Are we liberators or oppressors?

Posted: Jul 04, 2003 12:00 AM

The picture in the Washington Post showed two American soldiers kneeling in the sand of Iraq. One had laid his hand on the shoulder of his buddy, trying to comfort him. The soldier was deeply disturbed over the sight of Iraqi children wounded during recent hostilities.

It’s one of many pictures that reveal the character of America’s armed forces. I think of men like these whenever I hear claims in the news media that American forces in Iraq are nothing more than jackbooted oppressors—that Muslims see our soldiers as “Christian crusaders” out to destroy them.

Let’s think about that for a moment. The men who make up America’s military forces are largely Christian. And they did invade a largely Muslim country. So when it comes to those so-called “Christian crusaders,” what are Iraqi Muslims witnessing?

During the war, they saw flyers doing everything possible to avoid harming innocent civilians. And there are many stories of our soldiers risking their lives to rescue civilians caught in the crossfire.
After the war, trucks arrived with food and water—provisions intended, not for American forces, but for Iraqi civilians.

Today, Iraqis are seeing the sort of behavior always witnessed when American GIs show up. Our soldiers are the kind who share their MREs with hungry kids. This week, an Associated Press photo showed a U.S. Army specialist handing out notebooks at a girl’s school near Baghdad. A TV camera captured the sight of a young, African American soldier surrounded by grinning Iraqi children as he taught them a silly American song.
Do these sound like “crusaders?”

I love the way the late historian Stephen Ambrose put it. Throughout history, he said, soldiers almost always meant an orgy of looting, pillaging, rape, and even murder. This was certainly the case at the end of World War II when, Ambrose wrote, “The most terrifying sight to most civilians was a squad of armed teenage boys in uniform.” Whether it was the Red Army in Warsaw, the Japanese in Manila, or the Germans in Holland, the soldiers meant trouble.

There was one exception to this tragic rule. “Everywhere in the world,” Ambrose wrote, “whether in Belgium, the Philippines, Germany, or Japan, the sight of a twelve-man squad of GIs brought joy to people’s hearts.” Why? “Because the sight of those American kids meant cigarettes, candy, C-rations, and freedom. They had come, not to conquer, but to liberate.”
The Muslim citizens of Iran know this—which is why, according to Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, many are urging America’s so-called “Christian crusaders” to come and liberate them.

Our young men and women in uniform are some of the best of America, the cream of our national crop—taking freedom to people the world over. To paraphrase the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty: Part of America’s military mission is to rescue “your poor, your tired, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”

In his State of the Union Address this year, President Bush said, “The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world; it is God’s gift to humanity”—right. And this Independence Day let’s be grateful for our own freedom, and let’s especially pray for the safety of our soldiers as they fight for the freedom of others.