Sunday, November 21, 2004

the letter

There is a letter making the rounds that I'd like to discuss, and I will quote the letter in its entirety before I respond:

This is one story of many that people normally don't hear, and one that everyone does. This is just one most don't hear:
A young Marine and his cover man cautiously enter a room just recently filled with insurgents armed with Ak-47's and RPG's. There are three dead, another wailing in pain. The insurgent can be heard saying, "Mister, mister! Diktoor, diktoor(doctor)!" He is badly wounded, lying in a pool of his own blood. The Marine and his cover man slowly walk toward the injured man, scanning to make sure no enemies come from behind. In a split second, the pressure in the room greatly exceeds that of the outside, and the concussion seems to be felt before the blast is heard. Marines outside rush to the room, and look in horror as the dust gradually settles. The result is a room filled with the barely recognizable remains of the deceased, caused by an insurgent setting off several pounds of explosives. The Marines' remains are gathered by teary eyed comrades, brothers in arms, and shipped home in a box. The families can only mourn over a casket and a picture of their loved one, a life cut short by someone who hid behind a white flag. But no one hears these stories, except those who have lived to carry remains of a friend, and the families who loved the dead. No one hears this, so no one cares.

This is the story everyone hears:
A young Marine and his fire team cautiously enter a room just recently filled with insurgents armed with AK-47's and RPG's. There are three dead, another wailing in pain. The insugent can be heard saying, "Mister, mister! Diktoor, diktoor(doctor)!" He is badly wounded. Suddenly, he pulls from under his bloody clothes a grenade, without the pin. The explosion rocks the room, killing one Marine, wounding the others. The young Marine catches shrapnel in the face. The next day, same Marine, same type of situation, a different story. The young Marine and his cover man enter a room with two wounded insurgents. One lies on the floor in puddle of blood, another against the wall. A reporter and his camera survey the wreckage inside, and in the background can be heard the voice of a Marine, "He's moving, he's moving!" The pop of a rifle is heard, and the insurgent against the wall is now dead. Minutes, hours later, the scene is aired on national television, and the Marine is being held for commiting a war crime. Unlawful killing. And now, another Marine has the possibility of being burned at the stake for protecting the life of his brethren. His family now wrings their hands in grief, tears streaming down their face.

Brother, should I have been in your boots, i too would have done the same. For those of you who don't know, we Marines, Band of Brothers, Jarheads, Leathernecks, etc., do not fight because we think it is right, or think it is wrong. We are here for the man to our left, and the man to our right. We choose to give our lives so that the man or woman next to us can go home and see their husbands, wives, children, friends and families. For those of you who sit on your couches in front of your television, and choose to condemn this man's actions, I have but one thing to say to you. Get out of you recliner, lace up my boots, pick up a rifle, leave your family behind and join me. See what I've seen, walk where I have walked. To those of you who support us, my sincerest gratitude. You keep us alive.I am a Marine currently doing his second tour in Iraq. These are my opinions and mine alone. They do not represent those of the Marine Corps or of the US military, or any other.


First, I'd like to say that I am suspicious that this letter is actually what it purports to be. It is too packaged, it has pervaded the country too widely, too fast, and at too many points of entry, and it contains too many talking points and semantically loaded words pushing nationalistic hot buttons for me to be convinced without a lot more evidence that this military person exists and wrote it on their own. However, on the chance that it is legitimate, here is my response:

LCPL Schmidt,

I have to respond to your letter as an American and a patriot who believes this country should always put its best foot forward, and that we are not representing our own ideals as a country very well at this time in history. While it may be true that we are not hearing the first kind of story, which led to the tragic death of American troops doing the duty they were sworn to do, that isn't the fault of the media. We don't hear about American deaths because our present administration discourages it, to say the least. This is the administration that doesn't permit and actually prosecutes American citizens for the taking of photographs of our honored dead being shipped home in flag-draped coffins. This is the administration whose codpieced commander-in-chief has never attended a single armed forces member's funeral. This is the administration that wants to spend two million dollars on a presidential yacht, but doesn't provide adequate body armor and safe vehicles for our troops. This is the administration that held back the news of the 1,000th American armed forces personnel being killed in Iraq for three days so it wouldn't cause bad press during the Republican convention. They are the ones dishonoring you.

Second, let's not lose sight of the fact that the American troops in the first story were not in that room innocently, while they were out touring the town on leave that day. Our personnel have been put in harm's way by an administration following a dishonest course of aggressive imperialism, alienating many of the people of the world, especially those on the receiving end of it. Nobody holds ill will towards our American fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and neighbors and friends who are over there following their orders as they are sworn to do. However, some of us strongly disagree with the radical and extremist course of action that our government has taken, which culminated in the patriotic, every-day American members of our armed forces being sacrificed for a pack of lies and a hidden agenda. If your own home soil was overrun by people from another country who were destroying your cities and killing thousands of your countrymen while claiming they were doing it to help you, you might have a hard time seeing their position and you even might try to kill as many of them as you could. I sure would. Like it or not, some of the people of Iraq have chosen to defend their country from what they perceive as an invasion. That is the fault of our leaders. They are they ones who are throwing your lives away for no reason.

Finally, you go on to make the point that this young man was injured the previous day in a similar situation and that some people want him "burned at the stake" for the sad affair the next day. I am not one of those people, and many people like me who saw that video with horror, and who already know the fact that he had been injured in a similar situation feel nothing but total empathy and sympathy for that young man. The people who should be burned at the stake, in a symbolic way, are the people who ordered him to that country in the first place, and the people who ordered him back to the most fearsome urban combat zone in the world THE NEXT DAY. That was a horrible command decision and his superiors should be held to account for that. The only thing that young man needs is some counseling to help him get through this tragic situation as best he can, and he most certainly should not be prosecuted for it. He, too, was a victim of this war and while he was part of a terrible incident, it is easy to see that he was not psychologically stable enough to be placed back in that situation after the events of the previous day. However, just like in Abu Ghraib, he will be sacrificed as a "bad egg" so that none of the truly guilty, the superiors whose greed and malfeasance have brought us to this juncture will ever face anything but promotions and praise for their loyalty in helping this extremist Bush presidency to become the biggest bully on the world's street. They are the ones who are making this world more dangerous for everyone.

LCPL Schmidt, please stay safe, stay healthy, watch out for your brothers-in-arms, and come home in one piece. However, don't just automatically believe everything you are told by your leaders. Use your own brain and never forget that orders can be wrong, too. Please remember that if you permit yourself to dehumanize and demonize the people of Iraq that you will not be able to make very rational assessments of the reality of the situation. Remember, it was easier to kill "gooks" and "slopes" than it would have been to kill Vietnamese peasant farmers. Please understand that those of us who are against the war disagree with the policies of the president and the circle of advisers that got this country into a situation that is making the world a more dangerous place because of their belief in an ideology to the exclusion of actual evidence. We have no dispute with honorable Americans who put their lives on the line for our country.

Our country is supposed to be the epitome of freedom, truth, and justice and an example for the world. Our leaders have violated those standards, and managed to lie loud and long enough to fool a large part of the country into supporting them. They have betrayed the ideals of our country, they have betrayed the American people,they have betrayed the world, they have betrayed our brave American military personnel, and we will not stop saying that until this situation is corrected and we have once again become worthy of the noble ideals the United States of America were founded on. We thank you for your service,and we honor you for your commitment. We just feel that our leaders have let us all down, including you.

A fellow American


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