Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Blood and Treasure

I have been called a warmongerer and an arm chair general any number of times. I have been accused of being a "chickenhawk" because I have never served in the military and yet I am "pro-war" some have said. I have never been "pro-war", but I have always been "pro-freedom", "pro-America" and "pro-security".

There were occassions when people have told me that I "glorified war" when there was nothing "glorious" about it when I talked about freedom and the need to defend it, where ever and however we can. I was reminded by those that should know that, when the firing starts, a soldier is not thinking about glory nor a cause so much as he or she is thinking about living for the next few moments and protecting their buddies' back. I believe that.

I have been accused of forgetting that the ones who die or lose a limb or spill any amount of their blood were real sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers of real people. I have never forgotten.

While commenting on a blog on January 30th, an anti-American Brit accused me and "800 other commenters" of disgustingly congratulating the Iraqi people without acknowledging the dead and wounded. I don't know if it was disgusting or not, but I did not go around yesterday talking about how many died on January 30 or before to make this election happen for two reasons: first, the press and many others were doing that enough and second, January 30 & 31 were days of celebration, not for mourning.

And yet, people did die and some were buried on that day. It reminded me of a phrase I once read on a sign in front of a church that I was passing. It seems that a member of their congregation had passed. The sign was quoting a verse from the bible: Sorrowful yet rejoicing. That is how I feel today.

I think about those that have protested the war and many who have asked the question, "Is it worth it? Was all of this worth one drop of blood?"

I believe the answer was supplied on January 30 and it was a resounding, "Yes!"

Is war glorious? It is only glorious in the anals of history and the pages of a book. Otherwise, it is hard and dirty and grueling and bloody. There is no question about that. Even I, so far away, can understand and appreciate it. Not as much as those who are serving, sweating, bleeding or dying, but I can see and I can read. I hear the laments of those that are left behind and I see the tears they cry and I can feel in my heart, however so slightly, the pain of their hearts breaking. Whether that be the loved one of an American or Allied soldier or that of an Iraqi.

There is nothing glorious in the end about death. In war it is always bloody, gruesome and painful. Yet, it is not "war" which lends itself to the meaning of that death. I have always been confused by those who confuse this issue. Because, while they say that I and many like me have minimized these deaths and maimings and depersonified them, I believe that it is they that take away from the dead and the wounded by claiming it is war and power only which motivates. This ideology takes away the individual soldier, his or her beliefs, their achievements, their hopes and their dreams and replaces them with a purely political entity, brainwashed by the government and turned into a machine.

By not recognizing the cause for which they sacrifice nor the soldiers' beliefs, they have dehumanized him or her and made them that machine, unthinking and unable to reason the righteousness of a cause and determining their own future. It is not during battle that a soldier decides whether a cause was worthy of their duty, honor and sacrifice. It is in the time before and between battle and the time after. And, if they should lose their life in that battle, it is not they that define the meaning because they no longer carry the burdens of this world. It is we that are left behind that give meaning to their lives and deaths.

This is not an epitaph for this war. This war is far from over. We have only witnessed the closing of one battle and the movement to the next. But, it is time to pause for a moment and reflect on the price that has been paid. There has been at least three times in the past two years that I have paused and asked myself if it was worth this and could I live with supporting something that ended many a man, woman and child's life, whoever and whatever was the cause. It was only reading stories like this that reminded me that, if men, barely more than boys, could remember why, then I could do no less nor could I do less than remember them and their sacrifice.

HE DIED too soon. On the eve of Iraq (news - web sites)'s historic free election, Francis Obaji was laid to rest in the frigid ground of Arlington National Cemetery. Ten days earlier, on Jan. 19, Francis was killed in an enemy ambush in Baghdad. Ten days. (...)

Had he lived just two weeks longer, Francis would have seen yesterday's culmination of everything for which he sacrificed, fought, prayed and died. He was 21.

Don't dare call it a waste.

At the mere suggestion that his son's passing might be for naught, Francis' heartbroken father, Cyril, did something extraordinary. He looked up from his tears. And he laughed. "Not at all," he said with a smile.

"He died for freedom," Francis' uncle, Kingsley Obaji, told me unwaveringly.

"He died doing what he believed in," said Kingsley.

"He was one of thousands of men and women who collectively made a difference in Iraq. There is no doubt in my mind. He died fighting for freedom. He believed in freedom."

What's more, Francis died knowing that he made a difference, his father said, and for a moment, pride overtook his sorrow. That knowledge means everything to Cyril Obaji.

