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A Marine sees what defeatists don't

By Ben Connable

RAMADI, Iraq ? This is my third deployment with the 1st Marine Division to the Middle East.

This is the third time I've heard the quavering cries of the talking heads predicting failure and calling for withdrawal.

 

This is the third time I find myself shaking my head in disbelief.

 

Setbacks and tragedy are part and parcel of war and must be accepted on the battlefield. We can and will achieve our goals in Iraq.

 

Waiting for war in the Saudi Arabian desert as a young corporal in 1991, I recall reading news clippings portending massive tank battles, fiery death from Saddam Hussein's "flame trenches" and bitter defeat at the hands of the fourth-largest army in the world. My platoon was told to expect 75% casualties. Being Marines and, therefore, naturally cocky, we still felt pretty good about our abilities.

 

The panicky predictions failed to come true. The flame trenches sputtered. Nobody from my platoon died. Strength, ingenuity and willpower won the day. Crushing the fourth-largest army in the world in four days seemed to crush the doubts back home.

 

Twelve years passed, during which time America was faced with frustrating actions in Somalia and the Balkans. Doubt had begun to creep back into public debate.

 

In the spring of last year, I was a Marine captain, back with the division for Operation Iraqi Freedom. As I waited for war in the desert, just 100 miles to the north from our stepping-off point in 1991, I was again subjected to the panicky analyses of talking heads. There weren't enough troops to do the job, the oil fields would be destroyed, we couldn't fight in urban terrain, our offensive would grind to a halt, and we should expect more than 10,000 casualties.

 

Remembering my experience in Desert Storm, I took these assessments with a grain of salt. As a staff officer in the division command post, I was able to follow the larger battle as we moved forward. I knew that our tempo was keeping the enemy on his heels and that our plan would lead us to victory.

 

But war is never clean and simple. Mourning our losses quietly, the Marines drove to Baghdad, then to Tikrit, liberating the Iraqi people while losing fewer men than were lost in Desert Storm.

 

In May of last year, I was sitting with some fellow officers back in Diwaniyah, Iraq, the offensive successful and the country liberated from Saddam. I received a copy of a March 30 U.S. newspaper on Iraq in an old package that had finally made its way to the front. The stories: horror in Nasariyah, faltering supply lines and demonstrations in Cairo. The mood of the paper was impenetrably gloomy, and predictions of disaster abounded. The offensive was stalled; everyone was running out of supplies; we would be forced to withdraw.

 

The Arab world was about to ignite into a fireball of rage, and the Middle East was on the verge of collapse. If I had read those stories on March 30, I would have had a tough time either restraining my laughter or, conversely, falling into a funk. I was concerned about the bizarre kaleidoscope image of Iraq presented to the American people by writers viewing the world through a soda straw.

 

Returning to Iraq this past February, I knew that the Marines had a tremendous opportunity to follow through on our promises to the Iraqi people.

 

Believing in the mission, many Marines volunteered to return. I again found myself in the division headquarters.

 

Just weeks ago, I read that the supply lines were cut, ammunition and food were dwindling, the "Sunni Triangle" was exploding, cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was leading a widespread Shiite revolt, and the country was nearing civil war.

 

As I write this, the supply lines are open, there's plenty of ammunition and food, the Sunni Triangle is back to status quo, and Sadr is marginalized in Najaf. Once again, dire predictions of failure and disaster have been dismissed by American willpower and military professionalism.

 

War is inherently ugly and dramatic. I don't blame reporters for focusing on the burning vehicles, the mutilated bodies or the personal tragedies. The editors have little choice but to print the photos from the Abu Ghraib prison and the tales of the insurgency in Fallujah. These things sell news and remind us of the sober reality of our commitment to the Iraqi people. The actions of our armed forces are rightfully subject to scrutiny.

 

I am not ignorant of the political issues, either. But as a professional, I have the luxury of putting politics aside and focusing on the task at hand. Protecting people from terrorists and criminals while building schools and lasting friendships is a good mission, no matter what brush it's tarred with.

 

Nothing any talking head will say can deter me or my fellow Marines from caring about the people of Iraq, or take away from the sacrifices of our comrades. Fear in the face of adversity is human nature, and many people who take the counsel of their fears speak today. We are not deaf to their cries; neither do we take heed. All we ask is that Americans stand by us by supporting not just the troops, but also the mission.

 

We'll take care of the rest.

 

Maj. Ben Connable is serving as a foreign-area officer and intelligence officer with the 1st Marine Division.

 

 

Semper Fi Major.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That was a great read! Please give the troops your support.

 

God bless our troops!

