So many people have written me and mentioned the excerpt from the letter I had written to my daughter in last week’s guest column, I decided to print the entire letter. I know there are probably a few errors in here – both of fact and of grammar. This wasn’t intended to be read by the public and I wrote it long hand during down time in my training, so please forgive those. The reason for my making it public is to remind people both of why our country is the greatest on earth and why we are fighting.
Happy 26th birthday! I hope all is going well for you in work and life in general
This year I want to venture into a subject you may find curious I haven't addressed earlier - what being an American meant to me and how do I feel about having given my life for it. The reason I have never addressed it is because I wanted you to make your own feelings clear. After all, you gave up a lot for your country as well, and I am very aware of how much you lost, so I don't make the following text of this letter with anything less than the gravest consideration.
First of all, I think that America is the greatest country on earth and a nation that has done more good, saved more lives, and freed more people than any other - and second place isn't close. Now, this doesn't mean we have been perfect. We definitely haven't. We have supported some bad people over the years, we have acted arrogantly on occasion and we have formed and executed some bad policies.
From the start of the last century, it has been the American government and people that have defeated more evil than any other. We provided the "tipping" power in WWI; we were largely responsible for the defeat of Germany (with a big assist from Russia), and we were almost solely responsible for the defeat of Japan; we protected South Korea from communists in the '50s; we fought on the right side in Vietnam, although our defeat there was largely due to our not understanding the enemy (the US portion of involvement led to about 2M total deaths - after the fall of Saigon, the communist purges left over 3 dead, not including when the communists subsequently invaded Cambodia and Laos. Don't let anyone tell you we were on the wrong side); we supported the contras in Nicaragua against the communists that were killing people by the tens of thousands; we liberated Kuwait from Iraq; we were largely responsible for ending the carnage in Bosnia; we helped bring some order to Haiti; we brought real democracy to Panama. Along the way we supported some bad people - some of which we had to go back and correct our mistakes on, such as the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, and Manuel Noriega in Panama. The reason we had a mixed record in the 20th Century is because no one took more at bats (save the Soviet Union and they were always on the side of evil). A lot of those countries that were protesting my war lacked the will, the means and the courage to enter the arena. They opposed the war for various reasons, money (in the case of France, Russia and German) and jealousy being the two largest.
Let's look at my war. As you know, on Sep 11, 2001, planes hijacked by Arab Muslim terrorists crashed into the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in DC and killed about 3,000 Americans - I saw the smoke from the pentagon out my office window in Virginia. Following that, America launched a Global War on Terror. We struck Afghanistan, the country that had provided the safe harbor for the organization that perpetrated the attacks. It was run by a group of fundamentalist Muslims looking to create an ideal Muslim state. They perpetrated numerous civil rights abuses and cultural crimes (destroying 2,000 year old monuments). We largely let it go unnoticed until this event (Sep 11) took place. We quickly toppled the government then went looking for the next target.
Iraq had been a thorn in our sides since '90. We had to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, and made a strategic mistake when we left him in power. We had to leave a garrison of troops behind in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and we had to have planes patrolling Iraq’s skies. We pushed oppressive sanctions thru the United Nations because of Hussein's refusal to cooperate with international inspectors. By and large, we basically left the policy stagnant thru the 90s - except during a couple of periods in '98 when Iraq's resistance to inspectors took a new found importance - I'll let you figure out the whys and the whens on that. But by and large we were basically content to let the sanctions run their course.
However, Sep 11th inflicted a paradigm shift on our country's policy. The country now treated international terrorism as a threat to the survival of humanity. This terrorism doesn't happen in a vacuum. Al Qaeda had an estimated 2500-5000 fighters in Sep 01. These people need assets and places to train, live, eat and exist. Afghanistan had provided this safe harbor. Evidence arose that suggested that Saddam Hussein had had contacts with Al Qaeda, although no specific evidence exists of a 9/11 - Saddam connection. Hussein had also pursued weapons of mass destruction and had used them in the past. Most likely, he would have had nuclear weapons if not for an act of unilateralism by Israel that knocked out his nuclear reactors. Also, he had invaded a neighbor in the recent past. Had he succeeded in getting weapons of mass destruction and had passed them to terrorists, those people could subsequently use them against civilian targets. I don't know what they are saying about the war as you read this; I will guess that most academics are saying it was a gross blunder by Bush. But it is important to know that in 2002 before the war, there was a uniformly good faith opinion that Saddam Hussein did have weapons banned by his 1991 surrender, including weapons of mass destruction. Now, I have always felt that the primary role of the government is to provide for the safety of its populace. That needs to come before schools, roads, social security, Medicare and anything else you can name. If removing a dictator with a large list of human rights violations can markedly increase our security at a minimal cost, it isn't an unreasonable course of action.
