Getting these dispatches right is challenging. Iraq multiplies the challenge. The chaos of combat has already claimed two pairs of eye-glasses, a video camera, and two digital still cameras; the environment is merciless, with 117 degree days beating down over land and people.
I was in the Army some years ago and maintained close contact with many friends who made a career of military service. Naturally, I had an interest in what was happening in Iraq–I had friends in harm’s way.
But what spurred me to drop what I was doing, get on a plane and fly halfway around the world, to a war zone, was a growing sense that what I was seeing reported on television, as well as in newspapers and magazines, was inconsistent with the reality my friends were describing. I wanted to see the truth, first hand, for myself.
I saw American and Coalition soldiers putting everything on the line to accomplish their mission.
So that Iraqi children can have the chance to grow up in freedom and fulfill their potential.
I saw resolve steel the jaw of a military leader.
I saw hope light the eyes of a young girl.
I saw a parent’s anguish
I saw a village elder’s wisdom
I saw a soldier’s compassion.
And what I saw changed how I thought about this war. The “truth” of this experience is too complex to capture in a body count or a thirty-second sound byte. It’s chaotic, dynamic and evolving. It’s unwieldy, wasteful and we have made mistakes. It’s a struggle of epic proportions that ultimately relies on the strength of a people about whom most Americans seem to know very little.
To me, one look in the face of any of the children tips the scales one way.
But I don’t do this work to espouse a point of view, or rally people to the right or left. Some people might find that statement disingenuous. I’ve been criticized for using terms like terrorist and enemy in my dispatches. Most critics are a safe distance from the battleground. Up close, its more than a matter of taking sides. There’s no value in using imprecise language in a futile attempt to appear objective. There is a difference between Coalition soldiers and Iraqi police officers and the terrorists and criminals they confront. Whether you call them insurgents or resistance fighters or terrorists, the people who wake up in the morning plotting how to drive explosives-laden cars into crowds of children have to be confronted.
Combat is just one form of confrontation. I chose another way. By getting close enough to the truth, for long enough to recognize when reality reveals it, I confront the distortions in how this struggle is portrayed. I do it because we need to see this clearly: what happens in and to Iraq is a defining moment for our nation, and the world. This enemy is smart and they are deadly, but they are also losing. Iraq can become a strong and free nation. But it will take the constant application of pressure over time to stem the flow of blood. If we back off too soon, they will rebound. If we cut our losses and run, they will follow us home. Peace can prevail here, if we can use our strength to maintain our progress.
More and more people read my dispatches every day, and thousands are taking the time to contact me. Some are kind enough to hit the support button which funds my operations. I am especially humbled by comments from the families and loved ones of the soldiers with whom I live and about whom I write. While the dollars helped me replace my damaged equipment, comments from readers are really what has kept me going for the past seven months.
Thank you to everyone who has supported my work. Whether you’ve sent a few dollars, or pointed your own readers and members my way, or sent an “atta-boy,” it’s all deeply appreciated. My Southern roots compel me to respond to every email and acknowledge every donation. But lately I have experienced a new and growing danger in Iraq: I see that my work could be the victim of my success. In trying to respond to every note and donation, I am finding myself sacrificing time in the field and sleep and both of these are essential to my continuing to post these dispatches. Your comments seem to indicate your assent that the dispatches should outrank the acknowledgments.
So, I trust you will forgive this impersonal but no less heartfelt and genuine expression of thanks. And I hope you’ll keep reading and referring friends and colleagues to these pages. From where I sit, I can see there are many more telling moments to come.