Sunday, October 03, 2004
The October issue of Harper's featured extensive excerpts from A Short Guide to Iraq, a government pamphlet published for the benefit of U.S. forces stationed there during World War II. We were pleased to discover that SMU's Digital Library project has reproduced the entire handbook online in .PDF format, complete with illustrations, and as we compiled the jumble of random extracts below we could not help but wonder what misadventures might have been avoided had we known last year what we knew in 1942:
Iraq is thus a strategic part of the great "land bridge" between Europe and India -- the road Hitler HOPES to use to join hands with his back-stabbing allies, the Japs. Also, the Persian Gulf is an important back door for us to get supplies to our Russian allies. And even more, Iraq has great military importance for its oil fields, with their pipelines to the Mediterranean Sea. Yes, Iraq is a hot spot in more ways than one.
That tall man in the flowing robe you are going to see soon, with the whiskers and the long hair, is a first-class fighting man, highly skilled in guerrilla warfare. Few fighters in any country, in fact, excel him in that kind of situation. If he is your friend, he can be a staunch and valuable ally. If he should happen to be your enemy -- look out! Remember Lawrence of Arabia? Well, it was with men like these that he wrote history in the First World War.
But you will also find out quickly that the Iraqi is one of the most cheerful and friendly people in the world. Few people you have seen get so much fun out of work and everyday living. If you are willing to go just a little out of your way to understand him, everything will be o.k.
Differences? Sure, there are differences. Differences galore! But what of it? You aren't going to Iraq to change the Iraqis. Just the opposite. We are fighting this war to preserve the principle of "live and let live." Maybe that sounded like a lot of words to you at home. Now you have the chance to prove it to yourself and others. If you can, it's going to be a better world for all of us.
By far the most people you will meet are Moslems. They do not like to have "unbelievers" (to them you are an "unbeliever") come anywhere near their mosques. You can usually tell a mosque by its high tower. If you try to enter one, you will be thrown out, probably with a severe beating. If you have blundered too near a mosque, get away in a hurry before trouble starts.
You probably belong to a church at home, and you know how you would feel toward anyone who insulted or desecrated your church. Their feeling about their religion is pretty much the same as ours toward our religion, though more intense. If anything, we should respect the Moslems the more for the intensity of their devotion.
But do not touch or handle an Iraqi in any other way. Do not wrestle with him in fun, and don't slap him on the back. Any such contact is offensive to his idea of good manners. Above all never strike an Iraqi.
Remember that the Iraqi are a very modest people and avoid any exposure of the body in their presence. Moslems do not let other people see them naked. Do not urinate in their presence. They do it squatting and dislike to see other people do it standing up. These things may seem trivial, but they are important if you want to get along with the Iraqis.
Eat with your right hand, never with your left -- even if you are a southpaw. Never give them pork to eat or offer it to them even in fun. Pigs are "unclean" to Moslems. So are dogs. If you happen to have a mascot dog, be particularly careful to keep him away from mosques.
Some of the Iraqis think that the lens of a camera is an "evil eye," and you will make enemies by taking close-up snapshots and possibly wind up with a knife in your back.
Avoid any expression of race prejudice. The people draw very little color line.
Be kind and considerate to servants. The Iraqis consider all people equals.
If you should see grown men walking hand in hand, ignore it. They are not "queer."
Be generous with your cigarettes.
American success or failure in Iraq may well depend on whether the Iraqis (as the people are called) like American soldiers or not. It may not be quite that simple. But then again it could.
Needless to say, Hitler will try to use the differences between ourselves and Iraqis to make trouble. But we have a weapon to beat that kind of thing. Plain common horse sense. Let's use it. Hitler's game is to divide and conquer. Ours is to unite and win!