The second benefit is the expansion of larger US security goals - namely the spread of democracy. As I write this, 60% of Middle easterners are under 25. Unemployment is over 25% in these countries and the governments are uniformly corrupt. This is an untenable situation. There’s also the frustration of the people there. At one time the Middle East was the most advanced society on earth, and now it is just about the most backwards. Fanning these flames are the holy men who tell them that they are great and they would have their just rewards if not for the infidels of the West. This tactic of blaming others has been around as long as politics and has been used everywhere, from Hitler's Germany and the Jews to the American South and the Blacks. The Mid-Easterners didn't invent it, they are just exploiting a sure power getter. All of these ingredients can't help but fuel resentment and violence in due time. In order to secure the American people, democracy had to be spread to the region because democratic governments are far less prone to going to war and they are far less prone to internal strife and violence. The process couldn't help but be messy, but it was necessary.
Obviously, I don't know how this experiment worked out, but you do. If Iraq is a democratic nation now, or if Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi, Kuwait or one of the others has become democratic, then the war was worth it. However, if we pulled out because we lost too many soldiers and got out in an act of political expediency, then I did die in vain.
Also, as an aside, sometimes some moron who is protesting a war will ask people "would you give your life to do “X'" such as take a certain crossroads or a single building. Most people will say no. But it is the wrong question. Wars are step-by-step processes and most people don't want to feel that they lost their lives, or the lives of loved ones for a small step in the war. So while I don't know how I met my end, I will give you an example. If someone were to ask me if I would give my life so that Hassan Habib could learn how to throw a grenade - I assure you I would say no. But, if the question is "would you give your life so that Iraq can have a quality army that will allow the withdrawal of US forces and help assure the success of democracy in the country and overall increase the level of security for the US population over the world?" I would say yes, it is a cause worth dying for.
I want you to understand something - there have to be causes worth dying for. If there is nothing worth dying for, then nothing is really worth living for. Our forefathers from all over the world, willingly gave up all of their worldly possessions to travel here because of their desire to improve not only their own lives, but also the lives of their children (as an aside, often the immigrants’ own lives were worse than before after coming here). These people risked their lives settling our country, facing hardships and dangers I cannot fully appreciate. They gave up a relatively cushy relationship with England as colonies in order to wage a war for independence that would leave 9 thousand Americans dead - at a time when our overall population was less than 5 million. Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence lost all of their worldly possessions and either died in battle or in poverty. This country exists because those men had the courage to fight and the wisdom to understand the urgency and necessity. All of the good this country has done over the years was only possible because of the selfless acts of these men.
The earth has been in existence for over four billion years. Human beings have roamed the earth for over 250,000 years. Modern man has been here for over 50,000 years, and it has been over 2,000 years since Christ walked the earth, 1,500 since Mohammad died, 1,300 years since the last Gladiator battles in Rome, and 250 years since our country was born. We are only on this earth for a short time. The only way to make a lasting contribution to is by contributing to a cause greater than ourselves, and the first step there is recognizing that some things, some ideals, are worth more than a relatively short extra time on earth.
Blair, please know that I am crying as I write this, thinking of never being able to hold you, never hearing you say in a clear voice "Daddy, I love you," never attending any of your events, never seeing you off to prom, never seeing you graduate, not being able to walk you down the aisle on your wedding day. Know that it kills me in a way you will not be able to understand until you have your own kids. The pain and sadness I feel are unbearable. So please know that when I write these words, I take them with the strictest seriousness.
Blair, I hope that you understand these beliefs I have, even if you may not agree with them. I can't appreciate what it was like growing up with only one parent (if your mother never remarried) or having a step father because you lost me to a war. But please know that I regret everything you have gone thru.
Blair, I love you and continue to watch over you.
J.B. Smith served in Iraq from December 2004 to September 2005 as an advisor to three Iraqi Infantry Battalions.
He previously served on active duty from 1992-1999 in the US, Korea, Germany and Bosnia. He lives with his family in North Carolina.
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