Defenders of freedom

Posted: Apr 28, 2003 12:00 AM

NORTHERN IRAQ -- There is still danger from periodic firefights and rebels who need to be rounded up. Republican Guardsmen who have not yet been killed or captured can find the weapons depots and cause trouble with the millions of rounds of ammunition that Saddam stockpiled. But the Marines and soldiers are getting the troublemakers off the streets, and the Army's civil affairs officers are finding work for the civilians. There is still a great deal to do in this liberated country, but now that the major battles are behind them, some U.S. forces are thinking about the comforts of home and the reception they may receive upon their return.

The news still makes its way to the troops here, and they can see that even in the aftermath of a stunning military victory, the proteges of the '60s liberals are working overtime to cause dissent, stir protest, and cast doubt on the mission of the troops and the manner in which they carried it out.

From the hotheads in Hollywood, to asinine academics, to misinformed misfits in the media who trashed the troops and predicted pandemonium from the Iraqi people -- they were all wrong in their diagnosis about the war and about the reception U.S. troops would receive in Iraq.

As an embedded correspondent for Fox News, I started out with the Marines who traveled 450 miles from the border of Kuwait all the way across Iraq -- navigating sandstorms and largely barren desert. In the course of their travels, Marines crushed the Iraqi Army, took control of Baghdad, captured a mosque that was being used as an arms depot and moved all the way to Tikrit. Along the way, they fought the terrorists of the Fedayeen, accepted the surrender of prisoners, prevented more environmental damage from oil well fires, discovered and destroyed huge caches of weapons and ammunition, and rescued American prisoners of war. And yes, they suffered casualties.

These Marines -- and all the U.S. forces -- accomplished remarkable things, and when they get home they're not going to forget those who said they were doing the wrong thing.

While the U.S. military was busy protecting civilians in Baghdad, elitists condemned them for not guarding a museum. Human rights organizations criticize U.S. forces every chance they get, while turning a blind eye to the evidence they discover about Saddam's torture chambers. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan attacked the United States' military campaign, saying the Iraqi people have "paid a heavy price," but he ignores the "heavy price" the Iraqi people unknowingly paid to the United Nations, which corrupted the Oil for Food program. A professor at Columbia University said he only viewed as heroes those "who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military," and Hollywood war analysts confidently predicted that the Iraqi people would help this anti-American professor realize his dream.

Those who condemn and criticize U.S. troops and their leaders should be ashamed of themselves, and those who predicted disaster should know just how wrong they were.

Most of the major leadership targets that have been captured in Iraq have been seized not only because of good U.S. intelligence but because Iraqi civilians have provided additional information to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines about the locations of terrorists, Baath Party officials and Republican Guard units, as well as munitions depots.

Bravery, honor, courage, dedication. Even these noble words don't do justice in describing the magnificent military campaign carried out by the troops and the character with which they did it. Simply put, they moved further, faster and with fewer casualties than any military force in world history, while liberating a repressed and tortured people from a brutal dictator. Their careful planning and precision execution helped to minimize damage to civilians, their communities and religious institutions -- and for all that, the Iraqi people are grateful.

I know Hollywood and the media don't want to hear it, but when U.S. troops would approach a new city or village, they were greeted by Iraqi civilians standing along the road waving and chanting things like, "Bush No. 1" and "Go Bush." Flowers and flags were the children's choice for welcoming their liberators.

There was even one old man in a village north of Baghdad -- an impoverished farmer -- who wanted to express his appreciation for the Marines. There were seven of us in the group, and this man brought us something that most Americans eat every day but to which we attach little significance. For this poor Iraqi farmer, the seven eggs he gave us were as valuable as gold and silver. He would not allow us to refuse his extraordinary generosity. As he watched us eat the omelet that was cooked with his eggs, the tear in his eye and the smile on his face transcended any language barriers or cultural and religious differences, and he said to the Marines, "Thank you for coming and bringing freedom with you."

The story of the courage exhibited by American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen during the liberation of Iraq, and the affection displayed for them by those they liberated, would make a great movie. Unfortunately, Hollywood no longer employs the writers, producers or directors who can capture on the big screen such sentiments of heroism and appreciation for freedom. Perhaps they could if those sentiments first existed in their hearts.