is a fictional first-person account based on recent events in Iraq
in which numerous American soldiers have been arrested by military
authorities and accused of crimes against civilians.
Though we are
Iraqis, my father was like many American fathers. He loved his family
and did his best for us, but he feared it was not good enough. He
looked around and saw how much better other Iraqi men his age had
done, the comforts and possessions they had been able to provide
their own families, the security and opportunities.
he did the best he could. When I was about seven, he moved us to
a house with a bit of land in a small town just south of Baghdad,
so we could grow our own food and sell some too, in addition to
the modest wages he brought in from his laborer's job. It was hard,
and it was a new kind of day. The American invaders had flooded
over our country several years before, professing their desire to
"liberate" us from the tyrant Saddam Hussein, to help
us produce a higher standard of living, to guide us toward the shining
path of "democracy."
hope kindled in my father's tired heart that the Americans had indeed
brought with them a better chapter for our poor country, that they
would help him to help himself and us, as their government had promised
so often to so many, even its own people.
the day I would see his careworn face as he walked up the hot dusty
road after a grueling day at work. Only later did I realize how
he fretted himself for not coming from a more educated family, for
not having worked harder to better himself and improve the opportunities
for us, how he would often despair and feel he had failed those
he loved most.
Then he would
see her, stepping gracefully about the garden, tending and nurturing
it, bringing forth life from the hard dry earth just as she had
so often brought forth life from his cynical soul, as she had bright
light and joy to all of us. And sometimes he would see her as she
had been on other days, in other years, before the Americans came,
before my little brother and I were born, when she, the oldest of
us four children, would run giggling and shouting to welcome him
home from his desultory labors. How often had burning tears of gratitude
filled his eyes when he swept her from the ground as she ran and
leapt to him. Even if the entire world looked down on him, when
he saw the love, the joy, the belief in her eyes — belief in him,
that he was at least something akin to what he wished he were —
it gave him hope that perhaps he did have some value, some worth,
some purpose in this difficult life.
She was my
beloved older sister. I shall call her Abbi, and she was the apple
of his eye. Such a sweet and beautiful girl, everyone said. How
she has grown, he thought, and how radiant and lovely she
is. She was yet only fourteen years old, and I overheard him
one evening telling my mother that he hoped he still had time to
make things better for her. He told my mother he would continue
to do everything for Abbi that God gave him the strength to do.
even my father, an uneducated man, knew that the reasons Bush and
the Americans had given for coming to our country were false. Iraq
was small and poor and did not pose a threat to the Americans, which
was as much stronger than us as a man is to an ant. Our people had
no secret powerful weapons that could damage America, even if we
had desired to do, which — then – we did not. And our country was
not in league with America's enemies, conspiring to harm it.
no television, but people told my father of watching American religious
leaders defend their rulers' wisdom and goodness and godliness.
People had heard these Christian ministers invoke prayers that God
would preserve and protect their nation's armies and give them success
against their enemies. My father gradually realized some of those
enemies were his own friends, perhaps his own relatives. He did
not understand how such things worked, and he grew confused about
what the Americans could do for our people, especially when some
of our own religious leaders began to denounce them, and even to
call for our people to rise up against them and throw them out of
our country. "But I thought they were our best hope!"
he complained to my mother one hot night after he had worked all
day at his job, then all evening on our struggling patch of land.
When some among
the invaders began to pay Abbi compliments she did not seek, when
they began to give her attention surprising to give to a young girl,
my father was not concerned. He knew by now other Americans had
done bad things to our countrymen, sometimes horrible things, including
assault, kidnapping, imprisoning without charges, torture, murder,
burning and bombing of property, but he also knew that in any group
of many thousands of people, some would do bad things, especially
if lonely, far from home, immature, frightened, and heavily armed.
