"I seen a 240 take a guy's leg off from a hundred yards," a big-headed corporal said. "The whole leg came off and the sucker was just laying there on the ground, looking at his leg as he died." I felt a little sick. (2.37-38)
Birdy's about to go to war, and the anxiety of what he's getting into is hitting him hard. This sunny little anecdote isn't helping.
It all looked so much better in the training films, when the figures were just silhouettes flickering across a screen. When it was all just a video game. But up close, the smell of blood was connected with real people. I knew that many of them wouldn't make it. They would be dead before the night came, or surely by the next morning. (5.100)
Birdy's training might have prepared him a little, but no amount of screens could have prepared him for the reality of war—being up close and personal with the dying.
"Mess with my leg again and I'll shoot you through the top of your head," she answered. "Yo Jonesy, is Marla weird or what?" I asked. "Hey man, we all weird," Jonesy said. "Or do you always do drive-bys in the name of democracy?" (5.169-171)
Jonesy likes to compare situations they face in war to examples from his life in the U.S. Comparing their shooting to drive-bys is, sadly, a good analogy.
"They're Shiites, and that's good, but apparently the air force sent over some A-10s on a Close Air Support mission and they took out a school. Killed some civilians. A few children. This is a war and collateral damage happens. That's a fact of war and a reflection of what is known as the "fog of war." Nothing happens perfectly. Bullets fly. Bombs fall. People stand up at the wrong time." (6.36)
Sessions, who is giving this talk, seems awfully blasé about the fact that the air force killed Iraqi children. She isn't wrong about how collateral damage is a part of warfare, though.
The whole thing was over in a heartbeat. The marine patrol had been coming down the street, the IED had exploded, and now people were dead. There was no confrontation, no blurred figures flying across the busy street, no one to chase down for revenge, no one to be mad at. (8.71)
Birdy's shocked description is a fact of the Iraq War in particular. The biggest threat to Americans are IEDs—with no one around them to pin the blame on. Totally different than a war movie.
What was happening, I thought, was that the humanity we were supposed to be showing the Iraqis was wearing thin. I didn't know who my enemy was over here, what rock he might pop out from, from which window he might shoot. I didn't know which of the figures in robes down to their ankles were praying for peace and which were planting bombs on the side of the road. (9.60)
Birdy's in the Civil Affairs unit, meaning he's there to get the Iraqis to trust American soldiers. But it's hard for him to be anything but suspicious when he doesn't know who the enemy is.
We got clearance the morning of the game and were rolling toward Al-Uhaimir by 1000 hours. Captain Miller and Jerry rode with Second Squad. We took along three extra balls for the kids and some notebooks and pencils. For the first time in a long, long time I felt really human. I hadn't been down or anything, just tired all the time. (12.26)
Being tired all the time is a sign of depression, so it's possible that Birdy isn't being completely honest with himself when he says he hasn't been down.
Marla put it best.
"You go out and you see people shopping," she said. "Women buying onions and bread or people having coffee. Then down the street somebody gets blown up. Jesus, it's weird."
It was weird—weird and unnerving. Somebody buying onions, somebody getting their fingers blown off, somebody dying. (13.2-4)
Here's another description of what the Iraq War is like. There are no trenches for military only—bombings are instead mixed in with daily life.
I didn't know if we were winning here in Iraq or not. If we just talked about dead people, about bodies lying in the streets, then we were winning easy. But somehow it wasn't about who was doing the most killing. (13.34)
There's no easy definition for how to win this war. The troops already surrendered, so it isn't about that, or body count. That's what makes the Iraq War so complicated.
"We have all of them," Roberts said, glancing toward Miller. "They were kidnapped as a favor to us."
"So it's true, you can't be trusted?" Miller asked.
"After the war we can sit down and have a drink some place," Roberts said. "We get a good enough buzz on, we'll talk about the philosophy of war. Until then we'll do what we have to do to keep our people alive." (14.328-330)
Roberts is of the philosophy that you do what you have to in a war. Maybe his troops were threatened—we'll never know. But kidnapping children does seem pretty villainous.
