This is an email from Bryan Taylor, a young lawyer who worked for Bradley Arant a couple of summers ago as a law student, who is now fulfilling his military obligations. We hope he'll look us up for a job once his military career is over. In any event, this is an interesting well-written email from someone I know in Iraq. (I didn't realize before today that I knew anyone over there). I hope you find it as interesting as I did. (Comment made by person sending an email circulating the following.)
Sent: Tuesday, September 23, 2003 4:24 AM
Subject: Woops... The REAL rest of the story...
Hello from Iraq!
I'd like to tell you all about my experience here so far because, if you've been watching the news lately, there is a lot you haven't heard... and a lot of what you HAVE heard is WRONG (or at best, badly skewed).
We have access to cable news via satellite TV in our brigade TOC (Tactical Operations Center), namely, CNN and MSNBC, so I get the same news that you are getting back home from America's "finest" journalists, pundits, and yes, now presidential candidates. As most of you know, I have never held the American mainstream media in very high esteem. But never could I have guessed that America's "most trusted news" sources could be SO far off the mark about such an important story -- the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the planting of the first true democracy in the Arab world in all of history. (Unfortunately, we don't get FoxNews, so I can't say whether they are being "fair and balanced" or not).
I'm not saying the news media actually lie, but they seem bent on reporting only the worst, despite all the positive things going on here (for whatever reason, whether it be simple misinformation, some vast left-wing conspiracy, or raw sensationalism). The result is the perpetuation of some myths that the American public seem to be buying into more and more. Here are just a few of the most prevalent ones.
MYTH #1: THE IRAQI PEOPLE ARE INGRATES. THEY DO NOT APPRECIATE OUR PRESENCE, OUR SACRIFICE, OR THE FACT THAT WE HAVE LIBERATED THEM FROM A VICIOUS TOTALITARIAN REGIME. THEY ARE RIOTING IN THE STREETS AND TRYING TO KILL OUR SOLDIERS.
TRUTH: Our unit lives and works in the Sunni Triangle, the area of the country said to have been Saddam's stronghold, the area where most of the attacks on U.S. Soldiers are occurring. The Iraqi people, even here, are on the whole tremendously grateful, sometimes to the point of tears when they tell you stories of the atrocities they suffered under Saddam and the hope they have in the American presence. One of our interpreters, a local who speaks English quite well, explains that most of the terrorists attacking American troops and sabotaging Iraqi infrastructure are, in his view, as wildly extreme as, say, Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph are to us. He tells me how the people in his village greet him with questions every day when he gets home from work; they are excited and enthusiastic about his work with the Americans. We hired him as an interpreter, but he serves as an ambassador, as well, putting a human face on our armed forces for the surrounding Iraqi population. He tells them how the American soldiers miss their wives and children at home. He tells them of how we laugh and joke with him, same as any Iraqi. He tells them about the great things we are doing here. And there are many more ambassadors like him all over the country working for our armed forces.
I've met many Iraqis outside the base, too. For the past three weeks, we have been working with local sheiks, who are something like mayors of their local communities. Working with the sheiks, our brigade alone has organized and funded the construction of three new primary schools and repaired a huge irrigation pump system that carries water from the Tigris river into the surrounding communities (the system has been dry since the mid-80s, when Saddam first promised to repair it and never followed up). The sheiks are very happy to have a government that finally pays attention to local needs. How do we know we can trust them? They themselves are being targeted for working with us, and that propels them all the more toward helping the Americans. When one of our sheiks discovered his face on "wanted" posters around his village for assisting us, do you know what he did? He posted his own signs next to each and every wanted poster, challenging the person who put them up to come meet him face to face and tell him why the Americans are so bad. (No one has shown up yet to accept the challenge).
When we drive in armed convoys to visit the school sites, Iraqis in the markets along the streets still stop and wave to us with smiles on their faces. "Thumbs up" is a favorite of the jubilant children. I won't lie; some people narrow their eyes, turn down the corners of their mouths, and give us a very skeptical -- sometimes unnerving -- glare. But hey, we're driving through their little town in a convoy of six or seven noisy, filthy, intrusive military vehicles with 55-caliber machine guns mounted on top. "Is THIS the face of democracy?" they must be wondering. Who WOULDN'T be skeptical of such a military presence! In any case, the vast majority of the people I see are friendly and optimistic about our presence.
The boys and girls I have met at the school sites are very curious about us. They love to take pictures, and they love to show off their intelligence by counting in English, "One, two, three, four, five...!" They love to try to teach us how to count in Arabic, too, and they laugh wildly at our bumbling attempts at pronouncing their words ("two is "thnYEHN" and "three" is "theh-LA-thah" or something like that). At the site of the big irrigation pump, several teenagers stood by fascinated at the amount of water it churned out when we turned it on for the first time in decades. One young boy tried to strike up a conversation with me about American teenage girls. The language barrier proved impossible to overcome in that case, but a spirit of friendship, trust, and mutual curiosity about each other's culture was obvious nonetheless.
