Post-war: Locals reflect, ponder
You may recall that on the verge of war, the Hook interviewed about a dozen locals who had reasons for caring acutely about what was about to happen. [February 6 cover story: "When war hits home: Bush push changing lives"] The Hook wondered what happened to those folks over the course of the Iraq conflict.
Eric T. Allen
"Am I the only one besides the VMI professor who doesn't have to eat crow?" asks victory-minded Gulf War veteran Eric T. Allen, who woke up at a Martinsville hotel to see American military vehicles in downtown Baghdad.
"I cannot describe the feeling," says Allen. "When I saw that, I was like, 'I wish I was there.'"
A retired Marine reservist, Allen had tried to re-enlist after September 11. While the Marines decided that at 35 he was too old, he spent a year in the National Guard, and now he's thinking about another Guard tour.
Allen, who publishes several area newspapers including More! Monthly and the Fluvanna Review, had gone down to Martinsville to check on a real estate publication when he saw telecasts that include amphibious assault vehicles– which he used to drive in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia– massed in central Baghdad.
"It was a great feeling to see that happening on live TV," says Allen. "I wish I coulda been there."
"To say the main purpose is the liberation of Iraq is a joke," says Israeli and graduate student Elie Avidor. Victory hasn't changed his opinion that America invaded Iraq because it was "militarily achievable."
One thing that did surprise him was the "super one-sided" American media coverage, which he thinks treated the war "almost like a sports show" with too much analysis and information. "This information," warns Avidor, who grew up in Haifa, "can be used by the enemy."
("We didn't hear too much from the other side," Avidor notes, "except for the ridiculous presentations of the Iraqi information minister.")
Avidor says that when he was back in Israel for two weeks in early January, concern about a U.S. war with Iraq was overshadowed by attention to the upcoming elections and Hezbollah bombings. Now, however, he's worried about the peace. He likens an invading force to a bull in a china shop.
"It's not simple to get out of it and not break anything," says Avidor, who recalls the 1982 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon, when citizens carrying flowers to their "liberators" quickly gave way to suicide bombers.
And Avidor worries that Condoleezza Rice and the other American officials pledging to bring democracy show a "misunderstanding of Iraqi culture." Most Iraqis, Avidor says, are "highly religious people who listen more to mullahs than to secular government officials."
Before the war, Avidor's neice back in Tel Aviv– a mom with two kids– had a two-pronged escape plan. She found an apartment an hour and a half outside the city and had tickets to come to America. She ended up using neither.
While Avidor doubts America's motives, he's relieved by the outcome– and even a tad optimistic. "I think the outcome will be good, but how it started was horrible."
Butch Bailey's only son, Gabe, a U.S. Marine formerly stationed in California, visited his parents at their home in Greene County before he was shipped off to Kuwait. Bailey described feeling "the most profound sense of dread I've ever experienced" at the thought of his son being involved in the coming war.
Now, with the fighting essentially over and his son safely returned to America, Bailey says, "I feel very proud of how our troops carried out their duties, and the support they received from all Americans whether they were opposed or in favor of the war.
While he and his wife are grateful for the safe return of their son, he says, "I feel so deeply sad and sorry for the American and Iraqi families that lost loved ones, or suffered injuries. I'm angry and disappointed with our leaders who decided there was no alternative to this war. There may be times when there isn't an alternative, but I do not believe that was the case in Iraq. We won't achieve world peace until we solve problems peacefully."
This global affairs columnist for international publications including The Christian Science Monitor and Al-Hayat lived through six years of war in Lebanon calls the situation in Iraq "still a dire tragedy." Her comments:
"Everyone knew that at the military level, the U.S. could easily beat Iraq's much-degraded, third-world forces. The issue was always what would come after– and this has already been just as chaotic and tragedy-ridden as I feared. From all I know about Iraq– which is a lot– the political uncertainty and attendant human suffering will continue for a long time to come.
This does not serve the interests of Americans in the Middle East, at home, or anywhere in the world. I am writing this from Mozambique in southern Africa, having spent the past two weeks in Tanzania and here. Not a single African whom I have talked with understands or approves of the U.S. use of force against Iraq. Westerners have spent many years 'preaching' to Africans to try to find nonviolent means to resolve their disputes– and then the Bush administration did that!
'Most Africans well understand the huge human costs of war. 'People can talk about a good war or a bad war,' one Mozambican ex-combatant told me. 'But we know that war is war. It involves killing and suffering. Any Mozambican child can tell you that.'"
