Written By: Dan Savage, IVMF Chief of Staff
When I was deployed, I wanted nothing more fervently than for those back home to understand what I was doing. I suppose many soldiers feel this way as they wrestle with the inevitable doubts and fears that creep into the minds of those who pledge to give their lives for something. Is it worth it? Why am I really here? Is my presence here even making a difference? Does anyone at home even care?
After a few months in Baghdad, I had yet to find the answers to the questions listed above, but I knew one thing: I was glad that my home was so different than what I saw before me, and I was thankful for those who worked to keep it that way.
What follows is my Thanksgiving message home, dated November 22, 2007:
Well, I have to admit it has been a long time since I have written anything and that’s because I haven’t been particularly motivated to. To be honest I’ve been in kind of a funk lately. We finally live in the place where we will live (until we leave Baghdad, if we leave Baghdad) and are performing what we call “steady state operations.” We feel like the enemy has been quelled in our area for the time being and we are just kind of holding ground until the pendulum swings back in the other direction – until the enemy gets re-supplied or until something else like the Blackwater thing happens and he finds a new wave of energy and support among the people. We are in a lull and it is quiet, which is safe, but admittedly boring. For once, everything has calmed down and we have the time to look to the long stretch ahead of us – twelve more months. There hasn’t been much to write about. So, it being Thanksgiving, I just thought I’d write about what I’m thankful for.
I’m thankful that in the last month the only contact I’ve seen was being mortared once while on patrol. I’m thankful that all five rounds missed (although there is one dead sheep who cannot say the same). I’m thankful that in my country we have electricity and running water 24 hours a day. I’m thankful that in my country the sewage runs in pipes underground and not in channels through the streets. I’m thankful that in my country the livestock eat grass or grain and not trash. I’m thankful that in my country people drink bottled water because it doesn’t have certain minerals in it, not because it doesn’t carry life threatening diseases. I’m thankful that in my country, although there is trash all over many streets, I’m never worried that it will explode as I drive by. I’m thankful that in my country when a politician gives a speech or has a rally, my Army doesn’t have to take to the streets to ensure that the rival faction doesn’t drive car bombs into the crowds (we did this about a week ago). I’m thankful that in my country when an election is too close to call it goes to the courts, not the battlefield. I’m thankful that in my country we don’t have problems recruiting policemen because police recruits don’t get threatened with their lives. I’m thankful that in my country the police don’t have to cover their faces for fear that they will be found out. I’m thankful that the illegal immigrants in my country come there for a better paying job and not to blow themselves up in what they consider a “holy war.” I’m thankful that in my country, too many people are trying to get in, not get out. As much as it bothers me that no one seems to notice this war, I’m thankful that in my country something like that is possible (we are blessed and cursed in the same breath). In this country, the citizens can’t help but notice the war. I’m thankful that my country is not being held together by an Army from another country, and that Canada and Mexico are not eagerly awaiting our collapse so that we can become a satellite state of theirs. I’m thankful that I have 20 tons and 2.3 million dollars worth of armor and ballistic glass around me, and that in my country the sight of such a thing driving down the road would be ridiculous. I’m thankful that there are many people reading this who care about me and who are praying for me, as I am certain that such thoughts and prayers are protecting me.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We . . . solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states . . . and for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” – The Declaration of Independence
I am forever thankful to God that the men who wrote and signed that document were born and had the courage to undertake such a daring endeavor. The fact that our country exists and survives is a miracle and we should all be thankful for the men and women who have shaped it. We live in a country of limitless possibility – possibility that is so vast that there lies a danger of it becoming gluttony. We cannot fathom how peaceful and secure our nation is, though we clamor about gas prices and income taxes. Think about what it would be like to try to create a country from nothing – really try to imagine building something that complex. Our Constitution was signed without the Bill of Rights, which would not come until later. In the early days of our nation, our Founding Fathers were debating things like the right to free speech, due process of law, and freedom from search and seizure. Today we have laws regarding things so minute as what must be included on the “Nutrition Facts” tables on the food we eat. Can you even fathom how advanced our democracy is? These people are trying to establish the rule of law. THE RULE OF LAW. They are trying to create a country where when political factions don’t get their way, they campaign harder the next time; they don’t kill the guys who won. They can’t tax their citizens because they don’t know how many there are because they have neither the funds nor the manpower to conduct a census. We have spent weeks asking the people in our area to tell us who is in charge – is there a mayor or a local council of some sort? Or even a local sheikh? How about a local old man that people go to with their problems? The most common answer: “I don’t know.” The other day we drove down the street and out of nowhere, there were lines painted to mark off the lanes – it blew our minds. In a traffic jam, the people just cross over and drive on the wrong side of the road. One of my soldiers told me a story about how his mom was taken to court over the fact that she wanted to hang an American flag outside her apartment but the manager considered it a violation of the “no banners” clause in her contract. In Iraq, we can’t even get people to turn their neighbors in for LAUNCHING MORTARS from their front lawn (a.k.a. front patch of dirt). If you figure the beginning of America as when the first colonists landed in 1607, our country is 400 years in the making. Saddam’s government was toppled almost five years ago. Think about that.
Be thankful. The only thing that separates you from the Iraqis is that when you were born you just so happened to be on American soil. I thank God that today my family will eat in peace, and I look forward to the day when I will join them.