Plus, the men who manned the "security checkpoint" a few
hundred yards from our home wore the shoulder patch with the eagle,
the "screaming" eagle, on it. These men were the 101st
Airborne, and I heard my uncle tell my father they were one of the
most famous military divisions in American history. My uncle had
even seen the Screaming Eagles in movies on his satellite TV.
complaints to my father regarding the increasingly unwelcome advances
of the soldiers grew more persistent, he and my mother reluctantly
decided to keep her home from school for awhile, though he desperately
wanted her to learn what he had not, so that she could improve and
advance herself. He was not sure it was a good thing to do, but
my uncle warned him the Americans had shown many times that they
were capable of committing deeds not at all designed to help Iraq
or its people. He grew more alarmed when she and my mother told
him some of the invaders were not only coming onto our property,
but – once he told Abbi no longer to work in the garden when he was
not there – even coming into our home, supposedly because of reports
someone was hiding weapons there. My father knew people who might
hide weapons, but no one in our family would, certainly not him,
with the risk it would bring to us.
they will not harm her," he protested to my uncle. "She
is only a small girl!"
was not convinced, and when my father himself noticed the frequency
with which the soldiers stationed at the checkpoint began to walk
past our house, peering at the windows, and indeed insisting on
entering to check for weapons, he began to stay home from work some
days, despite our family's need for money.
day, several of the Americans appeared at the front door, again
asking to search the house. My father recognized some of them —
and their big automatic rifles — though it seemed strange to him
that most of them were not wearing their normal military uniform,
but dark clothing more like that worn by our own countrymen who
fought the Americans. The aroma of alcoholic beverage on the soldiers'
breath was not at all like that of our countrymen, at least the
ones I knew. My father's heart beat faster, yet even so, it seemed
as always that showing the invaders courtesy and abiding their instructions
would most quickly have them on their way. Besides, the U.S. soldiers,
for all their misdeeds, had commanders who were educated and handsome
and well-spoken men who surely would not allow a group of their
troops to commit hurtful deeds against a cooperative and unarmed
the young leader of the soldiers herded my mother and father and
my six-year-old sister into a bedroom, did my father notice that
the other Americans had kept Abbi in the living room. He knew something
was wrong and now he had had enough, everyone he knew had had far
more than enough, and he stepped forward to protest and rescue her,
but the leader began shooting, and the room was filled with the
deafening echoes of the blasts, smoke from the gun's barrel, and
the screams of my beloveds as they fell riddled with bullets.
would not stay down until finally the leader shot him so many times
that only death stilled him. Because of this, he did not see the
soldiers break both of my dead little sister's arms. He did not
see the leader return to the living room and begin the raping of
the apple of his eye, the memory of whose smiling eighteen-month-old
face, with the forelock of dark hair over her brow and her wide
shining eyes that loved him with her whole heart, was the last conscious
thought of his life.
not see them blow her brains out with their fancy rifle, nor set
her pure body — and the house he had worked so hard to provide for
us — on fire, to destroy the evidence of deeds even they must have
been shamed by.
not witness the American commanders' attempts to cast the blame
for the crimes on our own countrymen, even though others of our
family members and other neighbors — at great risk to themselves
and their own vulnerable families – surged forward to testify that
the men who usually wore the eagle on their shoulder did it.
not live to observe hate kindle in the souls of his two young sons,
who had not been at the house and were now orphaned and would devote
their lives as mujahideen — which he had never wanted us to be —
to avenging our beloveds' deaths on the children of the invaders,
who now would weep their own ocean of tears.
he never knew how the followers of the gentle prophet about whom
I remember him growing curious to know more, could be so unlike
that man. For in none of the stories he had heard of that prophet
from our own holy books and those of the Americans, who called him
their Lord and Savior, did my father remember that humble man urging
his followers on to rapings and kidnappings and murders, bombings
and burnings and massacres, all the while praying for their success
and protection in such deeds.
J. Dwyer (send him mail)
as Adjunct Professor of History at Southern Nazarene University.
He is former chairman of history at Coram Deo Academy near Dallas,
Texas. He is author of the new historical narrative The
War Between the States: America's Uncivil War. His
website includes a five-minute preview video about the
book. He is also the author of the historical novels Stonewall
E. Lee, and the former editor and publisher of The Dallas/Fort
Worth Heritage newspaper.