The discussion after "Outside the Wire" was shown last night was led by three WSU Iraq vets. One was a Marine who had taken part in the initial invasion and then came back six months later. Another Marine had been deployed in 2004 and was going over again. Another was an Army soldier who had returned from Iraq last November. They took questions from the audience and their answers were fascinating.
ON PROTESTERS - It's too bad the Young Democrats left so early. They would have gotten schooled. At least one liberal stayed behind, however. He asked the vets if they thought that a "war" was being waged here at home by activists against the Patriot Act which "persecuted minorities." The vets answer was terrific. One said he would not use the word "war" to describe what is going on in the U.S. compared to Iraq.
When talking with the vets afterwards, they said one big question was not asked, the one that concerned the famous liberal canard of "Support the Troops, Not the War." There is no such animal. If you don't support what the troops are doing, then you can't truly support them. The vets told us that ANTI-WAR PROTESTS ONLY AID AND ENCOURAGE THE PEOPLE THAT ARE SHOOTING AND BLOWING UP OUR SOLDIERS. Sure, protesters have a legal right to do it. That's what America is about after all. But they are morally wrong to do it with troops in harm's way.
The vets realize that there is a social struggle going on in the U.S. They know decisions were taken at high levels which weren't the best. But soldiers don't make policy. They went over to Iraq with the best of intentions. That is why they agreed with a line in the movie when one Marine stated that he liked it better in Iraq than back home because "things are simpler over there."
ON THE MEDIA - The vets felt that overall the media was doing a lousy job covering the war. They believed that the news media has something to sell, and nothing sells like bad news, the "if it bleeds, it leads" approach. Hence the fixation on the U.S. death count, which as one vet pointed out, is less than the homicides committed in major U.S. cities every year. They and their efforts are constantly impuned, every death exploited, every screw up magnified, every success ignored or downplayed.
The same vet said he didn't watch the news any more. Another said that prior to deployment, they were specifically told not to watch the news.
In any case, they still have to fight whether the media is present or not. Once in Iraq, they are very isolated from news reports anyway.
ON PUBLIC DISINTEREST - The vets said they had tried to arrange meetings like this before to tell their story but only 3 or 4 people would show up. That is shameful. I'm sure one of the reasons the crowd was so big last night was due to the notoriety of the College Republicans. No media was present last night to interview the vets, not even from the Evergreen. Chuck Pezeshki didn't even show up and start singing "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda." Again, what a disgrace. How can people purport to be against the war if they are not willing to hear what is going on from first-hand participants? Are they afraid to hear the truth?
ON FREEDOM - The vets agreed with a line in the movie that "freedom is something you have to fight for." One vet who was present during the Iraqi elections said he broke down and cried at the end of Election Day, after being on duty for 36 hours. The purple finger of Iraqi men and women showed him what freedom was all about.
ON THE IRAQI PEOPLE - In general, the vets said the Iraqi people were supportive and had come to accept their presence as an everyday reality. Since troops will search homes near IED explosions or shootings, many clans had organized "neighborhood watches" to keep insurgents out of the area.
ON MILITARY EQUIPMENT - Contrary to media and Democratic myths, U.S. troops are not being hung out to dry due to a lack of equipment. None of the vets reported experiencing any serious shortages of body armor, uparmored Humvees, or other key equipment. There were some logistical problems, but they felt they had adequate equipment to get the job done.
ON THE STATE OF THE WAR - The vets felt that, overall, the situation in Iraq was gradually improving.
ON THE MOVIE - The vets thought "Outside the Wire" was pretty accurate. They especially related to the "Unlucky Charms" superstition. In some MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), a package of Charms candy is included. Soldiers and Marines in Iraq universally believe that eating the Charms will cause something bad to happen, so they are thrown away. There was a very humorous incident in the movie where a young PFC ate some of the candy and his unit got caught up in a sandstorm followed by torrential rain, turning everything into mud. The vets did comment that no one was shot in the movie (but there was an IED explosion).
Ultimately, however, no one can have idea what is going over there without experiencing it personally. There are times when it gets better and times when it gets worse. The one constant is that the war in Iraq is constantly changing.