What if you spoke regularly of “haji food,” “haji music” and “haji homes”? What if your speeding convoys ran over civilians often enough that no one thought to report the incidents? What if your platoon was told pointblank: “The Geneva Conventions don’t exist at all in Iraq, and that’s in writing if you want to see it”; or, when you shot noncombatants, it was perfectly normal to plant “throwaway weapons” by their bodies, arrest those civilians who survived, and accuse them all of being “insurgents”? What if your buddy got his meal-ready-to-eat standard spoon and asked you to take a photo of him pretending to scoop the brains out of a dead Iraqi? Or what if the general attitude among your buddies was: “A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi…. You know, so what?”
These examples — and many more like them — can be found in a remarkable breaking story in the new issue of the Nation magazine. In a months-long investigation, Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian interviewed 50 U.S. combat veterans who had been stationed in Iraq. They were intent on exploring “the effects of the four-year-old occupation on average Iraqi civilians” (as well as on those soldiers). The article, “The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness,” offers Americans a look behind the bombings and carnage in the headlines at just what kind of a war American troops have found themselves fighting — focusing on the degradation that is essential to it and will accompany those troops home.
It is the perfect companion to the piece independent reporter Dahr Jamail has written for Tomdispatch today, which gives a sense of what anybody, even a journalist exposed to such “apocalyptic violence” and despair, is likely to bring home with him. Even more important, through a series of wrenching emails Jamail has received recently from Iraq, you get a small sense of what the dark and horrific war the American vets described to Hedges and al-Arian, a war only escalating in brutality, looks like to the Iraqis — the ones who stand in danger of getting run over by those speeding convoys, or are at the other end of the kicked-in door, or the racism, or simply the anger and frustration of isolated soldiers in a strange and hostile land.
Jamail’s new book on the Iraq he saw but most Americans, soldiers or journalists, didn’t — Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq — is being published in October. Like Hedges and al-Arian, he offers a sense of an ongoing war you almost never hear about on the nightly news. Tom
Iraq on My Mind
Thousands of Stories to Tell — And No One to Listen
By Dahr Jamail
“In violence we forget who we are” — Mary McCarthy, novelist and critic
1. Statistically Speaking