Calling home on the telephone from Iraq, Francis would describe the tough job he and his comrades performed in often hostile conditions. He faced the danger with eyes open. Said his dad: "They were equal to the task."

"They knew at last freedom will prevail over there and democracy will reign," said Cyril.

"I do believe very strongly that one day the people over there will breathe the air of peace, freedom and unity.

"In the end, he's going to be an integral part of democracy."

I met the Obaji family at a Nigerian-style wake held in Francis' memory at the gymnasium of Roy Wilkins Park, down the road from their Queens Village home.

Hundreds of family, friends and neighbors gathered to tell stories about Francis.

"Everyone loved Francis," Cyril explained. "Let's get together and say thanks to God, instead of crying. Let's celebrate the life of Francis."

Throughout, Francis' mother, Violet, sat silently amid the crush of well-wishers, the weight of her son's loss visible in her downcast eyes. She seemed alone.

Francis Obaji was the eldest of five siblings. His sister, Marilyn, sat silently during the ceremony, and wept. She is 19, and extremely close to her big brother.

There also is Stanley, 15, and Helen, 6.

Climbing on his parents' laps was little Brian, who is 4, and doesn't seem to understand completely that Francis, his hero, is not coming back.

Born in Nigeria, Francis' father, a limousine company owner, brought the family to America a decade ago, settling first in Brooklyn before moving to Queens.

"He was just an American boy," said his uncle. "He loved this country, and he wanted to give back."

Francis was studying microbiology at Staten Island University, with an eye toward entering medical school, when 9/11 changed him.

On that awful morning, he was waiting for the ferry in lower Manhattan, and had a front-row view of the carnage. He walked nearly all the way through Brooklyn, before finding a ride back to Queens. In that time, everything he thought he lived for took a turn.

All of a sudden, life was no longer just about him.

At his graveside in Arlington, surrounded by more than 300 friends and relatives who traveled by bus, plane, car from New York and the Carolinas, Francis' uncle, Chief Sam Obaji, told mourners how the terror attacks drove Francis to change his life's path.

He had no choice.

"He suffered very much on 9/11, like so many others. He knew he was lucky he didn't die," his uncle told them. "He had to help humanity. To stop terrorism worldwide."

"He wanted to help create security and peace, not only to the people of the United States, but to the people of Iraq and all over the world," his dad told me.

Francis joined the National Guard in 2003, after the United States invaded Iraq. He did not tell his family, for he was certain they would object to him interrupting his studies. But he was determined to go to Iraq.

Four months ago, he shipped out to Baghdad with the "Fighting 69th," a unit that has suffered more than its share of losses.

Yesterday, Francis Obaji's relatives gathered in the family's Queens Village home. Cyril Obaji watched the Iraqi elections on TV nervously. Then he turned the set off. Then on again.

"We pray and hope the election will come out a success," Cyril told me.

"Then, Francis' death will not have been in vain."

When he last spoke to his parents, Francis Obaji said he expected to be home by Easter.

Now he is home.

Too soon.

We know he did not die in vain.

How do you honor such a man and his family? Meer words do not suffice. No "thank you", no neatly a folded flag nor 21 gun salute. We honor men like Francis Obaji by making sure that we see the job done. His family knew the meaning of his life can we do no less?

Today, after the celebration has ended and the recognition of the hardwork still ahead takes hold, I want to honor those men and women who have paid with the most precious treasure of all, their blood. I want to remember them and I want you to remember them, too. I want you to remember why they shed their blood and what they believed in. It wasn't for land, nor oil, not slavery and not oppression. The meaning of their lives and their sacrifice will never be understood by those that believe that. It is we the living that give them meaning and I will never consent to make that meaning "nothing" nor so petty as for land, oil or imperialism.

On Januray 30, 2005, 10 British soldiers died when their Hercules C-130 was purportedly shot out of the sky near Balad air base by the terrorist group Al Qaida in Iraq. Ten will not joyfully step off the planes and embrace their families. They will be carried off in a flag draped box with an honor guard for each as their families stand by and cry and a piper pipes them home for the last time. Who among us will tell their families that their lives meant nothing?

On January 30, 2005, PFC Miller of the United States Army was killed in an ambush at a polling station in Iraq.

PFC Miller  Posted by Hello

He was just 22. There are 1400 other men and women just like him. They bought Iraq's freedom and American security with their lives. Some may ask what he died for. On January 30, his life's work was shown to the world on international television and news papers around the world. Not bad, for a man of 22.

