One thing that has puzzled me is why almost every (credible) report I read from Iraq that mentions the morale of our troops says that it remains good, despite the unremitting torrent of depressing failure that we at home live through every time we turn on the television? (Credible defined largely as “actually quoting someone who is there, is going there, or has been there.” Soldiers gripe, and some of them do actually oppose what we’re doing in Iraq, but most of them are generally much more positive than is the American public.)
Reading Dean Barnett’s article in the Weekly Standard[*1] , I finally figured it out.
Colonel Schlichter talks about the soldiers he commands with unvarnished admiration. He has 20-year-olds serving under him who have earned combat badges. As to why these young men are willingly and eagerly putting themselves in harm’s way, Schlichter flatly declares, “The direction comes from themselves. They like to be challenged.”
These “kids” (I’m going to have my 48th birthday in less than a month, so yeah, a 20-year-old is a “kid” now) aren’t intimidated, whether they’re doing incomprehensible and dangerous things with skateboards, surfboards, skis, or hunting IED’s in Iraq. They crave the challenge, and yet they have more discipline than many of us older people give them credit for, more guts, more bravery, more . . . nobility.
More from Barnett’s article:
Regardless of their backgrounds, the soldiers I spoke with had a similar matter-of-fact style. Not only did all of them bristle at the notion of being labeled victims, they bristled at the idea of being labeled heroes. To a man, they were doing what they saw as their duty. Their self-assessments lacked the sense of superiority that politicians of a certain age who once served in the military often display. The soldiers I spoke with also refused to make disparaging comparisons between themselves and their generational cohorts who have taken a different path.
But that doesn’t mean the soldiers were unaware of the importance of their undertaking. About a month ago, I attended the commissioning of a lieutenant in the Marine Corps. The day before his commissioning, he had graduated from Harvard. He didn’t come from a military family, and it wasn’t financial hardship that drove him into the Armed Forces. Don’t tell John Kerry, but he studied hard in college. After his commissioning, this freshly minted United States Marine returned to his Harvard dorm room to clean it out.
As he entered the dorm in his full dress uniform, some of his classmates gave him a spontaneous round of applause. A campus police officer took him aside to shake his hand. His father observed, “It was like something out of a movie.”
Who knows, some day, some enterprising movie producer will actually make an honest movie about what we, the American People tried to do in Iraq. I hope it has a happy ending–for us and for the Iraqis.