"Tell her Sergeant Harris will take a shift by himself," Kennedy said. "They won't need the rest of us."
"Yo, woman, you got a lot of mouth for a chick!" Harris said.
"Glad you noticed it, Sergeant." (1.27-29)
Gotta love Marla in this exchange. Not only does she call out Harris, she tells him to take notice of her attitude, so he won't mess with her again.
Jean Darcy came by carrying a plastic tray with her breakfast on it. I saw scrambled eggs, sausages, and potatoes.
"You like people?" she asked, looking up at me.
"Yeah, I guess," I said.
Strange chicks joined the army, I thought. Strange and strong. (4.15-19)
We won't lie here. We have no idea why Darcy gets so mad in this exchange. But check out the opinion Birdy draws from it. Way to take one woman's behavior and apply it to all women in the army.
Captain Miller started squirming in her seat about halfway through the talk. Her head rolled back when the colonel turned to Major Sessions and asked if we had any females to send to the village. (6.37)
Miller is always being sent to villages to talk to women—often women who have lost children in an American bombing. Not exactly a fun job. And it's a little unfair that Miller keeps getting stuck doing the apologizing just because she's female.
I was thinking again about Marla, about how she seemed to think and act more like a soldier than I did. It was a weird combination, a foxy-looking lady as tough as she was. (6.187)
Hmm. Do you think Birdy would think good looks and toughness would be a weird combination for a man?
We got ID'ed and a marine lieutenant offered me two laptop computers and a lifetime pass to Yankee Stadium in exchange for Marla and Barbara. Marla thought it was funny, but Barbara got uptight about it and cursed a blue streak as we pulled away. (8.54)
Did you notice how Birdy calls Barbara "uptight" for getting upset that the men treated her like property? When it comes to women, he's not exactly enlightened.
We were watching some cop program, the usual stuff with police dealing with low-level street crime. The cops were picking up prostitutes and Harris said that in a way most women weren't much more than whores.
"They get a man to support them and then they just sit back and watch television," he said.
"Yo, man, you got to show more respect than that," Jonesy said. "Your mama is a woman."
"No, you got to watch yours," Harris said. "I'm a sergeant, fool!"
"You also sounding like your brain is AWOL," Jonesy said. "We over here fighting with women." (10.1-5)
You tell him, Jonesy!
She screamed. She cried. She rocked back and forth. She moaned.
"With all the garbage that's going on… with all the disgusting garbage that's going on… How can they? How can they?" (13.133-134)
Miller was just rescued from being raped when she says this. She can't believe that hospital orderlies—tasked with helping the wounded—would choose to add to the horror.
"Then I ended up in juvenile court for shoplifting, and this black family took me in. Kept me out of juvy detention. I was with them for a little over a year. Giving them a hard time. They had a kid of their own with cerebral palsy and really wanted a companion for her. It was all good with them. At least I didn't have to fight her husband off. He was okay." (14.114)
Poor Marla. Her line about not having to fight a husband off gives us a peek at what her life was like as a foster kid, and might explain some of her toughness.
"Wherever you're going, we're not going with you," Marla said. "He specifically said "men."
"He thinks he's paying us a compliment by including us with the "men," Darcy said. (14.156)
Women serving alongside men is a relatively new thing in the U.S. army, and this book shows that some of the people in charge still don't really know how to address women. Clearly, calling them "men" is not the answer.
Fadel leaned toward us. "They are saying that the women are probably prostitutes," he said softly. (14.362)
Wow. What does it say about the culture of this tribe that they see female soldiers and automatically assume prostitution?
A guy from the 3rd, a big, thick-necked sergeant, was holding up a tube. It was an RPG launcher. "Ask them who this belongs to!" the sergeant barked at me. Did I look Iraqi to him? (4.93-94)
Way to assume, sergeant. He thinks Birdy is Iraqi because he has dark skin.
Ahmed, the interpreter, found us. He had been around but not hanging out with the regular troops. He was thin, dark-haired but light-skinned. He could have been Latino. He shook hands all around and Jonesy asked him how he learned Arabic.
