It’s been a long time since I blogged about my personal thoughts. I wanted to talk about something that’s been on my mind for years and years and years! I am very interested with the other side and their perspective. What am I talking about? I’m talking about how enemies see us.
Let me elaborate. I read a couple of interesting books on Cortez’s conquest of the Aztec’s and Pizzaro’s conquest of the Inca’s. The best one out there is the personal account of Bernal Diaz del Castillo. It’s called The True History of the Conquest of New Spain. He was a conquistador who accompanied Hernan Cortez’s expedition to conquer the Aztecs. It was fascinating, but then I saw another book… It was a tale of an indigenous person who had to face Cortez and his band of Conquistadors. That led me to another book by an Inca noblemen who fought the Pizzaro’s after the Pizzaro’s already took over. I was introduced to a different perspective.
After that, I read a few books about German soldiers in WWII and their time against the Allies. Sure the Spaniards are European, so I identify closer to them than to the Aztecs, but Germans versus Americans? I have German ancestry on my dad’s side. I’ve been to Germany. Nazi’s are bad, but what about the regular German Soldier who took up arms? Not all of them were bad right? Maybe some of them were anti Nazi, right? So… What was it like for Germans to fight Americans? My family fought in the US military or were in allied military’s to the US during WWII, so I heard stories about fighting Germans and Japanese… But nothing about what the other side went through when they fought us.
I’m a USMC veteran of the Iraq War. I took part in the invasion in 2003. I saw combat and fought the Iraqis before I considered what the other side felt, saw, or thought. My father is a USMC veteran of the Persian Gulf War, or Operation Desert Shield & Operation Desert Storm. We both fought Iraqis, just a dozen years apart or so.
I went back to Iraq in 2007 and left in 2009. I set up internet cafes for US troops (and sometimes an ally nation). I convoyed in all manners of vehicles and helicopters to get to FOBS, Camps, Combat Outposts, Patrol Bases, Joint Security Stations, etc. I went to FOB’s with thousands of people on them all the way down to a JSS with a dozen Americans on site.
For this job, I set up a 1.8 meter dish (including the LNB, BUC, OMT) and satellite router. I had to peak and pol the dish to get the best levels and then worked on the router. Mac filtered the 24 port dummy switches and then set up the cafe itself. I had to assemble, cable, and bring online up to 8 VOIP phones and up to 20 computers and periphery equipment. I had to image the computers, and dress the cables up afterwards. It was a huge endeavor, but it was fulfilling. I got to see the “boots on the ground;” the guys who went out of the wire to fight the insurgency, call home from their small outposts for the first time and get to chat with their loved ones online. Before I commissioned a new site, these Soldiers and Marines would have to wait months to visit a large camp or FOB to contact home.
During the 2003 Invasion, I had barely any contact with Iraqis other than being on opposite sides during a shooting war with them. This time, I got to meet so many… The first time I went to a Joint Security Station, I got to meet a few Iraqi Police Officers. At first, I was nervous. I was worried about green on blue. Some Shia militia fighters infiltrated the security forces, or some forces supported the militias. Around Sunni areas, some were infiltrated by insurgents or supported insurgents. I was also worried about how they saw me… A foreign occupier, bringing destruction to their country.
What amazed me was that, for the most part, these were regular people. They were making the best out of a bad situation. They wanted the insurgency to go away so they could bring normalcy to their loved ones. And with peace, it would mean that we’d leave their country. No one wants their home to be under constant threat of death and violence. They want their kids to go to school and to grow up to be successful. They were more worried about putting food on the table than international geopolitics.
At one station in the Anbar Province, I was introduced to a much older Iraqi Police Officer. He asked the interpreter who I was, and what I was doing. They thought I was there to spy on them and take them to Bucca, the military prison. Once they found out I was there to work on the comp’s, the police opened up to me. The older gentlemen in particular. He wanted to know why I was there risking my life to do a job like that. I told him for the adventure, to support the troops, and to contribute to the war effort. He asked me about my time in Iraq, and it was brought up that I was an Invasion Veteran.
I was nervous to talk to him about it, but he was more than happy to discuss it. He asked me about what I did, and where I was at back in 2003. I told him about crossing the border on March 21, 2003. Going from the Rumalia Oilfields to Samawah, to Nasiriyah, to Diwaniyah, to Kut, to Aziziyah, to Baghdad, to Samarra, to Tikrit, and then back to Diwaniyah. He said he was Republican Guard in his younger days, but Iraqi Police during the war. That got me thinking… What about those younger days? Did he mean Desert Storm? Or Iran? So I asked him.