This is the meaning of his life.

 Posted by Hello

A new family on their way to vote for the first time in Iraq. This is what 1400 men and women paid the ultimate price for and what over 10,000 men and women have shed their blood for. Posted by Hello

This marine lost his legs last year in Iraq. He is saluting at the President's innauguration on Jan 20. His mom stands behind him. Note that he has his arm down at his side, fingers tucked in and laying beside the stripe on his pants. This is the traditional position of the hand and arm when standing at attention. This boy, no, this MAN lost his legs, but he didn't forget what he stood for and what he gave his all for. The first words I thought of when I saw this picture was "semper fidelis". Always faithful. Do we need to ask what he believes?  Posted by Hello

the sign of victory and the sign of peace. Posted by Hello

Jan 10, US soldiers carry an Iraq brother in arms to safety after a VBIED exploded and killed four and wounding six others. Posted by Hello

The vote in Iraq wasn't just for a National Assembly to write the constitution, it was a validation of the rule of law and the rule of the people. It was a validation of the sacrifice of the Iraqi soldiers and police who have suffered over 1000 dead and thousands of wounded. Some people ask when the Iraqi people are going to stand up for themselves. I ask, when are these people asking going to open their eyes and ears and see that they have, they are and they will? How many Iraqi policemen and soldiers must die and be wounded for them to be counted along with our dead towards the cost of freedom? Posted by Hello

From the blog of security consultants, BC and TJ at I should have stayed home.

From a source in the Iraqi Ministry of Interior:

Baghdad Police HQ reported that at 1200 hrs today, Police Constable Abd al Amir was killed in the line of duty at the Khalil bin Walid Polling Center in the Yarmuk section of Baghdad. Abd al Amir identified a suspicious man wearing an explosives belt, and immediately tackled him, shielding the lines of voters with his body, and dying instantly when the terrorist detonated his belt.

Prime Minister Allawi gave a brief press conference on January 31 and he told this story and called the man by his full name. He told the Iraqi people that he was a true martyr, a true freedom fighter because he died for the people of Iraq. He died trying to protect democracy.

There have been some that have told me that I wrap myself in the flag and try to steal the word "patriotism" from them. They don't need to worry because it is this man who has stolen the "flag wrapping" and the word "patriotism" from me and I gladly pass it on. Posted by Hello

This Iraqi man was shot in the face by a terrorist sniper on Jan 30 on his way to the polls. Posted by Hello

Najaf, Iraq-Fatima Abul Amer arrived at the polling station at the Imam Ali Secondary School in a red plastic chair being carried by her son and two grandsons. At 85, she said her eyesight was failing, and she never learned to read. But the memories of the three sons she lost during the Shiite uprising against Saddam in 1991 made her determined to vote.

"This is my country," she declared, her face framed in a white head scarf underneath the folds of a black abaya. "If I don't stand with it, no one will." Her daughter-in-law helped her mark her ballot for the slate symbolized by a candle. It is backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite religious leader.

Her sole surviving son, Mohammed Imad Shahid al-Khafaji, stood nearby, wearing a green robe and white skull cap. "My feelings are so strong from inside, you can see my heart," he said, tears welling.

This is what they gave their blood for. Posted by Hello

This sign reads "no terrorism after today". On Monday Jan 31, Al Qaida in Iraq issued a statement that it vows to fight on until an Islamic flag flies over Iraq. Of course, in the words of a famous song, sometimes you get what you want, but not what you need. An Islamic flag may fly over Iraq, but it won't be a Wahabi Islamic flag. Posted by Hello

The 20th Italian soldier to lose his life in Iraq was brought home on Jan 3. He was killed when terrorists ambushed their base. Some people have told us that we should get more international involvement in Iraq, spread the cost of treasure and blood around. It's obvious that those who are willing to send their sons and daughters in the cause of freedom and security have already joined us there and have already paid the price. Remember who our allies were and who spilled their blood with us. Posted by Hello

It is not war nor death nor petty ideologies that give their lives meaning. It was the lives they led and what they believed in. It is we the living who assign the meaning.

Words from our Iraqi friends who, even on the day of their most joyous occassion remembered the cost of their freedom:

HammoraibiToday those who were killed in Iraq or wounded among our friends from the USA and other allies, who helped us to reach this day, are with us again to inscribe their names with Gold for ever!

Iraq and IraqisAt last I can only say thank you all, for supporting us, we cant forget about the help we had, I hope we showed that we deserve that help. GOD BLESS YOU.