"My family is from Lebanon," he said with a shrug. "My grandmother made me learn it." (4.72-73)
Ahmed is given an interpreter, middle-man type role because his family is Lebanese. But it's clear that he's pretty removed from the Middle East—he spent his whole life in the U.S.
"It's good to have a slave," Pendleton from Third Squad said.
I didn't dig that too much and neither did Jonesy. We didn't say anything but Pendleton caught our attitude. (6.15-16)
Pendleton's statement is not cool anyway, but it makes sense that it would bother Birdy and Jonesy more than the others, considering the history of slavery in the United States.
The Italians came over. They shook hands all around. One of them asked in English if I was an Iraqi. He knew I wasn't. I guess they thought that was funny. (6.91)
Kind of a weird joke to make, isn't it? Assuming a racial identity just because of the color of Birdy's skin?
"Hey, Captain Coles!" Marla was on the intercom.
"You think Birdy is an Iraqi?"
"Could be," Captain Coles answered. "He's very dark." (6.101-104)
Marla's just messing with Birdy here, and Captain Coles is playing along. But they're pointing out that Birdy looks more like their opponents in the war than he looks like them. What do you think that would feel like?
"Tell this guy to remember whose side he's on," he said.
"He's American," Jonesy spoke up. "You didn't know that, sir?"
The lieutenant looked Ahmed up and down and then walked away. Creep. (6.178-180)
The lieutenant had no reason to say that to Ahmed. He said it, totally unprompted. Maybe a little bit of racism coming out?
"They came and said everybody in the village had to fight against the invaders. The fedayeen knew the villagers were mostly from minor tribes and they didn't care about them being killed. Everybody who refused to fight would be shot. They even gave the children guns. (6.206)
Coming into Iraq, Birdy thought of the Iraqis as one people, but that's not how they always think of each other. The villagers' lives didn't matter to the fedayeen just because of what tribe they're from.
I also didn't like searching people. I had been stopped on 136th Street once, just outside the Countee Cullen Library, by two plainclothes cops who had searched me. I knew what it felt like. Embarrassed that I had to stand there with my hands in the air while strangers patted me down and went through my pockets, humiliated because they were assuming power over me and I couldn't do a thing about it. I felt I knew how the Iraqi men felt while I searched them. (10.87)
There are complicated reasons beyond racial profiling for the squad to search the Iraqis, but having been profiled makes Birdy feel connected to the people he has to search. It must be an uncomfortable feeling.
We got back just in time for supper. Jonesy started interviewing Marla again, holding his spoon up as a mike.
"Yo, Miss White Lady, how do you feel rescuing a poor little Racki boy?" (11.99-100)
Their whole squad worked together to find Muhammed, but Marla was the one interviewed for it. When Jonesy calls her Miss White Lady, he suggests that her skin color might've been a factor in why the media chose to interview her afterward.
"And what do you want?" The guy speaking was my complexion, at least he looked brownish in the dim light, and maybe a hundred years old.
"We understand you have some detonators that interest us," Coles said.
The old man shrugged and spoke to the others. They all shrugged. It reminded me of hanging out in the barbershop on Saturday and the old dudes wanted to mess with the young bloods. (14.365-367)
It's interesting how even in the moments when he's most scared, Birdy can relate to the other side. He notices the old man has his complexion, and his mind goes to hanging out in barbershops in Harlem.
We rode deep into the night and into the early morning. The Kuwaiti desert, in spots, was beautiful. The rising sun spread like a brilliant egg flattening out. A distance away, we could see small dust storms changing the colors that played along the edge of the horizon. (3.110)
Birdy's first day of riding through the desert does sound beautiful, unlike anything he's seen before. It's also before he's seen any violence, so he can focus on the beauty and not see anything sinister in it. What do you think those sandstorms in the distance might symbolize?
The sandstorm blew nearer and the sky suddenly darkened. The sand, swirling through the hot air, blocked out everything. (4.28)
The sandstorm is the exact opposite of the serene desert. It's a part of Iraq, and the way Birdy describes it makes it seem like it totally consumes you.
