Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Another Child Shot, USO Comes to Baghdad, First Visit to the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad

17 June, 2003

I am sitting at my desk now, just having sent Nora a letter, thinking about the flood of incidents I had to deal with; your letter having the most detailed account. Last night, a man was shot in the chest – I had to approve his transport to the hospital. Then, a man was shooting a 9mm in the air. Our guys got him and broke his face in – then bragged about it and jumped around like a bunch of primitive cave men. There was even one officer among them, and his utter ecstasy showed on his face at having caught and freely brutalized the lump of brown, blood-stained, Iraqi flesh that was brought to our building.

“We beat the shit out of him! He’s lucky
we didn’t finish him off!”

− Young SGT overjoyed with his catch

Although the soldiers stood around him, shining a flashlight into his bloody face and yelling at him in the English – as if he could understand anyways. He was taken over to our prison area, where I looked him over. He was crying, begging for is life − hysterical. Again, I just made sure he had some water, and I made sure all those around him were calm. It was such a disturbing thing to see a grown man crying and begging for his life. You imagine that this person was a child 30 years ago. What has he been through, what has he seen, why was he shooting a 9mm in the air? Unfortunately, Fleischmann showed up and started talking out of his ass, saying this guy is a piece of shit and talking in circles only to be heard. He always wants to play with the prisoners and give a commentary on the worthlessness of our prisoners – usually an uninformed commentary. I agree that some prisoners are vial, but there are varying degrees of offense, and the punishment should include a bit of fear and discomfort. In Utopia, by Thomas Moore, he talks of the punishment of criminals, when those criminals have been created by the ruling establishment. It is true, that much of the criminals in Baghdad have been created by the police vacuum we created through the destruction of authority here. To handle these people with brutality or unprofessional acts only makes us as bad as the criminals. After getting this prisoner, three more were brought in for shooting AK-47s in the streets. One of the bullets struck a 4 year old boy in the back of the skull. Conroy brought the boy to our Army hospital, where he was treated and released. They (the hospital) asked, “Should we drop the kid and the family outside the gate?” I responded, ‘No, we will take them back home.’ So I called the scouts, and they took them right to their home. I then went over to see the new prisoners, involved in shooting the child, and I felt only a basic sympathy for them – a ragged group of thugs. One of them was laying on the floor, restrained with zip strips on his wrists and a sandbag on this head (they often have sandbags on their heads). He kept moving like an inchworm and banging his head on the concrete floor – so our medic asked if he could put him out – probably a good idea. So he walked over and stuck a needle in his butt and injected him with a sedative used normally to sedate people with severe pain. When the man felt the needle, he shrieked and jolted like a wild beast. I had seen enough of that, so I went to the other room to see the other prisoners. By this time, the man with the broken face had been cleaned up and was docile as he slept on a cot. The other men were sitting in corners crying and yelping like crazy men, then sobbing, through their sandbags. I could only feel sorry that they got themselves in such a position, by deciding to go insane and accidentally shoot a child and put a bullet in his skull. These men were like tongues of fire, rising up from the smoldering fires of hell, rising up from the smoldering hell of Baghdad’s nights.
Then I got a report of several hijackings, some weapons violations, and then the kidnapping of 5 children by a man with a 20 passenger bus. A chill went down my spine, another kidnapping. The information about the kidnapping was so poor, but I did have a color and description of the bus. So I immediately called two helicopters on the radio, and they began the search. I talked to them for an hour while they were searching, but in the end, we had no luck. That is the way it is sometimes, there is no way to respond to crimes quickly. Most go unsolved. * I am leaving for the U.N. HQ in Baghdad now. I’ll continue when I return.
That was my first time in a U.N. building. Major Stanton’s dad is there as a U.S. government official working with the U.N. When we pulled up to the building, you could immediately sense the presence of money. Conroy and I parked outside of the compound, and within minutes, three men came asking for help, saying their car was stolen. Some annoying sergeant on guard duty there explained to them that we weren’t a police station, and that they would have to go to an Army MP station down the road. Then the sergeant waved to a few passing cars and turned to us. He said, “The biggest challenge is to get the married women to wave back!” Conroy and I just ignored him, and he eventually wandered away. As we were standing next to the freeway, people were waving and cheering at us, especially the children.