He told me about fighting Iran, and having his friend shot by a sniper right next to him. He told me that he invaded Kuwait, but then was in central Iraq afterwards, so he didn’t face the Americans in 91. I told him how my dad liberated Kuwait with the 1st Marine Division. He was as fascinated as I was. I asked him about 03, and where he was at. He told me that he was in Anbar, but followed the news closely. He knew that the news reports from the regime about us losing against the Iraqis were a lie, because of the last war.
Then it came to me. I wanted to know about what he felt, and what he thought about the invasion. What did he think about the Americans. Was he scared, was he worried. What did he think it would mean for him and his family. What did they do to prepare… How did the regime act in his town… What happened when coalition forces did come to his town…
He was candid. He was worried about what were going to do. They were expecting a genocide. We would kill everyone like the coalition forces did during the Highway of Death incident in 91. The women in his family were worried that we were going to rape everyone. The children were told that we’d eat them, cut off people’s ears, and take their teeth out (like in WWII or Vietnam). It was such a relief for them when that didn’t happen. They were surprised when regime forces melted away as coalition forces arrived. They were heavy handed, but nice in their own way.
That had me hooked. After that, every chance I got to speak to an Iraqi Police Officer or Iraqi Army Soldier, I asked them the same questions and told them about my past. Often, it’d take them convincing through interpreters on site that I wasn’t trying to arrest anyone and send them to Camp Bucca to get them to open up!
Others were just as fascinated with my experience. Where did I go in 03? Oh, I went to Baghdad, did I go to so and so neighborhood? How was it, how did it look? Apparently, I probably rubbed elbows with some of them when they deserted or were too young to fight. A few were on the other side of us during the march up… That was sad to talk about, because they lost friends, but I talked about how we lost guys too. As front line troops on either side, we were able to bridge a gap and there was a bond. Enemies at one point yes, but that bonded us now that the war was over. At least my war was, not theirs…
For those that were on the other side, or at least said they were, we talked about how it felt before the battle. “Oh you were in Diwaniyah? You were near the Hantush Airfield? I was there when it was taken…” That would lead to, “What did you and your friends talk about when you guys found out that it wasn’t just any old unit coming to fight you, but the 1st Marine Division?” The regime propaganda had fed these guys so many lies against us to make them hate us, but it had the opposite effect than they wanted. They weren’t feeling like they were going to defeat a treacherous invader, they felt like they were about be massacred. They remembered the results from the last war. They heard the propaganda about Marines cutting off heads, ears, and taking out teeth in WWII. They were told we eat people. That only criminally insane prison inmates were recruited to join the Marines, and we had to pass a test to join. What test? That we had to kill a family member.
Many planned to fight as long as they could, but if they could escape before the Marines got there? They would. They talked about wanting to survive, and go back to their families. They wanted to know how I felt. Did I hate them, is that why I fought? What did I think of them as we were invading? They were surprised to hear that I didn’t hate them. It wasn’t that personal for me. We were there to topple the regime, not humiliate the people. I saw it as liberating and helping. They were more surprised that I was concerned for the civilians who bore the brunt in the war. At the end of the day, the regular people were the most effected. They lost friends and family. Their work and school was interrupted. They faced shortages of basic necessities. Their lives would be turned upside down for an unknown number years. They were surprised at how one of my best memories was giving kids food and water, not fighting the Iraqis. How we felt the invasion was just, because we were helping the people against the corrupt government.
I had dozens of these talks during my 2 years there as a contractor. It’s a shame that I didn’t have a camera and tape recorder, I could have written a book. I didn’t take notes, I didn’t even think about it. I just wanted to know how it was during that dark and uncertain time for them. It made me realize something important. This wasn’t a good vs bad situation. They weren’t bad guys just because we were the good guys… They were just regular people, who were in a bad situation because of government leaders. Sure some probably did bad things in the past and didn’t tell me about it, but most were trying to provide for their family. Many were even conscripted and had nothing else to do in the country due to a lack of jobs and resources.
In life, looking at a situation through a different perspective can help you come to a better understanding or conclusion on an issue. I think we all look at a situation through our own blinders, and that it would benefit us to be a bit more compassionate to each other. We really don’t know what it’s like unless you walk in someone else’s shoes. Our differences aren’t as different as we believe they are.