty. Here I am enjoying a "Green Bean" Frappe. Green Beans are on almost every base, and provide a much needed luxury I'm quite sure the vetrans of America's other wars didn't have . . . But they could drink and chase women - so stuff it Russell, and Mann!
Regal, Conquering pose. Evoking Captain Morgan. Whatever is in my head?
This is how our morning began, with more Combat Lifesaver training. Here Cliff and I discuss the finer points of IV driplines.
And here's where you earn your paycheck.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Lively. This is Town-Hall democracy in action. Minus the action and accountability - but they're learning, (to do more than complain).
Not sure how much info I can/should include. This is sensitive. Where I go, who I meet with, and when. I'd love to tell you all the intriguing details, but I wouldn't like Johnny Jihadi to know.