Our brigade has also been training recruits for a new Iraqi armed security force, most of whom are former members of the Iraqi army. Every one of them curses Saddam. My role as the lawyer in the training has been to develop and provide instruction on human rights and rules for the use of force (rules of engagement). You should see the excitement in their eyes when I talk about human rights! When I talk about individual dignity, equality, and mutual respect, it is like they are hypnotized, hanging on every word. When I finish, they ask hundreds of questions. As Iraqi soldiers, they never encountered many of the concepts we talk about. For example, we talk about the human rights of detained persons (suspected criminals), and they are amazed to hear that, not only will they not be ordered to beat and torture prisoners, but that beating and torturing prisoners is ILLEGAL. You should see their eyes and their faces. They light up. "How wonderful" their faces seem to say, "to be a part of this new way!" They are beaming. And the pride! They all keep asking when their new uniforms will arrive. These men will be paid well by Iraqi standards (Saddam paid his foot soldiers only $2 per month!). "The Americans are giving us terrific jobs," they tell me. "Finally I will be able to feed my family."
Up till now, I admit, I have given you a pretty rosy picture. I know that we are losing brave American soldiers weekly; there are protests going on, a few riots in Baghdad, and many people are upset at the pace of reconstruction. But for the most part, the reports are widely exaggerated in the news media. The so-called riots have involved only between 100 and 300 people. Heck, even LA has riots worse than this. As one general has put it, these people thought George Bush was going to two-step into Iraq and build a Wal-Mart overnight. Expectations were unrealistic (thanks in large part to the news media), and now the people want to know why their expectations are not being realized. But the vast silent majority is being very patient (just like the silent majority in America that did not participate in war protests), and the prevailing attitude about the American presence is a positive one.
MYTH #2: AMERICAN FORCES ARE BOGGED DOWN IN A VIETNAM-LIKE QUAGMIRE AND AMERICAN SOLDIERS ARE DROPPING LIKE FLIES BECAUSE OF THE ADMINISTRATION'S PLANNING FAILURES AND REFUSAL TO INCREASE THE NUMBER OF TROOPS IN THE COUNTRY.
TRUTH: Never before in the history of mankind has one nation's military accomplished so much with so few casualties in so short a time (Let's ponder this for a moment: we conquered and occupied one of the most dangerous countries in the world in a matter of weeks). The Vietnam generation should be looking at this operation in awe and wondering how we're doing it so well. The problem is that, thanks to the media, we've got the wrong perspective. In today's technology era, somehow the media have convinced us that we should view casualties as the exception rather than the rule in war. When and HOW did THAT happen? And what's with the media counting every casualty "since Bush declared an end to major combat operations"? I'm tired of hearing that every time I turn on the news. Bush was right to declare an end to major combat operations. We are not conducting major combat operations anymore. We are primarily conducting security, peacekeeping, and reconstruction operations. From a military standpoint, these are very different activities, something that journalists fail to understand or distinguish. We toppled the regime for crying out loud; we deposed Saddam Hussein! We conquered a nation, and we moved in (literally) to Saddam's palaces (Coalition headquarters is in the Presidential Palace). Bush's declaration was right on. Never did he say that reconstruction would be easy or bloodless. Indeed, he said just the opposite. No one... at least no one in the media... must have been listening.
This is a busy, active occupation. We are not sitting here like ducks -- as I had believed before I got here -- and the opposition is not hitting every convoy that leaves a base. Our brigade alone sends out, on average, one or two convoys per day, to go to the schools, or to meet with the sheiks, or to haul captured enemy ammunition, or to do whatever the mission might be for the day. There are literally hundreds, maybe thousands, of convoys zipping around Iraq at any given moment; almost all of them go out and return without incident. In just the four weeks that I have been here, I have been on more than a dozen convoys outside the base... So far, so good, and I thank God every day for keeping me out of harm's way. Don't get me wrong, it's dangerous and a little frightening. And some of our convoys have encountered a few IEDs (improvised explosive devices). But again, the media reports make it sound like every time a hum-vee goes out, it gets slammed with an RPG. Has the media given you any perspective? Do the reporters tell you, when they report an RPG or IED attack west of Baghdad, for example, that there were 1,562 other missions that day that went untouched? Of course not, they leave that little bit of information out, no matter how crucial it is to understanding the big picture of what is really going on here.