MessopotamianMy condolences to the Great American people for the tragic recent losses of soldiers. The blood of Iraqis and Americans is being shed on the soil of Mesopotamia; a baptism with blood. A baptism of a lasting friendship and alliance, for many years to come, through thick and thin, we shall never forget the brave soldiers fallen while defending our freedom and future

Finally, we heard the speech of President Bush Loud and clear. He, and the American people and their British and other valiant allies have much to do with this event. All I can say is that this man has all the essential traits of character that distinguishes the great men of history; the insistence and utter conviction and the perseverance and steadfastness in the face of all doubters and detractors. This was no ordinary election, and it was not simply to elect a constituent assembly. It was the answer of the people, what they really thought about the liberation, what they really thought of the ideas preached by the president. This was a message by the Iraqi people to the American people and their great president. It was the heart of Iraq answering the heart of America that voted to give the President the mandate to finish the task; it was the answer that the common people of Iraq gave by braving danger and exposing their life and that of their children and families to death, this was their way to make their voice heard.

Well, thank you Mr. President, we heard you; and I am sure you also heard us.

Peace be upon you all and the mercy of Allah and his blessings

We have tasted the victory .

The sweet taste of victory. Posted by Hello

War and death are not glorious. It is what they believed and how they lived that gives their sacrifice meaning. Once they have gone, once they have shed their blood and come home again, it is what we do with that treasure that gives it meaning. I choose to believe that they gave their all for something more than land or resources. They gave it for freedom and my security.

I thank these soldiers and their families, the ones that came before them and the ones that will surely come after them, for making that precious payment for me and the people of Iraq.

Yesterday, we celebrated.

Today, we should remember who paid the price.

Tomorrow, we still have work to do.


The Sandmonkey said...

Amen Kat.

This was so well said and put!

You think emigree and Bridgit would get the point by now, u know?

Oh well!

Kender said...

The world should hear your voice dear. You should be required reading for every liberal on the planet.

~Jen~ said...

Kat, I always think your posts are brilliant, but this one....wow. This one is even better than brilliant. I wish I had my thesaurus with me. *grin*

The soldier who lost his legs is from Houston, not far from where I live. His name is Cpl Casey Owens. You can read his sister's journal about his recovery at http://www3.caringbridge.org/tx/caseyowens/. There's links to other pictures from the inauguration and his recovery at the bottom. If you have time, start at the beginning of the archives. It is truly a miracle that he is alive.

KT said...

Wow doesn't even begin to describe this post. Just wanted to let you know I appreciate what you do here and on the Iraqi blogs.

Jamie said...

Here, I'll help you out with some other words (although "brilliant" describes it perfectly!):

talented, inspired, skillful, gifted, exceptional, stirring, moving, motivational....

I could go on. This post IS brilliant, but its because it comes from the heart, from deep within your soul! All of the so-called "brilliant" wordsmiths who write beautiful words without any meaning behind them cannot compete with someone who truly believes what they have written.

MichaelH121 said...

Blood lost, lives shattered, children without a father
A wife alone, with only memories, and dreams.

The Reporters have ommited the truth. As Gen. Sherman said during the Civil War about reporters even then, "If we kill them all, there will be news from Hell by breakfast."

My Granfather was in the Great War, My Father in during Korea. They were volunteers. I was a volunteer. Not because of them but something deep inside called pride. I am proud of young men Like Cpl. Casey Owens, he shows what is best in us all.

The sad thing is that there are those born here who will say he deserved what he got. They talk about peace but speak only hate. They fail to see the reality of the world. There are those who hate even more. Unlike the America bashers here, they are waiting to kill and yes even those who protested the war are on their list.

It seems the only time they will open their eyes is when it is in terror, for that millisecond when they realize they are about to be blown up.

Kat said...

Thank you all for your lovely comments. I was hoping that it didn't seem to muddled as I was writing at o'dark thirty this morning. I think i was feeling the end of the adrenalin rush and felt the need to write about it.

AFSister said...

Thanks Kat,
You're the first blogger to mention our local soldier, PFC Miller, who was killed on 1/30 while guarding a polling station. MSM didn't even pick it up as a part of their election coverage. He's from Anderson Township, where my babysitter, my church, and my kid's daycare center is. I don't know him, but you can bet I'll try my damnest to let his family know how much we care about him. His death on election day in Iraq was not in vain- I just wish he knew that. *sigh*