Frequent visitor to Turkey and Iraq and bossman at Sun Bow Trading Company, 64-year-old Saul Barodofsky says he's glad the regime is gone. And he ticks off a list of questions: 1) "Where were all the protesters and the Muslim press when about 200,000 Kurds were gassed?" 2) "Why aren't more people talking about the fact that the Ba'ath Party is a national socialist party– modeled on the Nazis?" 3) "Where did the leadership go?" and 4) "Why is the media reporting Ba'ath Party protests as news?" ("Of course they're unhappy," says Barodofsky. "We took their money.") The veteran rug-trader says he plans to take another buying trip to Kurdistan this summer if he can find a good local guide.
Coalition victory hasn't changed Staff Sergeant Jacke Brown's opinions. From her post on Cherry Avenue, Brown handles personnel records for Army Reservists throughout the Northeast.
"I didn't support the cause," says Brown, "but I have to support the troops. They don't make the decisions– they do what they're assigned."
At war's outbreak, Brown was particularly worried about the safety of her old unit from her Army days in Atlanta because they're specialists in decontamination and creating smoke screens, which may have put them in the thick of combat.
Brown is encouraged that she hasn't heard any reports of casualties from that unit.
"I'm watching the news kind of often," says Brown, who had no doubt about the war's outcome.
"I wasn't surprised that they did so well. This is what they've trained for, and training makes perfection."
Susan Donovan, director of the International Rescue Committee, says the issues raised by the recent conflict are too complicated to discuss in a newspaper article.
"My thoughts have not changed," says Donovan. "I expected that we would quickly reach a military victory. I continue to expect that it will be a long-term rebuilding effort and that there will be numerous humanitarian concerns," is the most she will say about an obviously painful topic.
"I didn't know it would be over so fast," says this local entrepreneur and Palestinian who grew up in Kuwait. "I'm glad Saddam is out, but we knew from the beginning there were no weapons of mass destruction.
"I think some kind of deal was made so Hussein and his whole crew and his family could leave in exchange for releasing those American POWs. How can 50 people just disappear?
"I think it's clear a deal was made," Doukan says. "Baghdad doesn't get destroyed, and we don't lose all the soldiers it would have taken to fight for the city."
Doukan says he was shocked to see the looting and that coalition soldiers didn't keep better order.
"But I'm not hopeful about the future over there," he says. "Democracy is the only hope for them, but these people didn't have to band together to fight to depose Saddam to establish a democracy. They've had it handed to them on a plate, and I don't think they can appreciate it getting it that way.
"I think it's going to take a civil war among the many factions in Iraq before they can establish a viable government."
"This war is far from over," says this grad student and son of Pakistani parents who moved to Manassas when he was four. "It's just like the first war over there it was a huge mistake."
Khan, with a brother in the U.S. Army, says he still doesn't agree with the war. "But it's done now, and it's our responsibility to re-establish the country.
"The consequences of this war will continue for decades and what if we're unsuccessful in trying to help them rebuild? We'll pay in money, sure, but the human and psychological costs are so much higher."
A Green Beret in Laos during the Vietnam war, this VMI professor seemed resigned to the inevitability of this war as he began noticing empty student desks in his classes earlier this year. Now, he seems immersed in the victory and sent us his thoughts on the aftermath in a cryptic but typically forthright email:
Delighted: Special Forces in the ascendant. Schwartzkopf never liked Special Forces– Old Army prejudice against "special" stuff, renegades, independent operations. Phooey. Looks as if those clowns in the Pentagon finally have figured out what "force multiplier" means.
Pleased: To see the uniform class and courage of the assaulting ground troops. Air superiority is a given. Putting boots on the ground we haven't tried for a while.
Surprised: We knew the Marines and the Airborne units would do well. Aggressiveness is a culture to them. What impressed me– and what should impress the rest of the civilians– is the vigor and dash with which straight-leg units like Third ID met the challenge... just plain old American soldiers.
Disappointed: Some barefoot Iraqi with his R[ocket] P[ropelled] G[renade] took out an M-1 tank.
Satisfied: Blow-dried news squirrels "embedded," in some Pentagon flak's unhappy coinage, appear to have conceived the affection and respect which the rest of the World has always held for American fighting men. About fuckin' time.
Resigned: Editorial mooing over dead civilians. Now the suit-and-ties take over and are sure to fuck it up. The Romans used to say Bellum omnium in omnes, War all out! We've allowed a small percentage of us to serve and wage war for the rest of us. They've done honorably and ferociously, but the small price the nation as a whole has paid (most families don't even know a soldier) may leave us more willing to make war or allow it made in our name another time. I should have thought the lesson of Vietnam plain enough: If we're gonna have a war, every swinging citizen goes. And– far as I'm concerned– the females can go, too. Can take my place on account of I gave already. Would like to see that Saddam guy hanging from a lamppost, though. And maybe Geraldo, too, if there's room. Or maybe a lamppost of his own.