Day Number … Could It Be Seven Already (Iraqi Army Diaries)

I’ve lost count. The days have already run together. This assignment’s gone so smooth, the time’s just sailing away. I get up in the morning and write, break for lunch, take a nap, have a second coffee, write some more and then go upstairs to wander the officer’s hallway and see what kind of mischief and adventure is afoot. I’m a minor celebrity with these guys—the token American—and it’s a damned nice thing when everybody you see says, “Heeeyyyy, how you doing?” and grabs you by the arm and pulls you into their room to chat for a few minutes … or makes you sit down and with them while their cook makes you lunch or dinner.

The thought (hope) is that in an adventure like this—through a journey of ten-thousand miles—what you discover has something to do with yourself. And after just a week with the Second Battalion, I’ve come to a deep realization; an appreciation for the things we take for granted—or maybe it’s for the fine line separating the habits we choose from those we can’t do without (I think of the narrator in Graham Greene’s Quiet American). A pure, but completely overlooked joy, is waking up in the morning, sitting down at your desk, and having the whole world open up to you. Knowing (almost simultaneously) what’s going on anywhere—everywhere—as well as what your friends are doing, the mindset of the popular culture, the obnubilate directions in which the society is moving… this is the power of the internet and I miss it.

In fact, I now realize I’m addicted to the internet (maybe it’s the access—the immediate and unfettered access to knowledge, all knowledge, that I crave). It’s a quiet addiction and it didn’t become obvious till the juice was cut off. Now I carry the undefinable feeling that something is missing. I’m in search of something I can’t express, and I think of the multitude of small joys and tiny triumphs I’ll experience going through my inbox and opening all those letters from colleagues, comrades, former lovers and current interests. My life is in that box and without a keyboard to plug into my arm, my life will feel vaguely incomplete. I’m a fucking junkie and it took the abject connection speeds of a placed called Mahmudiya to show me how bad off I am.

A waking thought: we bought this country (and the rates are worse than a fucking abortion). As a nation, the U.S. bought Iraq in March of 2003. A general (I don’t know who, exactly) expressed that sentiment years ago, and he was right. We bought it. It was George Bush who actually signed, and the terms are horrible. The note is for at least ten years—maybe 20 or 50—and the product has turned out to be a fucking lemon (nothing against the Iraqi people or their culture). I’m talking about the country’s infrastructure and it’s working (or more precisely, barely functioning) systems. I’m talking about crumbling, ghetto-like housing projects with pools of septic water bubbling in their courtyards, schools that should be condemned, roads falling apart, and a central municipality—Baghdad—that was built to service three-million people and which now holds seven-million.

We bought this country and to leave before it’s fixed—a fixing that’s going to go far beyond what we broke—would be as dishonest as putting a new paint job on a bad car and trying to sell it off the lot to the first unassuming schmuck that can be schemed. Because we got hoodwinked—because George Bush got us into a horribly bad deal for his own selfish reasons—doesn’t mean we should walk away from the deal and pass the buck. This country is going to need trillions more dollars and a lot of work to mend what Saddam Hussein fucked up (or allowed to rot) for forty years—the investment will be more than any First World nation in its right mind would consider. But George Bush signed a blank page in the nation’s checkbook, and we’re all going to be smarting from the fucking we’re now taking, for a generation.

But I like the idea of smarting. If we’re honest about the whole thing and we pay up, it’ll make us think twice the next time a cowboy is set loose in the Oval Office and starts playing with the company’s books. In addition to that, if we’re honest about the whole thing, if we do what’s right, we’re going to have an ineradicable ally in this country. Many of these people already love America—they look on it with the kind of hero worship the Greatest Generation knew. I don’t want anything to do with heroism or trying to match the (misunderstood) deeds of my grandparent’s time, but being looked at as a liberator and hero beats the hell out of the guilt-trip hangover we’ve been building ourselves into since 2003.

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