Wednesday, April 09, 2003

All War Is Local

News coverage of the war, through all the fog and biases, seems to bring out the best in journalists.

I’m fascinated by the slice of life observations that season the frontline reports. It reminds you that war is ultimately and highly personal endeavor.

In a story about a fierce fight between Iraqi elite Republican Guards and the Marines who tried successfully to cross a strategic bridge revealed this glimpse into the life of an Iraqi soldier:

"The marines seemed to be facing a mix of Iraqis, some of them Republican Guard troops, while others were pathetic farmers who apparently had been conscripted.

Today, for instance, an American military intelligence officer said the marines had recently discovered as many as five soldiers in a single unit had been shot by their own side. Another man, still alive, told his American captors that he had been whipped, the officer said."

So much for the concern that invading Iraq would nationalize the fight. Iraqis don’t want to fight. They have to be forced. To defend Saddam.

Then there is the story of Khuder al-Emiri, an Iraqi-born translator for the Marines who found himself in his hometown for the first time since he fled after leading an uprising in 1991.

Word of Mr. Emiri's arrival spread through town by way of children's feet. Their hero was with the Americans and the crowd believed the marines' intentions were good. They began to chant in English. "Stay! Stay! U.S.A.!"

The euphoria nearly spilled over into a riot. Children pulled at the marines, jumped on their trucks, wanting to shake their hands, touch their cheeks. A single chicken hung in the butcher's window and still the residents wanted to give the Americans something, anything. Cigarette? Money?

So once the Iraqi people believe the coalition troops can be trusted they turn from reticent to euphoric. That’s a hopeful sign. Maybe Donald Rumsfeld was right when he said the troops would be greeted as liberators.

And then one final shattered illusion. The palaces. The inner sanctums of a dictator with far more money than Donald Trump but none of his refined tastes. At least here Saddam wouldn’t cut corners . . . or would he?

I'm a little in awe," said Sgt. Joseph C. McFarlan, an infantryman who helped search the buildings on the palace grounds after the tanks rolled in.

From a balcony he poked his rifle into a chandelier to see if its beads were glass or plastic. They were plastic. "I wonder if he knew," the sergeant said.

Plastic instead of crystal?? He really was a vulgarian..

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