Iraq is weird—kind of an odd mix with old stuff and new. Some of the cities look as if everything was built a few months ago, but other places could be directly out of the Old Testament. I guess that sounds silly because I don't know what the world looked like during the Old Testament, but it's what I imagine. (5.230)
Earlier, Jonesy told Birdy that parts of what is now modern-day Iraq were in the Bible, but that's probably why Birdy's imagining that buildings are from the Old Testament.
Baghdad is a trip. It's a beautiful city with wide, clean streets and modern cars zipping down the highways. The sky is low and huge and so blue it's almost purple. The Tigris River has a mix of vessels, some large, some small with one or two people. There is a feeling of peace about the place most of the time, but then there is the distant chatter of an automatic weapon or a dark silhouette of one of our planes streaking across the sky and once again you're reminded that there is a war going on. (6.8)
Birdy's observations aren't just visions of Iraq. They're of a very specific time in Iraq—Iraq during wartime.
Ba'qubah looked like Greek villages I had seen on National Geographic TV. The people were thin, old-looking. That was a funny thing in Iraq. You could tell who the important people were by how fat they were. Most people were thin, but all the muck-a-mucks looked heavy. (6.186)
Makes sense, in a way. The people who are well-off have more food.
I didn't know how anybody could live in such a desolate area. Signs of war were everywhere: burned-out vehicles, spent shells, tress that had been hit by bombs and now seemed to twist their way out of the pockmarked earth. The most impressive thing around was a huge terraced mound that looked like something from another world. We stopped to take a closer look at it. I heard Ahmed calling it a ziggurat; the redbrick mound seemed almost to shimmer in the bright sunlight.
"The ancient Mesopotamians built shrines on top of them," Ahmed said. "Read that in the guidebook." (8.42-43)
This area is definitely the opposite of Birdy's description of Baghdad earlier. In Iraq, there are places that seem untouched by the war, and places where it feels like the war touches everything.
The houses usually had a courtyard behind a fence. The fence was locked with either a deadbolt or a bar across the entire door and if you had to bust through, you woke up the entire neighborhood. Once you broke through the fence, if you couldn't climb over it, you had to find the door. That would be a tough mother to crack as well.
"They act as if they're living in New York City!" Jonesy had said.
I didn't have a comeback for that. (10.58-60)
Jonesy's making fun how hard to break in Iraqi houses in Baghdad are—but really, can you blame them?
"A poor man in Iraq may never speak to a doctor," Jamil said. "In the West you complain about the cost in dollars. In Iraq your life is always in Allah's palm." (11.35)
Imagine never seeing a doctor. Ever. Your lifespan would probably decrease—a lot.
Outside the air was clear and crisp, already warm. The sky was slowly turning from a quiet predawn gray to the brilliance of the morning. In the distance the bright reddish gold of the Iraqi sunrise began to spread over the horizon. Dark silhouettes brightened into sprawling fields and square squat structures. The foul smell of the Euphrates River mixed with sweet odors rising from the sands along its banks, adding texture to the rising sun, like a chorus of strings backing up a sad saxophone. (13.139)
This is a beautiful description, but see where it ends? With the sad saxophone metaphor. That should give you an idea of Birdy's mood.
Sometimes, when the weather was clear and it wasn't so hot you thought you were baking, Iraq seemed like the most beautiful place in the world. It seemed huge, with wide open spaces that stretched into forever. When you got away from the rivers it was mostly desert, especially as you went north from Baghdad. You could ride for mile after endless mile and then come across three camels and a donkey going about their business as if there wasn't any war, or any occupation. Guys would stop to take photos and the Iraqis would wave or just stop and look at us the way we were stopping to look at them. (14.17)
It's funny to imagine that Birdy and his squad were just as much of a weird sight to the Iraqis in the desert as they were to them.
It was still dark when Jonesy woke me, shaking me by the shoulder. I opened my eyes. "What's up?"
"You believe in God?" he asked.
As I sat up I saw he was holding a flashlight in one hand and a small Bible in the other.
"Yeah, I do," I said. (3.17-20)
This is the first clue to Jonesy's religious background. He must have been feeling really anxious if he woke Birdy up to pray.
