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Sgt. N.J. Todd
Protests from those who don't know ring hollow

Thursday, October 9, 2003

I do not object to all those who oppose the war. I do object those who accuse the United States of war crimes and genocide in order to lend weight to their pacifism.

I have heard and seen those in Austin who call for the United States to leave Iraq, accusing the Bush administration of an unjust invasion, illegal occupation and genocide. Such people don't know what "genocide" means.

I cannot count the number of places I have stood where massacres were committed. In Bosnia, I was among the fortunate few whose duty it was to be aware of what had happened and to help create a plan to salvage the situation. Before and after my deployment, I was involved in analyses of similar situations in Rwanda and Kosovo. In Afghanistan, I got a chance to participate in recovery and reconstruction efforts on the ground, to speak to those who had been survivors of such slaughters, as well as those who probably had been involved in committing them.

I had to become familiar with the massacres and attempted genocides that have shaped modern Iraq, the repression of the Kurds and Iraqi Shiites, the mass graves, gassings, the razing of villages and the attempted destruction of entire cultures and peoples.

There are places on Earth where "police" can arbitrarily arrest and torture whom they like, and ask for bribes not to do so. And some people in the United States, sheltered from such things, will tell you that American soldiers are no different from such fighters.

It is their right to think so. But the children know. The children of those tortured lands laugh and play with American soldiers, wave to them, speak a few American phrases, ask for candy and treats or simply give a shy smile. They crowd around us when we walk the streets, cluster around our bases and safe houses, run out into the streets to wave to passing convoys. They thank us.

They do not do the same for the other soldiers. They vanish when they see them about their business, hide when they sense the trouble coming, run before they can get chased away. They understand the difference, even if our pacifists do not.

I have spoken to children with scars from bullets on the backs of their heads, put there when they were toddlers. I have seen the graves of those who died and commiserated with those who somehow survived. Such things occur too frequently to stop them all. Yet in some situations, we can intervene. Such moments occur too infrequently to allow them to pass unseized, such opportunities are too rare to pass up. Now we have intervened in Iraq and have the historic opportunity to rehabilitate a land that has for too long suffered the law of the gun.

Doing so won't erase the suffering of those who died, nor will it contribute to aiding the people of the Congo, Liberia, Kashmir of Algeria. Yet it will do something, and create a chance for the children of Iraq to grow up without their fathers disappearing, their mothers being raped and killed before their eyes, the sisters taken for the casual use and disposal of by bored soldiers.

Yet there are those who would have us abandon those we liberated to fall back into the old ways until another strongman with better guns or more soldiers than his rivals rises to power. Given the chance to create in Iraq democratic rule by law and a military devoted to defending the populace, they would have us walk away.

After I returned from Bosnia, I visited the "museum" at Dachau. I saw the rebuilt barracks and new barbed wire, the meticulously restored crematoria and killing grounds. I knelt there in a field that had been used to dump the ashes of the victims of the Holocaust, and lit a candle for the souls who suffered there. I cried and prayed there, remembering what had been done, and thought upon the words "never again." Somehow the thought of it made me cry more, because I couldn't stop thinking about how long it took us to decide to stop the madness in Bosnia. How no one even tried to stop the killings in Cambodia, Kurdish Iraq and the Sudan. How we walked away from Somalia after the tragic sacrifice of American soldiers fighting to build a better world. It occurred to me how much we have forgotten and how empty those brave words had become.

We cannot save the world by ourselves. We cannot stop all the genocides and massacres. We cannot make sure that "never again" becomes a fulfilled promise rather than a hope. But we can return a little meaning to those words, stop some killings and end some suffering. I hope we do, and I would be proud to serve again in Iraq to do so.

But I won't expect those who call for "peace" to help me.

Todd, who is in the U.S. Army Reserve, lives in Bastrop.
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