Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Hands In The Air - Babylon

February 24, 2004

Hands in the air. This is what I see over and over again when I am on a Blackhawk, looking down on the country and people of Iraq. Iraq is about the size of California and has roughly 26 million people. Of those 26 million, about 40% are children. We don’t fly very high on these helicopters because we have to be able to see what is going on below us. What I notice more than anything else are the people, particularly the children, running after us – waving with their hands in the air. That is how they all do it and if it didn’t happen in different areas of the country, I would think it was rehearsed.

Men herding sheep, hands in the air. Women covered from head to toe, hands in the air. Children on mules, hands in the air.

I’ve been on a Blackhawk three times. On this particular trip, I was following the Under Secretary of Defense Comptroller. Translation: he deals with money for the DOD (Department of Defense). We went to As Samawah to visit with the Japanese troops, Ad Diwaniyah to visit the Spanish troops and Al Hilla to visit the Polish troops. The most interesting place, by far, was Al Hilla, which is modern day Babylon. We visited the Babylon ruins, built by King Nebuchadnezzar II in 600 BC. It’s an awesome site to see. At the risk of sounding like a complete idiot, I didn’t realize Iraq has such a rich history. But now that it’s my home for the next year, I am taking the time to learn about the country and its people – where they come from, their beliefs, their expectations and their role in the world. Iraq is so incredibly rich in resources and it has the potential to be the richest in the world. The problem is it’s been ruled by a man who would rather fill his palaces with gold plated toilets than put updated educational tools in the classrooms. President Bush said his reason for waging war against Saddam Hussein and Iraq was based on Saddam’s alleged stash of weapons of mass destruction. I don’t know why we haven’t been able to find that stash, if it does exist. But we have found mass graves and they contain thousands of the 1.3 million citizens of Iraq who are missing. We’ve found the greatest weapon of mass destruction. His name is Saddam Hussein.

I read in the magazines and on the internet that Iraqis don’t want us here, yet I see and hear something completely different. The ones who don’t want us here are former members of the Ba’ath party. The ones who lived in nice homes, who had electricity 24 hours a day, who were allowed to eat bananas and whose children went to school and played sports. The ones who didn’t worry about feeding their families or maintaining a steady income. Of course they don’t want us here. Because now they have to share the electricity and the bananas and the basic human rights that every Iraqi should have had for the last four decades. It doesn’t take a genius to understand why they don’t want us here. But there are people who do want us here. And I talk to them every day. They are the people who are grateful we brought down a murderous tyrant. The ones who now have a brighter future. The ones I see running after us in the Blackhawks, knowing we will never be close enough to see their faces but hoping we will see their hands in the air.

We are so lucky in the United States. I am so proud of where we come from. Baghdad is a fairly modern city but the rest of the country is incredibly primitive. Just when you think there couldn’t possibly be homes in an area – boom – there’s a home, or what the Iraqis call a home. They look like they are built with mud and water and they are covered with bamboo-type material. I honestly don’t know how they function as anything more than a structure under which to sleep. But somehow there are kids running around outside and mothers and fathers working on the land. I’m sure there is happiness in those homes. They don’t need all the necessities we have become accustomed to in the States. But thanks to the U.S. they will soon have the necessities they didn’t even know existed…and we can smile knowing we had a hand in it.

With Love,


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