Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Why We Fight

On September 9, 2001, HBO broadcast the first episode of its mini-series Band of Brothers. I know the date, because I was looking forward to the series, but wasn't going to be home on the night of its first airing - I was taking my family to Washington, DC, so I had set my VCR to record it. Based on the book by Stephen Ambrose, Band of Brothers tells the story of the 101st airborne, from training through D-day, Operation Market Garden, Bastogne and to the end of the war in Europe. The mini-series was extremely well done, and once again we were struck with the heroism that average men are capable of.

But the reason I mention it here is the title of the 9th episode. As the German war effort was collapsing, one of the things that the troops of the 101st airborne came across on their march into Germany was a concentration camp. Filled with starving, imprisoned Jews. Some alive. Some not.

The title of the episode is "Why We Fight."

The response of most of the civilized world, on discovering the magnitude of the evil that had taken place in Nazi Germany, was "never again." Never again would the world turns a blind eye to that kind of atrocity.

We have, of course, done it many times since. In the Soviet Union and China, in Cambodia and Vietnam, in Rwanda and Darfur. And, for many years, in Iraq. After 9/11, the President and the Congress made the decision that Iraq posed a threat to the United States that could no longer be ignored. I approved of that decision.

I still do. There is evil in the world, and if we don't fight it, who will? And, more to the point, if we don't stop it now, how many more will die before we realize that evil cannot be ignored or accommodated?

Why do we fight?

The New York Times thinks we shouldn't. They want to surrender Iraq to Al Qaeda, even as they acknowledge that it won't make anything better.
Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave. There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide. Potentially destabilizing refugee flows could hit Jordan and Syria. Iran and Turkey could be tempted to make power grabs. Perhaps most important, the invasion has created a new stronghold from which terrorist activity could proliferate.

That's what they say now. In 1998, they acknowledged that Iraq was considered an "architect of terrorism (1)." In 1998, they ran a column which said that "eliminating Saddam has always been, and remains the only way to end his threat of war and terrorism with weapons of hell (2)." With Bill Clinton in the White House, they said that "it has been hard enough to combat state-sponsored terrorism by countries like Iraq, Iran and Libya (3)." Different times, different President of a different party in power in the White House.

They want to surrender to the same people who are doing this, even while they're printing these stories on their news pages.
With their teacher absent, 10 students were allowed to leave school early. These were the girls the gunmen saw first, 10 easy targets...A 13-year-old named Shukria was hit in the arm and the back...As Zarmina scurried away, the men took a more studied aim at those they already had shot, killing Shukria with bullets to her stomach and heart. ...Six students were shot here on the afternoon of June 12, two of them fatally. The Qalai Sayedan School — considered among the very best in the central Afghan province of Logar — reopened only last weekend, but even with Kalashnikov-toting guards at the gate, only a quarter of the 1,600 students have dared to return. Shootings, beheadings, burnings and bombings: these are all tools of intimidation used by the Taliban and others to shut down hundreds of Afghanistan’s public schools. To take aim at education is to make war on the government.

They want to pretend that Iraq is a distraction, despite the fact that that's where Al Qaeda is now. Despite the fact that Al Qaeda acknowledges that Iraq is the central battlefield in the global jihad. The New York Times, apparently because it will be damaging to President Bush and the Republicans - there is no hint of a compelling benefit to the American national interest in their piece - wants to declare defeat and go home.

And leave the Iraqis at the mercy of the monsters who are killing people. Killing men. Killing women. Killing children. The American media, so quick to leap at allegations of American misconduct, have displayed significantly less interest in the behavior of those that we're fighting against, other than to ask what we've done to make them mad at us.

But there is reporting coming from Iraq. And it doesn't match what the mainstream press reports. Michael Yon is one of the people on the ground. He has been reporting from Iraq for much of the past three years, working with the US Military to understand the situation in country. He starts with an advantage over the Times - he doesn't assume that the US military is the source of all evil in the world. But he has certainly seen evil.

Is the following story true? I don't know. I know of no reason to doubt it. If you've got a weak stomach, you may want to skip the next passage, which is as revolting as anything I've ever read. It's a dispatch from Michael Yon, on July 5. Here's what he reported:
Speaking through an American interpreter, Lieutenant David Wallach who is a native Arabic speaker, the Iraqi official related how al Qaeda united these gangs who then became absorbed into “al Qaeda.” They recruited boys born during the years 1991, 92 and 93 who were each given weapons, including pistols, a bicycle and a phone (with phone cards paid) and a salary of $100 per month, all courtesy of al Qaeda. These boys were used for kidnapping, torturing and murdering people.

At first, he said, they would only target Shia, but over time the new al Qaeda directed attacks against Sunni, and then anyone who thought differently. The official reported that on a couple of occasions in Baqubah, al Qaeda invited to lunch families they wanted to convert to their way of thinking. In each instance, the family had a boy, he said, who was about 11 years old. As LT David Wallach interpreted the man’s words, I saw Wallach go blank and silent. He stopped interpreting for a moment. I asked Wallach, “What did he say?” Wallach said that at these luncheons, the families were sat down to eat. And then their boy was brought in with his mouth stuffed. The boy had been baked. Al Qaeda served the boy to his family.

I've been stewing on this since I first read it. It made me physically ill. But then, so do many of the stories of the holocaust that I've read. And that's the point I want to make.

This is why we fight.

There is an enemy out there. They want to kill us. They don't want to live in a world with us. And retreating back to our borders won't change that. Is a group that is willing to behave that way in order to gain power going to be satisfied with ruling in Iraq? There is a threat to the United States - there is a threat to civilization. Pulling out of Iraq and leaving it to the likes of Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri solves nothing, accomplishes nothing, promotes the interests of the United States and the civilized world not a whit.

We are in a war against evil. There is a real enemy that we face.

We must win.

This is why we fight.

1 - Broad, W., Miller, J., (Dec 28, 1998), The Threat of Germ Weapons is Rising. Fear, Too., New York Times, pg. WK1

2 - What We Can't Do, A.M. ROSENTHAL. New York Times. New York, N.Y.: Nov 20, 1998. ; p. A33 (1 page)

3 - Taking On the Terrorists, New York Times (1857-Current file). New York, N.Y.: Aug 22, 1998. ; p. A14 (1 page)

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