Does this ease the pain of the family member or the friend of a dead soldier? Of course not. I have spoken to soldiers in our own brigade who lost two comrades here in June out of our own brigade. They are bitter, resentful, angry, hurt -- they feel betrayed by the Iraqis in general -- and they have a right to feel these things. Every life is precious, and the loss of life, whether it be one or one million, is a terrible loss. And if that were the message that the media communicated - that we had yet another loss to mourn today -- that would be appropriate. But that's not what the media is reporting. They are trying, for some reason, to communicate that the operation is going badly, or was planned badly, because of the number of casualties, as if it were disproportionately high. In other words, they are not just telling us another soldier has died; rather, they are keeping a count as if there were a pre-existing standard for casualties against which one can now measure whether things here are going badly or well simply by looking at the number of soldiers killed. What is that standard? If it is Vietnam, then one must conclude that things here are going immeasurably well. If it is Desert Storm, however, then it is a meaningless comparison of apples and oranges; we didn't send troops in to occupy Iraq in Desert Storm... we left. So be careful about what the anchorman is really saying when he says another soldier has died, "making the count X number of soldiers killed SINCE PRESIDENT BUSH DECLARED THE END OF MAJOR COMBAT OPERATIONS." Why even mention the President's declaration, or the pre-declaration/post-declaration tally, unless you were skating the edge of objective journalism and trying to editorialize on the issue?
The point is this: The news media has become complicit, whether intentionally or subconsciously, in propagandizing a casualty count and isolated incidents of violence against American soldiers. They are treating a miraculously low casualty figure as if it were enormous (thereby making America believe that it actually is), and they are reporting incidents of violence as if there is no peace to be found anywhere in Iraq.
Don't believe it. Believe in your troops. Believe in America and its ideals. Believe in the will and determination and hope of an oppressed people to rise above their circumstances, just as we did 230 years ago, and to establish for themselves a nation of peace, prosperity, and freedom. And believe we are succeeding. Because we are.
MYTH #3: THE PROVISIONAL IRAQI GOVERNMENT PUT IN PLACE BY PRESIDENT BUSH IS INEPT AND FAILING BECAUSE IT CANNOT RESTORE BASIC SERVICES LIKE ELECTRICITY AND PLUMBING.
I don't want to dwell on this one too much because it's just so ludicrous, it's hardly worth the effort to dispel. Those who level this accusation assume that basic services like electricity and plumbing were working well before we got here. They weren't. This country was in shambles and the poverty is unspeakable. Saddam robbed these people blind to build scores of his own palaces. Most of the infrastructure was already broken to some extent, and some of those Iraqis now complaining about not having running water, for instance, never had running water to begin with. In many cases, we are not "restoring" basic services, we are establishing them. In terms of restoring services, it was not just a matter of flipping on a switch once we got inside Baghdad. We are having to repair and replace major systems, ordering parts, supplies, machinery, and labor from both inside and outside the country, just to fix what was already broken before the war. And we are having to do a ll this with old, outdated blueprints and plans.
How in the world do the critics expect the provisional government to build and rebuild the entire infrastructure of an impoverished third-world country in 5 months? The expectation is laughable.
This is not even to mention everything else the Provisional Government is doing. One could take issue with the media's definition of the term "basic services." Imagine for a moment the role of government in your daily routine, and you will only then begin to understand the daunting undertaking of establishing the "basic services" of a working government here. You wake up in the morning, shower, and brush your teeth. Government provides you the water. You get dressed and throw some bacon in the frying pan. Government inspected that bacon and regulated its production to make sure it was safe for you to eat. You jump in your car, which is registered with the government, carries a government issued license plate, and which you cannot drive in many states without having a state inspection. You can drive, of course, only because you have a driver's license, issued of course by the government. You drive to work and arrive in one piece, thanks to government installed traffic lights, stop signs, and painted streets. Do you have children going to school for the first time? You might have to take them today to get their immunizations, mandated by the government and developed in part with government funding. And who is running your child's school? Oh yeah, the government. Who pays the teachers and chooses and buys the textbooks? Get my point?
Last week I visited the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority that is running the country and is under so much fire for "failing" to restore "basic services." The Ministry of Justice is trying to establish a court system. The Ministry of Health is trying immunize every Iraqi child. The Ministry of the Interior is trying to establish security and police protection with a basic understanding of human rights. The Ministry of Social Services is trying to pay out welfare and unemployment claims. The Ministry of Education is trying to locate all Iraqi schools, plan a curriculum, develop textbooks (ones that don't say "Saddam is great"), and make sure that school starts like always without a hitch on October 1st.
The critics are arm-chair quarterbacks who don't have the first clue what it takes to run a government, much less ESTABLISH a new one. If somebody has a better plan, they ought to present it.
Well, I know I have probably worn you out by now. If you've made it this far, you lasted a lot longer than I would have. I have been working on this e-mail on and off for two days. I apologize for the length, but "now you know the rest of the story."
I hope all is well back in the States, and thanks to all of you who have sent me good wishes and care packages. It looks like we will be here for a while, so until we see each other again...
All my best,
Bryan M. Taylor CPT, JA
Brigade Judge Advocate/Trial Counsel
17th Field Artillery Brigade
CSC Cedar II, Iraq 09331
This email was forwarded to me by my sister, whose husband is a career Army man with 20 years of service to his country. Her son is a Crew Chief in the Air Force Reserves. Reprinted here with permission from Bryan Taylor.
Words expressed on pages found on this website and linked from home page were mostly written by others. No copyright infringement intended. If those who wrote those words do not want them to appear on this website, they may contact me to have them removed.
Most photographs by unknown photographers.