Christian Hartsock
What I did find in Iraq
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By Christian Hartsock
August 3, 2010

As a filmmaker I have always entrusted the lens of a camera to illuminate both the stuff of my imagination and that of this world that otherwise would not be visible. This summer, I was tasked by Move America Forward — the largest pro-troop 501(c)3 in the country, which hosted the recent Troopathon that raised $541,711 for care packages for the troops — to travel to Iraq and capture a glimpse of the situation that may have ended up on the cutting room floors of the mainstream media.

My traveling companions were Matt Sanchez, a Move America Forward volunteer and producer of Fox News' The Strategy Room; Mary Pearson, photographer; and Debbie Lee, the founder of America's Mighty Warriors, a Gold Star mom whose son, Marc Allen Lee, was the first Navy-SEAL killed in Iraq during a fight in Ramadi on August 2, 2006. In his last letter home, Marc had written:

    "What I do over here is only a small percent of what keeps our country great. I think the truth to our greatness is each other. Purity, morals and kindness, passed down to each generation through example. So to all my family and friends, do me a favor and pass on the kindness, the love, the precious gift of human life to each other so that when your children come into contact with a great conflict that we are now faced with here in Iraq, that they are people of humanity, of pure motives, of compassion."

What I was to find on this trip was that despite the mainstream media's frantic pursuit to staple Abu Ghraib in our minds as an emblem of the U.S. presence in Iraq, by the end of my travels I was unmistakably and undeliberately convinced that Marc Allen Lee is the true embodiment of not only the U.S. military, but the American character itself.

Our itinerary included visits in Kuwait, Baghdad and Kirkuk with soldiers, Marines and airmen — both American and Iraqi. Among the four of Saddam's palaces I visited was one which Saddam had named "Victory Over America" — a name slightly inconvenienced by the demolished side wing that sunk into a massive mound of dirt and rubble. (Whoops! Did we do that?)

Adjacent the palace was a two-story lakehouse where Saddam was known to have housed his virgins. After he was done raping them, he would behead, drown, or throw them off the balcony. The balcony rail was marked by a finite succession of hearts — each symbolizing one of these unwitting lovers. As I gazed up at it, I could not help but consider the fact that had those who fiercely filibusted the war gotten their way, at least several more of those hearts would be adorning that rail.

Socrates said that "no man knowingly does evil." But even the most nightmarish monsters of the world wrestle with some inconvenient notion — and with it some means of putting it to rest. This is why Saddam — who believed God could not see over water — encompassed these buildings with a lake. But the airborne demolition of that side wing of his palace may have been a subtle reminder that perhaps God does, indeed, have aerial vision.

As much as Saddam intended to hide his shame with that lake, not even his means of filling it were exempt from shame. Saddam had gone right ahead and cut off the water supply to the Shi'a in southern Iraq to fill his precious lake. (You know, kind of like what congressional Democrats did to our farmers in central California.)

Diversity — with respect to age, race, gender, religion, nationality and rank — we found. Where we didn't find diversity was in the collective mood — optimism and pride in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The boyish excitement of Brigadier General Scott Hansen over his trainees — the Iraqi Air Force — resembled that of an older brother who had successfully mentored his younger sibling to be an all-star home-run hitter. The chemistry and camaraderie between U.S. and Iraqi forces suffered no cold distance, no awkwardness, no air of discomfort.

These observations incited both excitement and anger. I knew this was history in the making, and I knew the mainstream media had decided that the American public would miss out on it.

The left-driven press has fought its own campaign to incite strife by dividing our country up by race, class, religion and political persuasion. Of course it would want to divide up the world in the same image.

Having determined before the first U.S. boots hit the ground that this would not be a successful operation, the media began conceding defeat on behalf of our nation almost instantly. Over seven years, neither the capture of Saddam, the purple ink-stained fingers of the new Iraqi democrats, the success of the surge, nor what we found in just ten days would dare disrupt their predetermined narrative. Such images of success were not among their storyboards.

This is almost the equivalent of V-E day ending up on page 18C of The New York Times. Not only has the mainstream media let us down, they have taken something from us. They have taken from us the opportunity to take pride in our nation during one of her finest hours.

We know that in our own history, every trend of tyranny or terror was most effectively bulldozed by the expansions of freedom. The fact that the KKK has been reduced to a fringe cult standing against the loser wall of the proverbial dance hall is less because of Lyndon Johnson's executive orders and more because in a free society such a pathetic band of outsiders would as quickly be thrown out of the inskirts as a Denver Broncos pep rally in downtown Oakland. Terror can't breathe in a free society. It chokes and suffocates in America and is panting a lot harder now in Iraq.

The fact that the cold, bitter left would rather continue grinding their teeth and clenching onto their pathological hatred for George W. Bush than take pride in what our country has accomplished this time through our unstoppable warriors — is as sad as it is shameful. That we have shared our unique gift of freedom with a new nation may be easily dismissable as a rhetorical soundbite — but is a living reality worth serious contemplation.

On our final day in country, when my cameras were off and it was myself and Debbie speaking with Lt. Colonel Kyle Voigt off-the-record of our families, memories, and other matters of the heart, the lieutenant colonel moved in close and whispered the following with the discreet, quiet dignity of a shared secret that could not otherwise be understood by the world but only among close confidents:

    "We have done something very special here — something that no other civilization has done in the history of the world. We have freed a country, without asking anything in return except friendship."

As I subsequently returned to my CHU to pack up my luggage, I reflected on the friends I had made amongst the Iraqi Air Force, the handshakes that somehow felt like massive group hugs between two populations than mere hand-to-hand contacts. I thought about this experiment we took a chance on 235 years ago and the expanding laboratory that these people had just been openly invited into. I thought of the fact that just eight years ago, encounters under such circumstances would have been laughably fantastical.











© Christian Hartsock

 

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Christian Hartsock

Christian Hartsock, 24, is a director, screenwriter, producer and political columnist and activist... (more)

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