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October 19, 2007
On VictoryBy Greyhawk
In our last episode...
Welcome to part 3.
Hah - it was a trick question. Actually I didn't say anything. It was too loud, as I said above. I just gave a thumbs up, the bird launched, and within seconds we were over the wire and 100 feet above the rooftops of Baghdad.
Katie Couric recently flew over town, too:
We arrived at the airport this morning on a private plane. I was surprised to hear that there are now three Royal Jordanian flights into Baghdad every day. It was difficult to see much from the air ... though I did see the Tigris River. The scope of the destruction can better be taken in at ground level. I had heard a great deal about the corkscrew landing into Baghdad airport, ostensibly to avoid being a clear target for SAMs, or surface-to-air missiles.... But the airport has gotten much more secure; we banked slightly, but it wasn't nearly as jarring as I had anticipated.
Three flights a day, a lack of destruction - obviously the smooth landing wasn't the only surprise.
Before actually seeing Baghdad she may have had images like these in mind...
If so, fair enough. That's what war looks like. And recovery can take years...
War is hell.
Nothing can compare to a helo ride over a major city in a war zone. It's a roller coaster off the rails, with an added element of people below who probably would enjoy killing you. If you can get over that, the view is amazing. The bird tilts to turn, and the windows are huge, and when you're barely a hundred feet up it's spectacular.
From higher up the haze and smog blur and obscure...
But drop in low, below the smog layer, and the picture clears...
And what causes that smog?
Partly the wind-blown dust, partly the exhaust of vehicles in a city of millions, and less and less often the fires of war...
But primarily the industry of Iraq...
Just loverly, isn't it?
There's little large-scale destruction visible in Baghdad. Like Katie Couric, I saw none. There is damage, to claim otherwise would be ignorant and arrogant. And here and there empty space where buildings may once have stood. But the real infrastructure problems with Baghdad - and they are significant - are a lack of continuously flowing electricity and water. Much of that is due to Saddam's years of neglect, some to decades of war, and more to a few years of terrorist attacks - all of which is made worse by people simply stealing bits and pieces for their own use, profit, or survival. None of this is seen at 200 feet, what you do see is a city of people going about their business, driving and walking through the streets, probably hoping they won't be blown up by a suicidal maniac before sundown, but otherwise just going about their lives.
There are many damaged people, too - and likewise that damage isn't visible from above. Much of it is internal; and only time and God can repair a damaged spirit or fix a shattered soul.
Though perhaps some hurts will never heal.
Something else you don't see in this ancient city: anything ancient.
But you will see the modern. In the distance, the Mother of all Mosques, rising still unfinished far above it's surroundings...
That Mother of all Mosques moniker is bogus of course. Prior to 2003 it was known as the Grand Saddam Mosque - where Saddam spent billions as his people starved. It's since been renamed the al Rahman Mosque.
That edifice should not be confused with the Mother of all Battles Mosque (and that's it's actual name!)...
And even farther off - too far for a photo - the skeletal frame of what would have been the worlds largest mosque towers above its surroundings.
A few days ago I posted this entry at MilBlogs:
We've won the war.
I wanted to say that with a very short and to the point post, with none of the ifs, ors or buts that a more reticent observer may have tossed in. I recognize now I should have extended my entry to six words: "We've won the war in Iraq".
I expect that the statement will unnerve the war's supporters who fear that the next act of violence in Iraq will offer the war's opponents yet another opportunity to insist we're defeated - or at least in a "quagmire" - but it's still a fact (as is that next act of violence). And I realize the degree of rage this will invoke in those opposed to our efforts - at least those who are politically opposed - but given the magnitude of their investment in defeat it should surprise no one if twenty years from now they're still insisting we lost. As for those engaged in actual armed combat against us, I addressed them in my first followup to that original post:
Being in Iraq I can assure you that along with the al Qaeda exclusion there's a corollary to that Kerry quote that must also be acknowledged: No one wants to be the last man to die for a victory, either. But either way, someone will be "that guy".
And I write this in full recognition that I could be that guy. I've been writing about Iraq here for four years now - in and out of country. I've been here during many of the most violent months of the war; from the second battle for Fallujah through the January, 2005 elections, and from the launch of the surge to the present - and I'm not homebound yet. In all that time progress has been achingly slow, and back steps have been mixed with forward - but never the majority. Throughout it all - until now - I've never declared victory, seen "light at the end of the tunnel", or even claimed to have "turned a corner" - you can take your bumper sticker slogans and shove 'em. Over here a tenacious and bloodthirsty enemy has fought a well-designed and multi-faceted campaign against us, perhaps secure in the knowledge that blame for every child they killed or each holy place they defiled would be shifted to us even as they washed the blood from their hands. Their efforts gained support from many quarters (not all of which were anticipated in preparation for or included in response to their actions) and condemnation from few. But the ranks of their opponents - at least here in Iraq - are large and still growing, and theirs are neither. The battles are diminishing but ongoing, losses will be suffered, and blood will still be shed. Still more of their supporters may redouble their efforts. But in short, while I recognize this will provoke immeasurable rage from those who feel we've lost, and consternation among those who know we've won but lack the fortitude to make the declaration at this point in time, I'll say it again: we've won the war in Iraq.
We overflew the Monument to the Unknown Soldier, built during Saddam's eight year war with Iran.
Reliable casualty figures for that war do not exist.
The people of Iraq have known nothing but war for almost 30 years. Soon they may know peace.
Saddam's victory declarations - in the forms of new Mosques, monuments, and palaces, were invariably premature. On the ironically American-named Victory Base Complex one can see the still incomplete Victory Palace, built to commemorate Saddam's victory over the coalition in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Among all the monuments and above the clamor of victory parades one should always hear the words of Robert E. Lee: "It is well that war is so terrible -- otherwise we should grow too fond of it."
There is work to be done.
At one point in our flight over Baghdad I glanced down to see we were flying directly over Saddam's crossed swords, seen here from the opposite perspective.
These modern victory arches may be the most recognizable features of one of the world's most ancient cities.
We should have demolished them in 2003.
If American troops come home in Victory from Iraq it will be only the second time we've ever returned victorious from a war on foreign soil. The first was World War One.
We left Baghdad, returned "home". The pilot flew in hot then quickly tilted the bird up to use the rotors to slow the ship before leveling out and hitting the ground. We'd picked up a few more passengers along our way, and delivered them to places they needed to be. Now the mission was over. The sun was dropping low in the sky. I grabbed my gear and hit the ground, having been delivered damn near to my front door.
After a few steps one of the gunners caught up with me.
"What did you think?" He asked.
"That was awesome. I would have paid you for that."
"Baghdad always surprises me," he said. "We fly over real nice houses, with swimming pools and nice lawns, and then we also fly over shacks made out of sticks. It's like... like..."
"It's like Los Angeles." I concluded for him.
Next: Fox on the Airfield
Posted by Greyhawk / October 19, 2007 10:55 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
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Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com