I wanted so much to go into the U.N. building. Then, one of the guards told me I could go in to buy something to eat or drink from the U.N. cafeteria. The only problem was I couldn’t take my weapon with me. Conroy knew that I wanted to go in, so he kept my weapon for me. I walked through the gate, and I was truly excited. There were all kinds of civilians, very well dressed, congregating near the door. They were all speaking French, Arabic, and some English. It was strange though, as I neared them, I dropped my head and unexpectedly became very self-conscious of my uniform, my ammunition, my dirty appearance. There was even a faint sense of shame. I felt like I was on the wrong side of the wall. I felt like the lowest, most phoney creature on the planet. I believe I felt this way because these are people part of a community that I would like to belong to one day. These are supposed to be the peacemakers, and here I was – a hired gun – walking across a polished marble floor with my combat boots. I though, ‘I wonder if these people know that I believe in what they say they are doing, and their mission overall.’
I entered the reception hall of the building, and it was marvelous. There were two stone carvings of the Mesopotamian figures. A man’s bearded head on a lion’s winged body. There was a woman there speaking French to some respectable Arab man. Most everyone was dressed very nicely. I uncomfortably made my way to the cafeteria. There were a few Americans, some Arabs, some very plain-looking American security guards. I looked over the drinks and goods, and decided on an apple and apple juice. REAL FRUIT! I paid in dollars, and I got $15 back from the $20. Then the man at the counter handed me a fist full of Iraqi Dinar. I was surprised to have gotten so much money that could have only matched $2.00 at the most.
There was a man standing next to me in Colonel Sanders-looking clothes, wearing a straw Dixieland flat top hat on his white hair. I wondered who he was. Perhaps he was an eccentric academic sort. He then asked the man for a bottle of white wine. I noticed that he had a British accent. Then the man standing behind him asked for some wine. I took my apple juice and made my way out of the building. I noticed all the people sitting around discussing matters, I really would love to be right there discussing too, coming up with solutions. Not sitting with people talking in circles or mindlessly discussing plans of action that are ill-conceived. I became excited a bit again, just to be there among the people there – part of a community that I identify with in principle. I thought to myself that perhaps one day I could join them in work. To be objective though, they do get quite a bit of protection from the U.S. government and U.S. forces – especially here in Baghdad. One problem is that the U.N. work is not being allowed to run at full potential. Hopefully plans are in the works. I said goodbye to the African-looking guard and left the building. So many people wearing fine clothes were exiting the building – along with a stream of very new SUV U.N. trucks and a parking area full of U.N. trucks. Something I noticed was the amount of refined-looking and finely dressed white men riding around in these trucks. I also noticed some nerdy-looking French people wearing outdoor adventure type clothing – something a yuppie would wear while hiking the Silicon Valley and drinking Evian mineral water – coming out of the compound. I thought to myself (and as I watched so many wealthy people about the place), ‘What could these people possibly be doing to be making Iraq better?’ Sometimes I think some of these NGO people are involved because it is a social adventure, and to make themselves feel humane or compassionate. Something akin to the pothead who yells at a protest for world peace, but his priorities in life are living easy and getting high. It’s all in the name of fashion. I have lost all respect for those kinds of people. There are probably a lot of good people at the U.N.
Major Stanton’s dad then came out to meet Conroy and me. I noticed the West Point ring on his finger. He had an air of a stately man, a man of seriousness, of contemplation, and purpose. I immediately rendered him respect based on my personal assessment, and that was returned by a hearty and business-like handshake. Major Stanton introduced me to him and said, “Thompson here speaks fluent German.” I was surprised to even get a compliment from him. It reminded me of the importance of formal introduction and socializing. I respected the man alone (on first impression) due to the fact he was good enough to send his son to Harvard, and thus secure his future forever. On first analysis, you would not guess Major Stanton graduated from such a place – but he did – and that is really all that matters. My respect for my parents lessened somewhat after contemplating this, because I got almost no outside support for college – even after it was promised.