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This letter was sent by mail from Iraq from Specialist Mike Prysner:

 

Dear Mr. Moore:

 

I?m writing this without knowing if it?ll ever get to you. I?m writing it not knowing why, or knowing what I?m going to say. I?m writing it not knowing if I?ll ever finish it or mail it. I?m writing it from the trenches of a war (that?s still going on,) not knowing why I?m here or when I?m leaving. I?ve toppled statues and vandalized portraits, while wearing an American flag on my sleeve, and struggling to learn how to understand.

 

I was in Vicenza, Italy when I heard your Oscar acceptance speech. It was the day before I boarded a plane and experienced a ?combat landing? in uncharted territory in northern Iraq. It was such a surreal feeling?the only light came from a red bulb?we sat shoulder to shoulder in silence. We were told to expect heavy artillery/chemical attacks. I can?t say I know what was on the minds of those men packed next to me, but I assume it was thoughts of family and religion. But me, a single 20 year old, I was thinking about what you had said. I joined the army as soon as I was eligible ? turned down a writing scholarship to a state university, eager to serve my country, ready to die for the ideals I fell in love with. Two years later I found myself moments away from a landing onto a pitch black airstrip, ready to charge into a country I didn't believe I belonged in, with your words repeating in my head.

 

My time in Iraq has always involved finding things to convince myself that I can be proud of my actions; that I was a part of something just. But no matter what pro-war argument I came up with, I pictured my smirking commander-in-chief, thinking he was fooling a nation. I discovered that the result of the war and the actions of G.W. cannot be treated as the same issue. Bush accidentally did a good thing for the Iraqi people. After the fact he's starting to claim humanitarian intentions for going to war - obviously bulls***. But he realizes that that is the only positive outcome. I could explain what I've seen here; a people forced into poverty & ignorance ? but I'll spare you. I try not to think about the ultimate future of this place. I'm sure we'll cause them to fall victim to Banana Republic and Joe Millionaire, with a puppet president and monopolized oil industry. But there will be plenty of time in the future to worry about those things.

 

I can't say I know what I believe. I am willing to accept that my opinions are a result of a given subconscious, not sufficient knowledge. Do I support care for the low income class because I truly understand the system, or because I've personified inadequacies and identified with those who experience struggle. Does a conservative oppose gay rights because he genuinely understands the issue or because he's scared to face deeper levels of humanity? What if you could be given a reason for everything you believe, but the reason is unrelated to the topic ? the result of a life and a psyche? Will we believe those things the same way we used to? I call myself a liberal because I've been moved to tears by the words of Paul Wellstone, scenes in "The Awful Truth," the funeral of Matthew Sheppard, and the homeless people in the city I once lived in. It's not what I know, it's what I felt. It's dangerous to rely on emotions to guide your moral compass ? but it?s the only way to be honest. I understand everything I believe may be wrong; that I believe for a reason, and that reason may not be reality. I'm not sure what I'm trying to say. Maybe just that I can't look at this war politically. I can only look at it as an experience that has taught me that life is dictated by seconds and inches; one that has caused me to face death and loss and fear. And at its core, stripped of the WMD's and no-contest contracts, it's been about one thing: serving my country. The most difficult thing has been learning how to be proud of that. This country, I'm serving,?is it America? Has it ever been? It's always bothered me that, despite the American philosophy, it became NECESSARY for a civil right movement, it became NECESSARY to form the ACLU. I've simultaneously battled Saddam loyalists and these questions. Kind of an odd setting for suddenly doubting my patriotism. But while my fight with those trying to kill my friends & I is far from ending, the fight within myself has ended.

 

I found what I've been fighting for. It's been you, all along. I hated you on a plane ride in the dark with shaking hands. But you've been the roof of my loyalty, my bravery, and my dignity. Mr. Moore, you are America. This isn't a "I'm a hip liberal & I'll be cool if I get an autographed copy of Stupid White Men" letter. I've faced every weapon, from SCUDs to swords, and I've had to face why. And you've been the answer. I'm serving a country in which you live; where you're allowed to speak and PEOPLE LISTEN; where you're allowed to write and PEOPLE READ. What a beautiful country ? every injustice has a prosecutor ? every struggle has a defender. We are still a country being born. Compassion will never lose to conservatism?the country could be ruled by Jerry Falwell and Dick Cheney ? but there will always be tears, as long as there is injustice and oppression and greed and hypocrisy. And there will always be you, the people you've taught, the lives you've influenced. You reminded me that America exists, and I suppose this letter is meant to thank you for that. I can't explain the pride you've instilled in me, and the comfort you've given me, to know that if I find myself fallen on the battlefield, I gave my life serving something I loved and truly believed in.

 

Sincerely,

Mike Prysner

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