a heartbreaking work of stagnating geniality, e-rocky-confidential chronicles the experiences of a young man playing a small role in america's ongoing military undertaking in the mideast.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Fire Works

I think I may have actually seen some fireworks tonight. Then again, they may have been tracer rounds sent up to illuminate the sky, but those usually accompany the loud boom of artillery. There isn't any fighting going on, though-- there's no one left around here to fight.

The situation is that the guys in this camp have been going out on raids throughout the surrounding area, finding massive weapons caches, rounding up those deemed responsible for said caches, and generally taking care of business. The idea was to sweep through the area in a month-long tour-de-force preceding the elections. It's been a resounding success, and the prevailing attitude is that the subsequent dearth in insurgent weaponry was key to the big day's calmer-than-feared environment. I've worked the night shift all month, so a number of the most crucial events have occurred without my being any the wiser. Apparently they located some obscene amount of explosive material, and a few days ago while I was sleeping they detonated everything and it was a bit of a news event. Here is Time's article about it.

Everyone's favorite super-journalist Geraldo Rivera was on the scene. My teammate Johnny Nguyen has a picture of the rose-lensed one on his livejournal.

Earlier today the unit we're supporting held an awards ceremony to celebrate. I've always hated these things despite the fact that they're designed to make us feel good about the job we're doing. Five of the six members of my team-- we had to leave McCormack to operate the communications shelter-- marched out in front of a batallion formation in single file so the lieutenant colonel could come around to shake our hands and present us each with a certificate. Some Air Force explosions experts, an entire platoon of Estonians, and exactly four Australians were also on hand to bask in the praise. It was sort of silly. The certificate proclaimed that I was *authorized to wear the spurs of the 1st Cavalry Division* because I had *bravely followed the guidon into battle with saber and colt*.This would be alright, I suppose, if in referring to me in the third person it hadn't rendered me a "she". It turned out that everyone's certificate had this same flaw, so the captain who'd printed them said that he'd get them all changed. "Mine's alright the way it is, sir," my teammated Brandi Lingo offered. "Oh, no," he shot back. "Yours definitely needs to say 'he'".

So, yes, the mood is pretty light around here. It seems people are feeling good all over the country. This, from today's email, was Levi's experience in Sadr City:

I gotta say man, the only thing i fought yesterday was tears. It was probably one of the best days of my life and the best day i've had here by far. Just going out there and helping the people. Waving back to all those blue fingers. I felt like i was in a parade. The sreets were closed and everyone was out enjoying the perfect weather...

The only blue fingers I saw were in pictures on the internet-- just the same, I felt pretty good about it myself. It almost doesn't feel right, having no complaints.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

All Together Now...

It isn't a collective sigh of relief; it isn't an ecstatic cry of elation; it isn't a grim assessment of the moment's frustrations-- it is all these things together at once and more; it is a whirlwind. But that's just the blogosphere. What's it like in the real Iraq?

All night I was surprised not to hear celebratory gunfire. After the Iraqi team's good showing in the Olympics, and on any number of other occasions over the past year, random bursts of ordinance were as common as the chirping of crickets. But then again, I was in Baghdad for most of the year. I'm in the desert now, miles from any place people might congregate. And neither of these places have really been the real Iraq.

There's been a lot of verbal crossfire in the American press since the beginning of the war alluding to the notion that the real stories aren't getting reported-- that the media is only interested in negative coverage, or that the administration is glossing over realities. I'd like to submit the proposition that everyone is trying very hard to make sense of this thing, and then to make the best of it. The reporters, the soldiers, the citizens of this burgeoning republic-- we're all under fire out here; we're all doing everything we can to stay in one piece even as we pursue our respective objectives with dogged determination. Even as we perceive that we're essentially allied in this, the situation creates often unbridgeable gulfs between us. I haven't spoken to an Iraqi in months; I have no idea what the average guy tending a shop has to say about the future of this country. I can read the blogs just like you can-- but the average Iraqi doesn't blog.

If you're an Oregon reader, you've likely already come across this article in the Willamette Week. It's honest and unassuming, and I think it's excellent. Harris has the decency to admit that there are serious limitations to what a Westerner can really ascertain about this place-- not just because security is next to nonexistent, not only because of cultural differences, but also because of something ineffable, some aspect of the situation with its many strains of history and culture and religion and... maybe... something... else... that makes this unique moment completely unknowable. Yes, I'm probably reading my own perspective into it. I do that. I think we all do that.

The Sunnis, the Shias, the Baathists, the Communists, the Wahabbis, the Kurds, the Turks, the Persians, the tribal defenders, the nationalists, the opportunists, the suckers, the doves, the hawks, the neoconservatives, the liberal idealists, the historians, the futurists, the religious conservatives, the secular humanists. The strivers for Pulitzer Prizes, Purple Hearts, Valhalla, a respectable currency, national pride, or another night at home with one's family. The sand storms, the deep hum of multiple overhead Apaches, explosions that don't concern you if they don't concern you, the long wait for a stream of water (cold in the winter, warm in the summer), the long wait for a few hours of electricity, the flushing faces of people in argument, the laughter of people joking because they have to. The good smell of the dirt after a hard rain, the stench of latrines being emptied or sewage that only flows backward. The decay of old things. Physical monuments older than history, political documents younger than your last email. Seeing the face of a photographed child who is learning his father will not come home and wondering what you have to do with it. Feeling that democracy may be just as much a question as an answer.

We are all wound up together in this thing and we don't know whether to wind ourselves tighter or to attempt an untangling. That is the past; that is the future. I'm not sure, but I think that's the real Iraq.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

What Would Hammurabi Do?

How about I forgo any attempt at a clever re-introduction and just start typing? Alright then.

Since I left you my computer's keypad has gone through bouts of intractability, its disk drive has died, and ultimately the machine stopped functioning altogether, resulting in the loss of a few different partial posts and an awful lot of photos. Blame it on sand and Hewlett Packard. In September I went on a two-week R&R vacation in Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, and a few days after my return to Iraq in October my unit moved from one camp to another within the greater Baghdad militaropolis. We all lived in a big tent together and watched really bad movies the whole time and took cold showers and ate bad food. We spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years there. Then in the first week of January my team departed with a convoy heading south to the desert of central Iraq. We'll be here until the elections have taken place, and then, in a manner and according to a time schedule I will not post on this blog, we'll find our way back to Texas.

There's more writing to come in which the story will become more clear. Between my computer difficulties, the frustration of losing work, internet difficulties even when I had a computer at my disposal, anxiety that I might be shut down like so many others if I didn't lower my profile, the horror of so many derailed hopes regarding our mission here, and just the general fear of saying something stupid... five and a half months without a post. Is anyone still there to read this?

So the big news right now is the election. There are no shortage of predictions, but from what I can gather this thing is way up in the air. Nobody knows what's going to happen, exactly. Even if someone had a clue about who might win, nobody knows what will happen after that.
  • Healing Iraq
  • , dependably, has a fascinating inside track (scroll down to Jan. 21).

    To call this moment historical is to call the sun big and warm. This is the nation that invented the concept of governmental rule according to written law. The prospect of this resilient people finally gaining its due after its ancestral contribution to the civilized world is, quite literally, staggering.

    Cross your fingers.

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