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Old 11-09-2019, 12:51 PM
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Thumbs up The Soldiers We Leave Behind

The Soldiers We Leave Behind
By: Phil Klay - NY Times -11-9-19

“WE’RE AMERICANS!” ALI SHOUTED as bullets shattered the glass of the car he hid behind. “Americans!”

He’d been fighting alongside United States troops for years by then. He’d faced I.E.D.-riddled streets and served in the 2004 battle of Najaf, one of the fiercest early battles of the Iraq war. But never before had he been so certain he was going to die.

Ali’s lieutenant was wounded in the shoulder. Reinforcements were an hour away. And it seemed as though the whole city of Baghdad was shooting at them.

This was in 2006, in a neighborhood called Hurriya, as sectarian violence was beginning to engulf Iraq. Two days before, Shiites from the Ministry of the Interior had showed up and taken away several youths for “questioning,” only to execute them and dump their bodies in the street. And then Ali arrived with a newly trained Iraqi special forces unit and three American soldiers.

“We hit the town,” he later explained, “and the target’s family took a shot at us, thinking that this is the same people who came two days ago.” They fired back, and soon gunfire was coming from all around. Which is when Ali started trying to calm things by announcing that they were Americans.

But Ali himself wasn’t American — at least not yet. Born in Baghdad, the son of an Iraqi Army sergeant major, he’d come to hold ideas about America that by 2006, after years of occupation that included prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and the Haditha killings of unarmed civilians, many of his fellow Iraqis didn’t share.

Those ideas were forged when Ali was a 13-year-old awaiting the Persian Gulf war. Rumors spread that Americans would defile Iraq’s holy places, pervert the culture and torture the innocent. “We didn’t know anything,” Ali said. “We were living in a big prison.” Ali’s father noticed his family’s nervousness and gathered the clan together. “Americans would never target civilians,” he told them. “So let’s just enjoy the show.”

It took the Sept. 11 attacks to bring “the show.” Once again, rumors swirled: The Humvee is indestructible. American soldiers take one pill and they don’t eat or drink for days. And then came first contact. Thousands of leaflets raining from the sky, delivering the message: “The Coalition wishes no harm to the innocent Iraqi civilians.” To Ali, it confirmed his father’s belief in the difference between America and the brutal Saddam Hussein regime his whole family hated but never talked about. “I took one of the leaflets and showed my father,” Ali said, “and he was like, ‘Yeah, I told you, man.’”

And so Ali signed up as an interpreter for the Americans, whose official rhetoric claimed they were promoting classical liberal values in Iraq, establishing a vision realized on their own shores but belonging to all mankind — democracy, freedom and equality. At least that was the theory. And in theory, we could “go forward with complete confidence,” as President George W. Bush proclaimed, “because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul.” In theory, that longing would lead Iraqis to greet American troops as liberators and make the shouted words “We’re Americans!” capable of calming a firefight in a hostile neighborhood.

In practice, and in American history, more has been required. America may be “a nation of immigrants,” where people of different nations and faiths forge a common identity. But that common identity has relied on far more than the notion of all people hungering for freedom in dark places. For citizens to labor and sacrifice on a nation’s behalf, they must feel what Edward Wilmot Blyden called “the poetry of politics,” that sense of inclusion in a broader community with its own distinctive character and historical consciousness.

The American problem was reconciling this with a universalistic ethic open to all people. And throughout our history, we have relied not simply on ideas but on a far more atavistic, unstable and dangerous tool: war.

About Ali:

* Ali was Interpreter for the United States military in the Iraq War - 2004 TO 2007

* Applied and approved for American visa 2007

* He enlisted in United States Army 2008

* Became naturalized American citizen 2009

* He was deployed with United States Army APRIL TO SEPTEMBER 2009

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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