Sometimes we lose perspective. Sometimes we need a reminder that the same war that's a political event for those of us in the chattering classes -- even those among us who have been there and done that -- is a life for other people, a daily struggle to do your job and stay alive and keep going.
This is an excerpt from an outstanding essay in last Sunday's Washington Post, taken from David Finkel's new book The Good Soldiers. On this evidence, I think it'll be worth the read.
Did anyone else understand that, though? Because while the news in Rustamiyah on Sept. 4 was all about three dead soldiers and a fourth who had lost both legs and a fifth who had lost both legs and an arm and most of his other arm, that wasn't the news in the United States. It was about President George W. Bush arriving in Australia, where the deputy prime minister asked him how the war was going and he answered, "We're kicking ass." It was about a Government Accountability Office report that noted the Iraqi government's lack of progress toward self-sustainability, which Democrats seized on as one more reason to get out of Iraq, which Republicans seized on as one more reason Democrats were unpatriotic, which pundits seized on as a chance to go on television and do some screaming.
Sometimes, at Rustamiyah, the soldiers would watch the screaming and wonder how the people on those shows knew so much. Clearly, most of them had never been to Iraq, and even if they had, it was probably for what the soldiers called the windshield tour: corkscrew in, hear from a general or two, get in a Humvee, see a market surrounded by new blast walls, get a commemorative coin, corkscrew out.
The soldiers would laugh about this, but after more than half a year here, one thing they had lost sight of was how different the Iraq war was in Iraq as opposed to in the United States. To them, it was about specific acts of bravery and tragedy. Three dead inside a burning Humvee -- what else could a war be?
But in Washington, it was more strategic, more political. Three dead? How sad, and this is why we need to get out of Iraq, to honor the sacrifice, and this is why we need to stay in Iraq, to honor the sacrifice.