Thursday, April 15, 2004

Two Civilizations

A letter said to be from a Chaplain at Fallujah was posted at the Free Republic. It is plain tale, and on a superficial level, it is about man doing his job, attending to specific duties, in the way most of us do. He coordinates services -- it was Easter, after all -- and prepares sets of prayers for different military functions. For the commanders, a petition for wisdom. For those on convoy duty, a petition for safe passage. For everyone, a plea for the grace to stay human in a situation where that is almost impossible.

The number of prayers is going up, hourly, as the ambushes continue. Here's how intense it has become .. today's standard preconvoy brief now includes the following: "If you drive into the kill zone .. two options .. drive through and on, or reverse and drive out. Do not stop. If you are blocked into the kill zone .. displace from the vehicle, find cover, fix the target, engage, maneuver and destroy the hostile forces. Target selection .. rules have changed...avoid civilians, if possible. Hostile forces are now using civilians as shields. We are not interested in losing more marines. If you can avoid putting civilians in your line of fire, avoid it. If not, fire to take out the hostile forces. Implication? Chilling...we've entered a new dimension. We are fighting an enemy who respects no laws of humanity, knows no rules of land warfare and gives no quarter. How do we fight, without become barbarians ourselves?

Across the lines, the imams pray too, their voices booming over loudspeakers. The anonymous chaplain understands Arabic and knows the imams are praying for their deaths.

On another level, the Chaplain can't help but aware of how bizarre his job would seem to civilians, this admixture of God and the Marine profession of annihilation. All he can do is assure the reader that if he were present, it would all be perfectly natural and clear. The Marines, no less than their foes are a tribe. Their religion, apart from anything the Chaplain can teach them, is each other.

This is a tribe of warriors. They exist to close with and destroy the enemy. They have their tribal mores, rituals and rites. Their enemy has desecrated members of the tribe and taunted the marines. They've asked for a fight. The marines are in full pursuit and absolutely determined to annihilate their foe. I'm sure that sounds harsh to politically correct ears and those for whom this type of violence is anachronistic. It does not sound foreign here ... it is status quo. We are in a violent land, with an evil element and they are having violence visited upon them. There is no room here for half measures. This is a test of side will prevail. That is clearly understood and never discussed .. it is obvious. We aren't playing paintball .. we are at war.

But the reader is not present. Through no fault of his own, he lives in a world as far away from Fallujah as the surface of the Moon. He might imagine, but never actually experience, the presence of evil. He may think he understands, but probably never will, just what a world of violence is kept at bay just beyond the horizon. And he may never realize, even with the best will, that we aren't playing paintball but are at war.

No matter. For the teenage Marines in Fallujah, the normal world doesn't exist either. Yet that isn't quite correct. Perhaps it better to say that for the Marines in Fallujah, the normal world is all too real.