I felt awkward. It had been years since I last prayed, and I had never prayed with a friend. Jonesy held up his fist and I touched it to mine. (3.22)
So Birdy believes in God, but he hasn't prayed in years. He has beliefs, but isn't super religious.
A small, round Specialist came over and asked if Jonesy and I wanted to join a prayer group.
"I don't think so," I said. "Maybe…" I looked at Jonesy.
"No way," Jonesy said. "I'm a blues man. All we believe in is the blues and hard whiskey." (3.66-68)
Really, Jonesy? Do you really not believe in anything besides the blues? You literally woke Birdy up to pray the night before.
"Yo, Birdy, you know all this part of the world is in the Bible?"
"If you say so." I was on the ground with my gear under my head.
"You go to church back home?" he asked.
"My father's a minister," he said. "But I don't go." (5.221-225)
If Jonesy's father was a minister, he was probably raised religious (enough to know facts about the Bible, at least). We wonder what happened to make him decide to stop going to church.
"I can only tell you what we want to do," Jamil said. "We want to live in peace and worship Allah in peace and walk down the streets in peace. Islam is a religion of peace, true Islam. This sounds simple but it's not. We have Allah in our hearts, but sometimes it's hard to hear the true voice when the stomach is making so much noise." (7.21)
Jamil's reminding the others that peace is a tenet of Islam. But these tenets become complicated when people have other concerns, like hunger or poverty.
I wasn't sure whether the man who lead us around was an imam or something, and didn't want to ask him. Nothing that he was telling us made any sense to me because he was speaking about people who had been in the area or were buried at the mosque centuries before and I couldn't keep up with the names or dates. (8.52)
Birdy knows the old mosque he's touring is sacred, but he doesn't know enough Islamic or world history to really appreciate the tour.
"I don't play so well, but I am Islam, so I win." He reached over and touched each of his friends on the chest. "Islam, Islam, Islam."
"And we aren't Islam so we don't win?" I asked.
Omar touched each of us. "Infidel, infidel, infidel, infidel, infidel, infidel…"
He had to get up and walk around the table to get to me and Pendleton, and he did. (12.51-54)
Omar's being a little intense. He got up to walk around the table just to call every American an infidel. There might be a bit of resentment or anger showing through.
"What was that last bit of conversation?" Coles asked. "When the other guy spoke to you?"
"He wanted to know who my people were, and if they knew I worked for nonbelievers." (14.379-380)
Poor Fadel could get in trouble just for working for people of a different religion, even if he's devoutly religious himself.
"Does anyone know what religion the young man was?" the chaplain asked.
"He was a blues man," Marla answered.
"And an American," Miller added. "A damn good American."
The questions stopped. The service went on. (15.23-26)
Miller was right. It shouldn't matter what Jonesy's religion was. What mattered was that he sacrificed himself in wartime.
Uncle Richie, I'm glad I won't mail this letter to you. Because the hardest thing to say is that I don't know if God and I would recognize each other. Why would He let such crap go on like this? How come there's so much pain in the world if He has anything to say about it? What kind of a God is this? (15.37)
Birdy is grappling with something that fighters and civilians in wars throughout history have wondered: how could God let terrible things happen? It's not an easy question to answer.
I liked Jonesy even though I wasn't sure what he was talking about sometimes. Like when he asked me if I was a hero type.
"No," I answered.
"You tall—how tall are you?"
"Six foot two."
"A lot of tall dudes are hero types," Jonesy said. "You go crazy trying to watch their backs. You know what I mean?"
"Yeah, but I'm not the hero type," I said. (1.62-67)
Jonesy doesn't want to watch the back of someone who keeps throwing himself in harm's way. Can't really blame him. That's what he seems to mean by "hero-type"—someone who puts himself in danger.
"Those people, the Kurds, laying on the ground, they didn't have a chance. We got the chance. We got to do a gut check and see if we got the will to win."
