Wednesday, December 14, 2005


For those who have never read, or heard of Michael Yon http://michaelyon.blogspot.com/, allow me to say you are missing out. Mr. Yon is a freelance photojournalist in Iraq who gained notoriety a year back with the photo of a soldier cradling a small Iraqi child in his arms. You would know the photo if you saw it. Out of respect for Mr. Yon and his work, I will simply direct you to this link on his site for the picture. In every war or conflict there seems to be (at least to me) a photo, or couple of photos, that sum up everything: WW1: European trenches and the veterans fighting for their wages in Washington, WW2: Pearl Harbor, Bataan march survivors, the swastika tumbling off the Reichstag, A defeated Germany on trial, The sailor kissing a woman in Times Square, Korea: Bitter snow, Vietnam: Kent State shooting, helicopters lifting off the embassy roof, Gulf War: Burning oil fields, and now, Iraq: Sadam's statue falling, Sadam looking like a hermit, and the picture of the soldier at the link above. The first statement in this paragraph is, of course, an outright fallacy, since time and distance dulls our memory until we can only remember fragments of events. I think generations to come will look back on the beginning of the 21st Century, and the new millennium, with the images of the 1. fireworks displays in Australia and Europe, then move into 2. the image of the Trade Center being hit by planes on September 11, and then move to 3. Michael's photo of a soldier caring for a child that is not his. I simplify the above sequence to make a small point; It's my belief, and I think Michael's too: There's hope for America no matter what your view. In those three brief images of 1. fireworks, 2. terror, and 3. war, I see 1. hope for a better future, 2. fear for the future, and 3. knowing there's hope for future generations. The final image (#3 if you will) is one of compassion, even in war. I think that picture truly shows America at its best, and also shows Mr. Yon has a rare gift. So many have written over the past few years about American disregard for life, that we are imperialists, or that we are simply in Iraq for the oil. If that is the case, why the hell is gas still at $2.00 a gallon? Anyway, I'm stealing Michael Yon's words from a recent write-up to post below. This is not because I couldn't write words that mirror his, but because he lived them, he actually earned the right to say them, and it gives me joy to share them. I believe it's also appropriate with the Iraqi election happening today. Note: There are wonderful pictures from Michael interspersed throughout the story on his site. I suggest you view them at the link below. Originally published August 16, 2005: http://mikeyonopenforum.blogspot.com/ Getting these dispatches right is challenging. Iraq multiplies the challenge. The chaos of combat has already claimed two pairs of eye-glasses, a video camera, and two digital still cameras; the environment is merciless, with 117 degree days beating down over land and people. I was in the Army some years ago and maintained close contact with many friends who made a career of military service. Naturally, I had an interest in what was happening in Iraq--I had friends in harm's way. But what spurred me to drop what I was doing, get on a plane and fly halfway around the world, to a war zone, was a growing sense that what I was seeing reported on television, as well as in newspapers and magazines, was inconsistent with the reality my friends were describing. I wanted to see the truth, first hand, for myself. (MY WORDS: Below is the important part) I saw American and Coalition soldiers putting everything on the line to accomplish their mission. So that Iraqi children can have the chance to grow up in freedom and fulfill their potential. I saw resolve steel the jaw of a military leader. I saw hope light the eyes of a young girl. I saw a parent’s anguish. I saw a village elder’s wisdom. I saw a soldier’s compassion. And what I saw changed how I thought about this war. The "truth" of this experience is too complex to capture in a body count or a thirty-second sound byte. It's chaotic, dynamic and evolving. It's unwieldy, wasteful and we have made mistakes. It's a struggle of epic proportions that ultimately relies on the strength of a people about whom most Americans seem to know very little. The longer I stayed, the better I understood things. And I began to realize that Americans need to see these things in order to understand what is happening here and come to a more informed judgment of whether this struggle is "worth" the cost, in money and lives. No one can make that determination without a balanced set of facts. To me, one look in the face of any of the children tips the scales one way. But I don't do this work to espouse a point of view, or rally people to the right or left. Some people might find that statement disingenuous. I've been criticized for using terms like terrorist and enemy in my dispatches. Most critics are a safe distance from the battleground. Up close, its more than a matter of taking sides. There's no value in using imprecise language in a futile attempt to appear objective. There is a difference between Coalition soldiers and Iraqi police officers and the terrorists and criminals they confront. Whether you call them insurgents or resistance fighters or terrorists, the people who wake up in the morning plotting how to drive explosives-laden cars into crowds of children have to be confronted. Combat is just one form of confrontation. I chose another way. By getting close enough to the truth, for long enough to recognize when reality reveals it, I confront the distortions in how this struggle is portrayed. I do it because we need to see this clearly: what happens in and to Iraq is a defining moment for our nation, and the world. This enemy is smart and they are deadly, but they are also losing. Iraq can become a strong and free nation. But it will take the constant application of pressure over time to stem the flow of blood. If we back off too soon, they will rebound. If we cut our losses and run, they will follow us home. Peace can prevail here, if we can use our strength to maintain our progress. There is more, but I've stolen enough. It's through people like Michael that truth comes out. Thank him, and more importantly, the men and women of the armed forces.


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