The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Iraqis and US Marines

This morning I did something I rarely do. I watched two consecutive hours of television. I was captivated by a documentary describing the men and mission of a Marine recon company in Iraq back in the summer of 2005. This was before the 2007 surge, and before the new administration gave the enemy hope and opportunity by publicly issuing withdrawal deadlines.

Aired on the Military Channel, the documentary was fascinating; and having worked closely with Marines over 30 years ago, I realized quickly that these remarkable men were very much like their courageous and well-disciplined predecessors. They may occasionally be a little rough around the edges, but their commitment to their more than challenging mission is evident.

That being said, what really interested me were the rural Iraqis with whom our young Marines came into daily contact. They are a people ruled largely by centuries-old tribal loyalties and religious affiliations and so the cultural divide between them and the Marines is enormous. Most of the people with whom the Marines interact just want to live their lives in the confines of their small village micro-societies, and will do what is necessary to minimize any disruptions to their families and their way of life. If they believe it benefits them, they will side with either the insurgents or the Marines. Understandably, their real and immediate concern is not for the future of their nation, but rather for the safety of their families. They know the Marines will eventually leave Iraq, but their hostile neighbors will remain. Taking sides publicly can be a dangerous thing.

Watching our young Marine NCOs and officers interact so effectively with these rural Iraqis was amazing. So too was their ability to accomplish their mission under extremely difficult conditions and burdened by very restrictive rules of engagement. These Marines were trained extensively in the art of warfare; they were trained to kill the enemy. But in Iraq (and in Afghanistan as well) they face an insurgency, a hidden enemy who blends in quickly with the population. And the population is all too often apathetic. Watching the show, I found these young selfless Marines to be mature far beyond their years. They are a far cry from the "Occupy" young people I encountered in Asheville, NC last weekend, who seemed intent only on complaining that they haven't been given enough.

One of the documentary's more iconic scenes showed an Iraqi woman baking unleavened bread in a large stone oven in the back yard of her home. The oven, a circular well-like structure, was buried three or four feet in the ground. We can see the hot coals in the bottom of the oven and as we watch the woman places the unbaked bread against the interior stone wall. The oven is hot and bakes the thin bread quickly.

As I watched this brief domestic scene I couldn't help but think that 4,000 years ago, not far from this very place, Abraham's wife, Sarah, probably baked her bread in exactly the same fashion using a similar stone oven. I suspect the technology of primitive bread-baking has changed very little over the centuries. This one scene told me much about what we face in the Middle East.

I've embedded a brief excerpt, the final few minutes of this documentary. It's well worth your time...

This documentary was made seven years ago. I trust all these young men have returned home safely to their families, although several have undoubtedly redeployed one or more times. Pray for them.

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