Monday, November 22, 2004

The Hell of War

Dexter Filkins has a fine piece of reporting in the New York Times on the horrific conditions faced by our Marines in the initial assault on Fallujah. An excerpt:

On one particularly grim night, a group of marines from Bravo Company's First Platoon turned a corner in the darkness and headed up an alley. As they did so, they came across men dressed in uniforms worn by the Iraqi National Guard. The uniforms were so perfect that they even carried pieces of red tape and white, the signal agreed upon to assure American soldiers that any Iraqis dressed that way would be friendly; the others could be killed.

The marines, spotting the red and white tape, waved, and the men in Iraqi uniforms opened fire. One American, Corporal Anderson, died instantly. One of the wounded men, Pfc. Andrew Russell, lay in the road, screaming from a nearly severed leg.

A group of marines ran forward into the gunfire to pull their comrades out. But the ambush, and the enemy flares and gunfire that followed, rattled the men of Bravo Company more than any event. In the darkness, the men began to argue. Others stood around in the road. As the platoon's leader, Lt. Andy Eckert, struggled to take charge, the Third Platoon seemed on the brink of panic.

"Everybody was scared," Lieutenant Eckert said afterward. "If the leader can't hold, then the unit can't hold together."

The unit did hold, but only after the intervention of Bravo Company's commanding officer, Capt. Read Omohundro.

Time and again through the week, Captain Omohundro kept his men from folding, if not by his resolute manner then by his calmness under fire. In the first 16 hours of battle, when the combat was continuous and the threat of death ever present, Captain Omohundro never flinched, moving his men through the warrens and back alleys of Falluja with an uncanny sense of space and time, sensing the enemy, sensing the location of his men, even in the darkness, entirely self-possessed.

"Damn it, get moving," Captain Omohundro said, and his men, looking relieved that they had been given direction amid the anarchy, were only too happy to oblige.

A little later, Captain Omohundro, a 34-year-old Texan, allowed that the strain of the battle had weighed on him, but he said that he had long ago trained himself to keep any self-doubt hidden from view.

"It's not like I don't feel it," Captain Omohundro said. "But if I were to show it, the whole thing would come apart."

You'll want to read the whole thing.

Ersatz Islam

USA Today recently featured an editorial by Ralph Peters who wishes to persuade us that Islam is really not at war with the West. The people who are fighting against us, he argues, are not true Muslims. They are counterfeits parading under the banner of a religion whose basic tenets they consistently violate. He writes:

Suicide bombings. Assassinations. The wholesale murder of prisoners. The mass slaughter of 9/11. Videotaped beheadings and the execution studios recently discovered in Fallujah. We describe it as "Islamic terrorism." And we're wrong.

The hard-core terrorists spawned by the breakdown of the Middle East quote the Koran. They wear Muslim garments. They perform the daily rituals prescribed by the faith into which they were born. But all of us, in the West and the Middle East, have mistaken the identity of these butchers.

For all of their Muslim trappings, the terrorists of al-Qaeda and its affiliates have returned to pre-Islamic practices, to behaviors that Moses, Christ and Mohammed uniformly rejected: They practice human sacrifice.

When the terrorists we face invoke the names of "Allah" or "Mohammed," they are blaspheming and corrupting a great faith. The prophet was appalled by the religious practices of the early desert peoples. Those who murder in his name today have rejected his message even as they claim to revere it.

We'd be a lot more inclined to accept Peters' argument if those who are indeed orthodox Muslims would speak out more forcefully than they have against the extremists in their midst. We are eager to believe that we are not really in another phase of a war that Islam has waged against the non-Islamic world off and on now for seven centuries. We would love to think that those who desire nothing so much as to be able to slaughter our children are just a tiny minority of the Islamic lunatic fringe. But we can't. As long as the Islamic media, the Imams, and the entire cultural leadership of the Arab world continue to preach the most virulent hatred for the West, as long as the majority of Muslims feel a frisson of pride and pleasure every time an Israeli or American dies at the hands of a Muslim, the term moderate Muslim will continue to be seen by us as an unfortunate oxymoron.

Despite what President Bush would have us believe, a very substantial portion of the Islamic world detests the West and wishes to destroy all that it stands for. It is the goal of Islam to convert the entire world, by the sword if need be, to the Muslim faith and culture. The sooner we realize the nature and extent of the conflict we're in the more likely we'll be to successfully defend ourselves against it.

American Heroes

Chester directs us to this site for an e-mail from a Marine who just finished fighting in Fallujah to his dad at home. He concludes it this way:

I will end with a couple of stories of individual heroism that you may not have heard yet. I was told about both of these incidents shortly after they occurred. No doubt some of the facts will change slightly, but I am confident that the meat is correct.

The first is a Marine from 3/5. His name is Corporal Yeager (Chuck Yeager's grandson). As the Marines cleared and apartment building, they got to the top floor and the point man kicked in the door. As he did so, an enemy grenade and a burst of gunfire came out. The explosion and enemy fire took off the point man's leg. He was then immediately shot in the arm as he lay in the doorway. Corporal Yeager tossed a grenade in the room and ran into the doorway and into the enemy fire in order to pull his buddy back to cover. As he was dragging the wounded Marine to cover, his own grenade came back through the doorway. Without pausing, he reached down and threw the grenade back through the door while he heaved his buddy to safety. The grenade went off inside the room and Cpl. Yeager threw another in. He immediately entered the room following the second explosion. He gunned down three enemy all within three feet of where he stood and then let fly a third grenade as he backed out of the room to complete the evacuation of the wounded Marine. You have to understand that a grenade goes off within 5 seconds of having the pin pulled. Marines usually let them "cook off" for a second or two before tossing them in. Therefore, this entire episode took place in less than 30 seconds.

The second example comes from 3/1. Cpl. Mitchell is a squad leader. He was wounded as his squad was clearing a house when some enemy threw pineapple grenades down on top of them. As he was getting triaged, the doctor told him that he had been shot through the arm. Cpl. Mitchell told the doctor that he had actually been shot "a couple of days ago" and had given himself self aide on the wound. When the doctor got on him about not coming off the line, he firmly told the doctor that he was a squad leader and did not have time to get treated as his men were still fighting. There are a number of Marines who have been wounded multiple times but refuse to leave their fellow Marines.

These guys are just amazing. It makes one proud to be a citizen of the same country they are. For a lot more examples of heroism under fire in the war on terror go to this site.