The Moon is Down Over Iraq

Charles R. Steward III

"The Moon is Down” by John Steinbeck is a work of fiction. It is one of his short stories about how armed forces, presumably Nazis in northern Europe during World War II, come into a community and take control so they have access to the coal mine. This well-written piece explores the human dynamics that occur when a community in a sovereign nation is occupied by outside forces.
When the high-level bombing developed into close quarter combat, the cakewalk for the invaders took a left turn into a dead end.
Through careful planning and the help of a local businessman with his own selfish motives, the capture of the town is relatively easy. The colonel in charge of the occupying soldiers calls on the mayor and tells him the local population must cooperate. The mayor replies, “I don’t know, sir. They are orderly under their own government.”

The colonel informs the mayor, “They will be in danger if they are rebellious. We must get coal, you see. Our leaders do not tell us how; they order us to get it. But you have your people to protect. You must make them work and thus keep them safe.”

The mayor then asks, “But suppose they don’t want to be safe?” After a miner is executed for striking and killing an occupying officer, the resolve of the townspeople hardens. Eventually the conquerors, surrounded by hatred and contempt by those they have conquered, begin to despair and long for home. The soldiers’ nerves begin to fray as they begin to realize they will never have control of the townspeople.

This story offers some strong parallels to what our soldiers are facing in Iraq. We are an army of occupation in someone else’s country no matter how we try to paint it. For the “liberated” citizens of Iraq, a walk on the street is more dangerous than it ever was under Saddam Hussein.

As civilian casualties grow, the hearts of their families will become more bitter. Hussein was a murderous dictator, but for the families of loved ones killed over the past year, at least their loved ones were still alive. How do you forgive a foreign soldier or a foreign people who have killed someone you love? With every civilian man, woman and child killed in Iraq, the anger intensifies toward Americans by those who survive.

Our troops have been cast into harms way by leaders who pushed for war based on false information and hijacked emotion. Now they are in a forsaken land where people regard them with hate and mistrust. Looking over one’s shoulder is now a nervous habit our surviving troops will have for the rest of their lives.

Back home our troops are becoming invisible. While conquered Iraqis mourn their dead, we are not supposed to mourn our men and women. Apparently Americans killed in Iraq interfere with a message of “Mission Accomplished” or “Mission Iraqi Freedom.” Journalists are not allowed to shoot photos of flag-draped coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base. Journalists are not allowed to shoot photos of funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. Major television networks say they do not show images of American dead “out of respect for the sensitivity” of the American people and then broadcast movies with slow motion, graphic detail of how a human body looks as bullets rip through it. Our soldiers deserve more respect.

Our President has not been to any funerals, but he did make a quick photo-op visit to our troops for Thanksgiving. He didn’t have anything to say to the conquered Iraqis. As in Steinbeck’s story, there is a wide canyon, growing wider, between the conquered and the conquerors.

Thousands of American troops are now being called up to serve in Afghanistan. England could never control this region when the British Empire was at its zenith. In the 1970s, Russia sent its best soldiers and weapons to gain control and failed. After Russia invaded Afghanistan, the United States sent millions of dollars to the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden to fight Russians and later sent millions more to these same people to fight their opium crop. Now our young men and women are going over there in an attempt to control the hardened warlords and a people who have fought outsiders for centuries.

The moon is down.

Published Tuesday, December 9th, 2003 - 03:32pm GMT

Charles R. Steward III is a journalist in Texas and is a USA Army veteran.

Article courtesy of Intervention Magazine

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Charles R. Steward III

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