Tuesday, December 13, 2005

War Stories 

Chuck Nevius attended a panel discussion by several Iraq war veterans at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco:
About the only thing the four veterans agreed upon is their belief that media depictions of the war are distorted. But that didn't mean they were all gung-ho about the war. [Former SSgt. Diana] Morrison was so discouraged that she co-founded Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Marine Lance Cpl. Sam Reyes of Houston, on the other hand, is not only fiercely proud of his service, he is also convinced that the mission is helpful and worthwhile.

But after suffering brain trauma and post traumatic stress disorder in a roadside explosion, he finds himself enduring combat flashbacks, feeling cast aside by the Marines and wondering where he goes from here.

"I'm 21 years old," said Reyes. "I had dreams of going to college, of becoming an officer. I can't remember things. I was pretty much at a college level in math and reading when I went, now I am at a 10th grade level in reading and 9th grade level in math."

Perhaps no one conveyed the confusion and frustration our troops feel so well as Maj. Michael Samarov, a squared-away Marine who was among the first to enter Baghdad. After that his unit was sent to Karbala, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, to attempt the frustrating task of getting the city's infrastructure up and running.

"I think the Iraqis thought we were going to be magic people,'' says Samarov, who lives in San Francisco. "We would arrive and everything would be perfect. They expected things to happen like that. We were bound to fail based on that'' . . . .

[Morrison is] also exasperated with what she considers American blunders in its execution of the war, not the least of which is the military's having almost no fluency in Arabic or understanding of Iraqi culture.

"Do you know what this means to an Iraqi?'' she asks, holding up her hand in a gesture most of us would recognize as "stop.'' "It means 'hello.' We killed so many civilians at checkpoints. They don't understand our hand signals.''

Samarov told the story of how a group in his unit rounded a corner one day and came on an Iraqi funeral procession, which, in traditional fashion, featured both gunfire and shouts. What to do in such a case? Draw your weapons in defense? Protect the procession in case there is violence? Disrupt the procession by passing?

Such a situation isn't covered in any field manual. Making a split second decision, a young corporal ordered the troops to lower their guns, remove their helmets and bow. The Iraqis, after a pause, broke into applause.

It was a brilliant stroke. Samarov said there was never again any problem in that neighborhood. And it was the result of trying to pull the best possible idea out of thin air and hoping it is the right choice.
First runner-up for the most inspirational story of the evening was Samarov's tale of starting a newspaper in Karbala, with a local man as editor. A short while later, the Marine unit helped set up a rival newspaper for a group "with a different point of view":
Within days, the first guy was at Samarov's headquarters, absolutely furious. He could not believe Samarov had created competition for him. Didn't the Marines realize that the second paper was advocating that the Americans leave Iraq? Yes, Samarov replied.

"So this is democracy?'' the Iraqi man said.

Yes, Samarov replied.

"He took me by the shoulders,'' Samarov said, "and he said, 'This is very dangerous.' Then he kissed me on both cheeks and left.''
We wonder whether Maj. Samarov might be available to conduct a little seminar for John Harris and the editorial staff of the Washington Post.

| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us