The following 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.
Still, 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."
At first, 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.
Many is 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.
By now, 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.
We had 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.
When Abbi's 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.
"No, they will not harm her," he protested to my uncle. "She is only a small girl!"
My uncle 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.
One such 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 family.
Only when 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.
My father 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.
He did 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.
He did 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.
He did 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.
And 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.
July 21, 2006
John J. Dwyer (send him mail) serves 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 and Robert E. Lee, and the former editor and publisher of The Dallas/Fort Worth Heritage newspaper.