I didn't know if I had the same will to win as the guy from the 3rd. What I did know was that I wanted to do my part. (2.35-36)
Birdy's a little more humble than the guy from the 3rd. We're not sure that's a bad thing. No one person can win the war—"doing your part" is more like the day-to-day of being in the army.
Then I realized that it was the noise, the constant booming, that just filled my guts with a trembling sensation. I knew if I heard the boom I was safe because whatever had exploded hadn't hit me. But it was the idea that at any moment it could be all over, that I could be dead or lying in the sand twisting in agony, that filled me with a terror that I hadn't known before. Terror. It wasn't just being scared. It was a feeling that was taking me over. I knew it but I hoped no one else saw it. (5.107)
Even though it's normal to be so afraid, Birdy doesn't want anyone to see that he's feeling that way. Above all things, he wants to seem brave.
No, Mama, I'm not the brave type. Not over here where the booming goes through you, where explosions in the distance shake your whole body. It's hard to be brave when you can stumble across a world of hurt around any corner, where dying becomes so casual you don't even notice it sitting next to you. (7.49)
When Birdy's mother called him the "brave type," she's thinking about him enlisting because he wanted to help other people. But there's a difference between the bravery it takes to join the army and actually being in the middle of war. Birdy definitely doesn't think he has the second type.
At first I felt a little bit ashamed at how scared seeing the bodies makes me, but I notice that everyone in First Squad stops talking when we come on that kind of scene. We do it in public, but this is a private war. (8.9)
At least Birdy's not alone. He knows the others are affected by the bodies too, even if they don't say anything. Maybe that's what he means by "private war."
"Birdy, you look nervous," Marla said. I was half lying, half sitting on a dark couch that looked as if it might have been a place where the patients waited to be seen.
"When the rest of the world is nervous," I said, "you can bet that I'm still cool."
"Oh, you sound so brave!" Marla said. (14.107-109)
Birdy was just thinking about the machine gun sounds outside the hospital, so you know he's lying. He's just trying to impress the ladies.
Then I saw it. A marine was carrying the upper part of a body—I could tell it was an American's by the uniform—to another vehicle. They were producing the body bags from somewhere and in minutes the dead marines were off the street. (8.62)
The Marines display an amazing kind of courage: braving possible sniper fire to preserve the bodies of their dead comrades. Birdy can only gape in amazement and try not to throw up.
After a while I saw a flicker of lights ahead in the darkness. Torches. I thought I could see figures. I felt my testicles shrivel.
"I think they know we're coming," I said. (14.351-352)
This calls back to Jonesy's earlier comment that his testicles were talking when he wanted to pray. Birdy's the opposite of courageous here. He's totally freaked out.
We were getting into the vehicles when we heard another sound. It was one of the children. He was crying.
"One of them is hurt!" Miller.
"Leave him!" Coles.
I could see the child. It was the blind boy, his hands up in front of him, pushing against the darkness. Then I saw a figure—it was Jonesy—running toward him. (14.432-435)
Now this is courage—rushing into danger, thinking only of someone else. Jonesy probably shouldn't have worried so much about Birdy being a hero type.
Mama said that I shouldn't be the hero type. I don't know. Maybe you have to be a hero type to deal with the bigger things that happen to you. At least you have to be bigger than life to fit all the things inside that you didn't know you could absorb before. (15.51)
By now (the end of the book), Birdy has a different idea of what heroism is. It's about being "bigger than life," taking things you wouldn't think you'd be able to take. Seems like he thinks he's a hero, too.
I kept my eyes away from the house we had searched. Over and over I told myself that the kid had used the rocket launcher, that he tried to kill Americans. Maybe even had already killed Americans, and he was the enemy. In a way I was cool with that. In my head I could deal with his being dead. But it had all happened so quickly. One moment he was alive and he was scared, as I was scared with him and for him. And then he was dead. (5.19)
Birdy is trying to justify the army shooting the kid in his head, but he can't manage to do it. Seeing the kid die was too hard to use logic about it.
I wanted to talk to him so bad. There wasn't anything special I wanted to say, just that I thought what he wanted for me was okay. Maybe that I loved him. I took out my pen and started to write a note to myself to tell my parents that I loved them. It was BS. The part about reminding myself. (5.121)
Not only does Birdy feel awful about disappointing his dad, he feels guilty for not telling his parents he loves them enough. His mind is having a total guilt-fest.
