Friday, May 30, 2003

Arrival at the Former Rustimiya (Camp Muleskinner) Base

30 or 31 May 2003 0130 Somewhere in SW Baghdad

We have arrived at the compound that we are to occupy during our time in Iraq. The truck broke down again. I believe the fuel pump went out. There is a strong wind-sand-rainstorm blowing through right now. When it rains here, it rains dirty water and the air smells like dirt. The temperature is nice though. That is a pleasant change from Kuwait.
We left the parade grounds tonight to come here. Today has been like a dream, days are developing into unforgettable pages of memories. Being in Iraq, you get the distinct feeling that this place is in a coma, and that the heart is still beating (heart being the people here), but the country itself could either die or recover at any moment.
My serious instincts are telling me that there is no concerted, intense, or well articulated plan for bringing this place back together. You get the feeling that the primary goal of the war was to rid Iraq of Saddam, and anything other that that hasn’t been comprehensively planned. There is an elaborate infrastructure here, the layout of the city is modern, and one gets the impression that Baghdad was doing well, despite the U.N. sanctions placed on it. Whatever the case is, the full potential of this place to recover is strangely diminishing week by week, as civil matters are overlooked while “security” issues and “show of force” priorities are clumsily executed. We are here, lots of tanks and vehicles to roll around the city, but (they call it stabilization) where is the motivation and leadership for the new Iraqi free republic? The confusion here in the battalion is growing. The lack of purpose and mission (secure Baghdad) is clearly on the minds of the officers. This is all political chatter though.
When driving into Baghdad and seeing all of the children smiling and waving, it is easy to forget what was happening here a month ago. Sometimes you wonder if they are happy because they may get some money or food from us. On the way to Baghdad, I crumpled up a one dollar bill and tossed it from my truck while I was driving on the highway to a kid. These people are along every highway, every road, selling everything from Pepsi to hashish. It is unreal, the swarms of goods and people. Many of them speak good English – even the rural families. So far I have seen salt mines, little colourful children, destroyed tanks, blown up civilian cars, bombed buildings, looted museums, pock-marked buildings, spent ammunition casings, abandoned uniforms in foxholes. Today was a day unlike any to date, concerning my concern for war and Iraq. Today, I missed you so much Nora. Today we met an old tank gunner that used to work in our office. He was sent to Georgia last year, and was then deployed to Iraq, and was then in the war. We said hello, and then SGT Rob and I talked to him. I wanted to find out what he had been through, not for entertainment, but to get some perspective on the war. He acted strange, almost absent minded, and his eyes wandered. Like a man we no longer knew. He said, this is a direct quote, “Yeah, huh, we killed so much shit. I ran over some people and, and destroyed the side of that building there, fucked this place up.” He said it is so strangely though, almost like a retarded child, or a serial killer during police interrogation. SGT Rob noticed this too and got uncomfortable. We left him right away, I didn’t want to be around him, there was something wrong in him – something real. The evening before, I found another guy and really asked some key questions that would get him talking about what he had seen. At first, he said he just wanted to get home, and then (I thought he spoke with remorse) he talked about people who had died in their battalion. Then he told me about a truck he blew up with his tank. He fired one shot, and it missed. He fired another at 2300 meters and hit it. He laughed and said he had the record for the longest hit. He confirmed it with a buddy who vouched for him. The he said, “We went out to the truck, and we found some bodies. I got a picture of one guy with his head half blown off (while huffing with self-satisfaction). Hey, do you think they will develop this in the States? I got some cool pictures.” He continued, “There was one van that was coming towards us, and it got shot. Well, come to find out here was a family inside. Well, it exploded, so we went to it, and they were burnt all over, black, with the father stuck in a position with his legs bent behind him. You could see they were in pain, but couldn’t move, all you could see was their white mouths moving and screaming. The son was burnt to his mom. It was crazy. We got pictures.” I was shocked, but to see the look in his eyes, and the voice, the body language, the stare. You feel like you are with a child killer who is confused, whose soul is dead, who is living in another world superimposed on ours. I cannot (Gunshots! Camp is being fired at, 0225. Gun bursts stopped, return fire can be heard. No more shots fired) describe what all these men share, something they radiate makes you realize there is a real evil in the world, and that I couldn’t even comprehend how deep it can fester in our human existence. These men need to go home, because they are forever changed, and I truly mourn that. War is more than firefights and adventure, it is the transformation of human beings into animals. This is wrong, it is satanic.
If you see something useful, take it. Those are the rules here. SGM Fleischmann reminded me of this as we carried furniture out of a performing arts center at the parade ground – a very modern, respectable, and well kept theater. We took what we wanted. You can take anything, go anywhere – anything goes here – it is unreal. At first I compared this to the liberation of Paris, but it seems more and more like the L.A. riots. You can take anything you want – anything. If you don’t some other G.I. will. I picked up several things at the President’s Museum of Gifts. It had been ransacked completely. G.I.s were leaving with vases and daggers, paintings and clocks. There is also human crap, shit everywhere, in every room of every building. Flies, urine, smells enough to make you vomit. It is everywhere. The G.I.s are just shitting all over the places where they live. They are living like animals. It is anarchy, it is defeat, and it is a wild dream where anything goes. Each soldier is himself judge and jury. There is also the sense that Iraq was just fine before we got here. Honestly.
Today the guys were talking about sexual adventures and prostitutes, and I just became depressed, because the company of men here is so lacking civilized qualities, it makes me think I am with a herd of animals, Baghdad being our zoo. I just sat in my chair and wondered exactly how different I am from my average people, and how lucky I am to have Nora. I miss her so tremendously, every breath I take makes me ache for her company, for her voice. The feelings I have for her are so complete in sincerity, she is beautiful in every way to me. I talk to her constantly – constantly. Being here forces you to face your conscience repeatedly, but loving her is the most right thing I have ever done, or will ever do, in my life. I am devoted to her, and to coming home alive. This is a new era for me, a huge one, and I know already that being here in Iraq is going to shape who I am in so many ways for a long time. I will always be Nora’s though. I am going to sleep now, in the cab of the truck. The wild dogs are out, so it is best to stay above ground. It is prayer time, Hail Mary. Goodnight Spatzi, I love you so!


Blogger Unknown said...

Does anyone still look at this? I was there at this same time and saw the same thing.

1:12 PM  

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