01 June 2008

...interesting parallel

I've been reading Michael Yon's Moment of Truth in Iraq. It's quite interesting. One of the things Yon has done is juxtapose two letters: one from George Washington to Benedict Arnold, shortly before Arnold led an expedition up to Quebec during the Invasion of Canada in 1775; and one from General Petraeus to the Troops in Iraq in May of 2007.

The subject of both letters is certain values during war: repecting human dignity, doing the 'right' thing and keeping one's integrity. I guess - from what Yon was writing - that some folks had a hard time with the Petraeus letter, saying that these "decencies", might make the Troops appear weak/soft. But on the contrary, Yon put in Washington's letter to show that no - these ideals were not something new - but had been around since, well, the birth of our country. Interesting ideas to mull over.

Here's the letter from 1775 [I've edited some of the spelling and capitalization for ease of reading]:

Camp at Cambridge, September 14, 1775.

Sir: You are entrustd with a command of the utmost consequence to the interst and liberties of America. Upon your conduct and courage and that of the Officers and Soliders detached on this epedition, not only the success of the present enterprise, and your own honor, but the safety and welfare of the whole continent may depend. I charge you, therefore, and the officers and soldiers, under your command, as you value your own safety and honor and the favor and esteem of your country, that you consider yourselves, as marching, not through an enemy's country; but that of our friends and brethren, for such the inhabitation of Canada, and the Indian Nations have approved themselves in this unhappy contest between Great Britain and America. That you check by every motive of duty and fear of punishment, every attempt to plunder or insult any of the inhabitants of Canada. Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any Canadian or Indian, in his person or property, I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such sever and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause: but I hope and trust, that the brave men who have voluntarily engaged in this expedition, will be boverned by far different views, that order, discipline, and regularity of behaviour will be as conspicuous, as their courage and valour. I also give it in charge to you to avoid all disrespect to or contempt of the religion of the country and its ceremonies. Prudence, policy, and a true Christian spirit,will lead us to look with compassion upon their errors without insulting them. While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious of violating the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to him only in this case, they are answerable. Upon the whole, Sir, I beg you to inculcate upon the officers and soldiers, the necessity of preserving the strictest order during their march through Canada; to represent to them the shame, disgrace, and ruin to themselves and country, if they should by their conduct, turn the hearts of our brethren in Canada against us. And on the other hand, the honors and rewards which await them, if by their prudence and good behaviour, they conciliate the affections of the Canadians and Indians, to the great interests of America, and convert those favorable dispositions they have shown into a lasting union and affection. Thus wishing you and the officers and solders under your command, all honor, safety, and success, I remain...etc etc.

Now. Go back and read that again - but substitute "Iraq" for "Canada" and "Iraqis" for "Canadians" or "Indians". It's interesting - and still applicable today, is it not?

I also suggest reading Petraeus' letter. You can find it here. It is not a call to the Troops to deny the fact that they are (and have been trained to be) Warriors...but is a call to remember that we (they) are all still human.

Just...interesting thoughts. I've been reading several war memoirs and the like. Reading books on war is not a particularly new interest for me...I must have read Fallen Angels and Killer Angles about 10 times each in high school and college...but the sheer volume of books being produced right now about Iraq and Afghanistan by the Troops on the ground (Soldiers and Marines) - as well as by embedded journalists - is staggering. There are pro-war books, anti-war books, books with nail-biting accounts of the battles for Fallujah, Mosul, Sadr City, and books which focus on the day-to-day of a life lived in the desert. It's astounding. These are first-hand, non-fiction accounts . . . not historical fiction (like the Angels books above).

I must be a glutton for punishment, because I can't get enough information about what is going on over there. I can't read too many books or too many milblogs. I can't get enough of the gory details. I even went and saw Stop Loss for cryin' out loud - and the first 15 minutes of that film almost made me walk out. It's strange...and sad...that it took me knowing someone actually getting deployed to make me tune into to what is happening with the GWOT. If I didn't know anyone over there...would I care half as much about what was going on? Honestly...probably not. Which is where the sad part comes in.

I look around me at folks living their lives completely apathetic or content to go to monthly protests and fulfill their quota of being a good San Franciscan...and I cannot help but think: Do you even *know* who Nouri al-Maliki is? What about Moqtada al-Sadr? Can you point to Baghdad or Basra or Mosul on a map?

And yet..I cannot judge...for even a year ago, that was me (in the apathetic camp). Totally oblivious, no clue and having no care in the world outside of "Will this audition be successful and if not, WTH am I going to do with my summer?"

I guess in my old(er) age I've started to finally pay attention to the world at large. Maybe it's for selfish reasons - or started out that way, at least - but nevertheless, I think it is a good thing.


Bag Blog said...

Thanks for sharing that letter and link. It is very interesting and thought provoking. George was a very wise man.

I don't think you are a "glutton for punishment." Reading everything you can about the wars in the Middle East is a way of showing care and concern for our soldiers. You are right, it can be hard on the reader. Maybe that is why we do it - because if it is hard on us just to read about war, we can empathize with the soldier who actually lives the war.

It is not unusual for young people to not be fully aware of life around them. When I look back at the 70's and 80's I wonder where the heck I was. I was in love, getting married, having babies, raising babies. Thank God that there are soldiers who protect our country while we walk around in oblivion.

Mezzo SF said...

YES...thank God indeed for the all the folks serving!

Keeping up on events, reading, being involved with Soldiers' Angels...it DOES make me more empathetic. I say "glutton for punishment" because sometimes my mind starts to spin when I think about what my friends - people I care about deeply - might be going through with their deployment or TDYs.

I read somewhere that war/deployments/etc are always "better and worse" than what one can imagine. I know I will never understand what it's like for our troops. But I'm trying to stay educated.