Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The hearts and minds of war

I’ll come right out and say, I’ve never been in the military. If you’ve read my ‘Disability’ post, you know why. I did grow up in a military family though, my father was a pilot in the Canadian Armed Forces and in his early career flew off the Canadian Aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure. I probably would have followed him into the service, as of us 3 sons I was the one most interested.

I should also warn you this is probably going to be a longer post. I have a lot to unload. I just hope I get it right.

So what is this about? At the beginning of the Iraq war the Bush administration talked about winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Iraqi people. My belief, which you may not share, is that he actually did win the hearts and minds right at the beginning, but then lost it. The longer we stayed, the more Iraqis got pissed off. Probably one of THE best Iraqi blogs was from Riverbed who wrote ‘Baghdad Burning’. She wrote:

"Nearly four years ago, I cringed every time I heard about the death of an American soldier. They were occupiers, but they were humans also and the knowledge that they were being killed in my country gave me sleepless nights. Never mind they crossed oceans to attack the country, I actually felt for them. Had I not chronicled those feelings of agitation in this very blog, I wouldn't believe them now. Today, they simply represent numbers. 3000 Americans dead over nearly four years? Really? That's the number of dead Iraqis in less than a month. The Americans had families? Too bad. So do we. So do the corpses in the streets and the ones waiting for identification in the morgue. Is the American soldier that died today in Anbar more important than a cousin I have who was shot last month on the night of his engagement to a woman he's wanted to marry for the last six years? I don't think so." - Riverbend, December 29, 2006

I’d like to point out that someone created a fake Riverbend blog called ‘Riversbend’ to try and discredit Baghdad Burning. I can only guess they didn’t like what she was talking about. Most likely it was someone who was pro-war, and most likely someone who has never been in the military.

I can’t recommend enough that people go read Baghdad Burning. My original link goes to her first archived post, and you can go from there. If you want a different viewpoint that what the mainstream media has fed you the past 6 years about Iraq, she is definately a good read. She left Iraq in 2007 and her last blog is Oct 2007. I haven’t heard if she has a new blog now or not. I hope she is well.

Lets go back a few years, actually lets go back 64 years, to WWII in Japan. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Moriwaki Yoko, but she wrote a diary talking about her days and her thoughts while her father was of at war. She died when the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. She wrote:

June 5: Today right now the battle on Okinawa continues. I think the girls' school students in the US and in England probably stand united. We cannot let them do that better than us. We cannot … During the day while I study, Osaka and Kobe are attacked by enemy planes. Probably there are students like me there who are being bombed into tiny pieces like cherry blossoms. Classmates, we are fighting the enemy at every turn. You can sleep peacefully under the ground.

There is two things about this statement that amaze me. 1) She understands that there are girls, just like her, who stand behind their fathers who are fighting against her country. Yet it doesn’t appear that she hates them. By looking at the media and the pro-war people this is something completely unknown to them, more in fact it seems they actually revile everybody other the other side, there are no innocents in their eyes. 2) She understands war, and its worst effects. That ‘real’ people are dying. If you remember during the actually fighting in Iraq, the American media showed planes taking off, soldiers and tanks, all showing off the American military might. However Al Jazeera (Arabic media) showed the dead bodies from the bombs dropped. The American media hid the cost of war from the American public, to keep the pro-war hysteria up. The cost to American soldiers was even kept hidden from us as we could not even see the flag draped coffins returning home. The Canadian PM Harper tried to do the same thing, and the Canadian public went ballistic, he had to reverse his decision from the pressure.

It seems to me that American culture has become very pro-war, specially with the media and the government hiding the true cost of war. Eight out of ten pundits seem to be of the pro-war variety, the vast majority of those have never seen service either. I get the feeling they just get off on the power of playing ‘army men’ with real soldiers, but don’t actually think of them as real people.

The other hidden cost of war is the soldiers returning home. What help is being given them? Suicide rates are very high, the new GI bill is having problems and in general I don’t feel the Pentagon really cares one way or the other about the Vets. Politicians (of both parties) play lip service to supporting the troops, yet their voting record shows the exact opposite of what they are saying.

My grandfather , who I am literally waiting for the phone call to say he has passed on (he is very sick and in the hospital), stormed the beaches of Normandy on Juno Beach. His best friend was beside him one second, and the next only his boots remained. That and the fact that terrible things happened in war are the only things he has ever said. I have never pressed him for more information as he gets really sad and withdrawn when talking about the war. We live in a different age and now we have soldier bloggers and soldiers writing books.

Which bring me back to where it all began. My friend told me about House to House a book by a soldier in Iraq and his accounts of Fallujah. Its on my Amazon wish list now, so I haven’t read it, but my friend said it was a really powerful book. And that conversation started me to writing this post and the one previous to it. What was my intent? I’m not sure, but war is a terrible thing and we should always believe it to be so. I’m not anti war, but I am anti war propaganda. We should also keep in mind that our ‘enemy’ is not every person over there, its only those taking up arms against us. If we truly do want to win the ‘hearts and minds’ we cannot dehumanize our opponent, nor discount why they fight us. If we do we only supply more propaganda for their side. This is not weakness, but strength, strength of character and something we are supposed to uphold.

Think about it.

(told you it was going to be a long post)


  1. Good post, man.

    I don't know that every mainstream reporter is pro-war...I think it's more a case where they're terrified of being painted as 'against the troops' if they say anything the slightest bit critical of military efforts. My bigger issue with reporters is that most of them sit in the Green Zone and never leave. All that footage they show? They buy tape recorded by locals and put that on the air. And the problem with THAT is, they don't vet anyone giving them tape. It was discovered at one point that a majority of tapes being sold to the networks were filmed propaganda from one militia or another trying to make the others look bad (or worse).

    I definitely have read every single post of Baghdad Burning and found it incredibly powerful. I would also encourage people to seek out the work of actually independent journalists...Michael Yon is one, Joe Galloway is another...who are actually indy and going out with units in the field. Go find some military blogs...even if you don't agree with their opinions, at least when they talk about combat they're actually speaking from experience.

    And yeah, read House to House. Read My War by Colby Buzzell, too. Read as many printed recounts and journals of troops and civilians as you can find.

  2. I don't know why I just thought of this now, but there's a really good documentary about Al Jazeera called Control Room. Definitely check it out.