We soon left the U.N. and drove through a part of the city. Again, people were waving, kids smiling. I was keeping my eyes on vehicles coming along side our Hummer and people getting close to the truck. I scanned each alley, all the rooftops. All the dirty shops, all the dingy holes, the old men, the brown kids. The city is alive, that is for sure, I just don’t know what its future is. It is amazing to see such a large place operating under such little authority. These people are good people, industrious people. They are running about the city, but I don’t think they are really running it.
As we got on the main highway on-ramp, there was a mud hut next to the army canal, among green brushes and brownish soil. Next to the hut was a little girl in a purple dress – probably 4 years old, standing with who I think was her father in traditional Sunni dress. I waved to her, and she waved back – I just kept waving as we went down the road, and she stood there waving back. It seemed like an eternity, but it was beautiful to me for some reason. I just want to show that I do notice them, and that I do care – perhaps that is why I waved I waved for so long. It was just sweet that she waved back for so long too. When I am in the city, or interacting with kids here, I don’t feel like I am in the Army. I just feel like a kid embarrassed at his father’s reputation. I feel a mixture of sorrow, hope, shame, sympathy, understanding, and concern.
We returned to camp, and I felt a bit refreshed having got a change of scenery from our camp, and the people there. I sat down and tried the phone to call you, but it wasn’t working. Then SFC Smith gave me a package and they started saying it was a dildo or vibrator, because of the shape of the box. Our colonel was nearby, and didn’t think the joke was funny, and I didn’t want to be seen with people who think childish stuff like that is funny. So I walked away with my package and ignored their comments.
I was so excited to get your package. I opened it up and found all the little posty notes on everything. I love when you do that, it is really cool. I opened the box of Teebaumöl teetree oil and there was even a posty on it! Nora, you don’t know how lucky I feel, how proud I feel, and how loved I feel when you do those things for me. You sent all those little things for the Nora shrine too. I told Foley about the Nora shrine, and he couldn’t believe it. People were like, “You are smiling from ear to ear!” I forget where I am, I go into our world, and start laughing, getting excited, GOD NORA! I MISS YOU! I read your letter too, 27 pages front and back! I know that you love me, Nora, I know it. I am going to write you a letter about it. That package was great though, it really brought me up! I need that here! Finally, I did some laundry at 0130 or so with a flashlight and a bucket. I would look up at the stars and think of you so much. Sometimes I need to hear your voice so much on the phone it turns my stomach, I get anxious. I feel so much like I am a hostage, wrongly taken away. I have to try hard to remember God has a plan – we only have to believe that. So that is what I thought of when I said my prayers (it is now 18 June 2003) last night. I pray so much Spatzi, so much for us. I look forward so much to coming home to you – I feel like a man chained down to a rock, far from you, where I belong. I love you, Nora. I beg time to pass quickly.

On June 20, 2003 the USO hosted a bash for the soldiers at the Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). Symbols of American values were on stage, as Kid Rock and Leann Tweeden (a Playboy Magazine model) entertained soldiers. Kid Rock sang, “If I was president, I’d turn all churches into strip clubs,” and “If I was president, I’d give my State of the Union Address from a mile high, smoking a joint on Air Force One.” That was after showing his middle finger to everyone. It was an affectionate display though. Kid Rock openly supported the troops during the war, when many in the entertainment industry spoke out against it. I thought it was odd that the Army of Bush, of morals and values, was being entertained by Kid Rock and a Playboy model. It didn’t seem so odd when I found out he was a Republican, and rumored to be invited to Republican National Convention almost a year later. With songs like, “Fuck U Blind,” “Wax the Booty,” and “Pimp of the Nation,” it’s hard to believe he is a Bush supporter at all. Later, during the Abu Ghraib scandal, Americans were shocked to learn that some soldiers had little or no moral values.


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