Order of the Purple Heart
Photo from the United States Marine Corps
Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only
In recent months, yet another Middle Eastern crisis erupted when a band of Sunni militants calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- ISIS -- formed themselves an army and began taking back the nation of Iraq. For a stateless group, they have been shockingly successful. But they have proven themselves to be singularly sadistic conquerors. So intractably brutal are they that even al-Qa'ida cut ties with them in February of this year. ISIS is a hard-line jihadist group with the aim of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, rigidly enforcing Sharia Law. In the cities they have conquered, civilians have been brutally executed for no other reason than being Shia Muslims or Christians. This murder has included the beheading of children, according to the United Nations. What is just as shocking has been their treatment of women, kidnapping, torturing, raping, and killing them.
The United States expended the lives of over 4,000 soldiers removing a dictator from power and turning the country over to it's people. Included in that effort was the training and equipping of some 65,000 Iraqi soldiers to defend their country, allowing US combat troops to be withdrawn by December 2011.
ISIS, consisting of an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 soldiers should have been overwhelmed by the Iraqis armor, artillery, and soldiers. But in what anyone in the west would consider an act of cowardly betrayal, the Iraqi Army melted away, the individual soldiers whispering "Insha'Allah", literally, "If Allah wills it" as they ran.
As this news filtered back into this country, I was shocked and saddened, and at the same time angered. Historically, Americans have bled far more in defense of other countries than for our own. It's part of our culture and traditions; the way are wired to think and feel. Our compassion runs deep, which is why we have always volunteered not only our soldiers, but our civilians to go into areas where things were falling apart and try to make things right again. Usually, the recipient nation shows a certain amount of gratitude for that effort and sacrifice by at least trying to make their country work for the welfare of their people.
But this time, our gift of blood and flesh, of mind and spirit, has been rejected; cast aside by people who have given up self-determination for an incomprehensible kind of fatalism. I don't know what will happen in the near future. And to be perfectly honest, I'm having trouble caring.
The world has changed. Politics, theology, and ideology have created a situation where it is difficult to put a finger on a map and say with any certainty, "there lies the enemy." Islamic terror groups are, officially anyway, stateless organizations, not funded by any government or wearing clearly identifiable national uniforms. They are driven by a violent philosophy which states that there can only be one religion, only one god, and all other religions and their practitioners must either be converted or eradicated. It is this absolute intolerance which befuddles and infuriates Americans, born and bred under the First Amendment.
America can defeat any military force foolish enough to attack. But in the case of radical Islam, the enemy is less thing than thought. There is nothing more difficult or dangerous to fight than an idea. Ideas don't have boundaries. They cross borders carried by nothing more substantial than a whisper. Ideas can't be shot or detained, or imprisoned. Therefore, there is significant doubt that this is a war that we can win.
The events of the past few years have changed me. There was a time when I was convinced of America's essential moral goodness and strength. I felt assured that wherever conflict broke out, US troops could march in, restore order, stop the killing, and then march out leaving behind a calmer, more ordered, and safer society.
I no longer think in these ways.
I think it is time for the United States, both her government and her people, come to grips with the realization articulated by President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, "Our power is not infinite. We have limits." We have to be able to recognize when a conflict is quite simply not our fight. We have to understand that there are other governments which should have vested interests in having stable countries on their borders. And if they are unwilling to step in, then neither should we.
We should never again commit the life's blood of our young men and women, the future of our own country, without a deep and searching exploration of the question, "Why?"
I was in a shopping mall when I saw one of our wounded warriors. He was wearing an artificial leg and a green t-shirt, identifying him as a veteran of the 3rd Infantry Division. He also wore the eyes of a veteran, eyes that have seen things no one should ever see. I looked at him and my heart grew heavy as I realized that what he had fought for in Iraq was in the process of being lost. He would spend the rest of his life having lost an important piece of himself only to see that his service had been in vain.
As I looked at him, I asked the question to myself...
"Was the cause worth your sacrifice?"