I don't know how much money we gave them. It looked like a couple of thousand dollars. I didn't feel good about it. Everything the Iraqis were saying was right. We couldn't buy an end to their grieving, or an end to their missing their kids. (6.90)
Birdy's guilt for being a part of the unit that gave Iraqis money for killing their kids is pretty understandable. Money can't bring the kids back.
"You know, Miller, I bet those guys flying that mission that day are as sorry about what happened as you are," Coles said. "Nobody wants to kill innocent people."
"I don't think so either." Miller pushed a strand of hair away from her face. "But we learn to let ourselves off the hook pretty fast when we do, don't we?" (6.97-98)
Both Miller and Coles have a point. Neither of them believes the Air Force was happy about accidentally bombing civilians, but Miller thinks they justify it too easily when lives are being lost.
Seeing the wounded kids made me feel like crap. This wasn't what the whole thing was supposed to be about. It wasn't what I wanted in my life, but I knew I didn't have a choice. (6.225)
Birdy has no control in this war. He has to do whatever he's assigned. Even if what he sees makes him question everything about what he's signed up for.
Captain Miller asked again if there was anything we could do and Halima asked if we had any toothpaste. We didn't but Miller said we would get her some.
"Since the bombing began, it's become such a luxury to brush your teeth," Halima said. "I feel guilty just thinking about it. (9.91-92)
It's a guilt circle in Halima's house. Miller feels guilty and inadequate in apologizing for the loss of villager's lives. Halima feels guilty asking for basic necessities amid the grief of the village.
It all looked good on paper, but I knew that Miller would have trouble with it. I was beginning to see where she was coming from. She didn't have easy answers, but she didn't need them. (9.107)
Birdy feels guilty about Coles' report that Halima's people could be considered enemies. It's true that they were planning to shoot at Americans, but the situation is more complicated than enemies and allies. Was having the truck carrying their men bombed in front of all the village children really justified?
But I felt good as we undressed and fell across the bed. I hadn't been shot at, and the First Squad had found the detonators. Maybe we had even saved some lives. But then I started thinking about the Iraqi women, one crying and one rocking the baby. I remembered how bad I had felt for them, only to find out that they were in a family that probably would have killed me if they had the chance. (10.109)
The relationship setting for this war is always "it's complicated." Birdy had felt guilty for interrupting people's lives, when they were hiding detonators that would kill Americans. Even knowing that doesn't completely take the guilt away.
Later, as I lay in the darkness, I thought about Pendleton's two little girls. How he had talked about sending them to college. I hadn't even looked at their pictures when he was showing them around. Oh, God, why hadn't I looked at the pictures? (12.182)
It probably didn't mean too much to Pendleton that Birdy didn't look at the pictures. But now that Birdy feels guilty that he's alive and Pendleton isn't, that one incident means a lot to him.
The leg looked different, raw and ugly, as if it was something other than a leg. I was ashamed of the fact that it hurt so much and that I could still feel the pain when Jonesy couldn't. (15.11)
You don't need to look up survivor's guilt—this is it. Birdy's leg wound is no little scratch, but all he can think about is how Jonesy should be alive.
I had hoped Marla would come over, but she sat with some women from a PSYOP unit. What they did was work on the minds of the enemy. Sometimes they dropped leaflets, sometimes they did nasty little propaganda things, like spreading rumors about the enemy's officers. They spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the enemy was thinking. (3.65)
Talk about manipulation. There's a whole unit of the army dedicated to affecting how the enemy thinks.
"If he said he was scared out of his mind he wouldn't get on television," Marla said.
"If they stick a camera in my face I'm going to say the same thing that marine said," Jonesy said.
"I ain't never been on television before!" (4.8-9)
Marla's right that the American news is invested in showing brave soldiers, not necessarily honest soldiers. Soldiers who admit that they're scared might make the American public a little uncomfortable.
"You think the bombs are hitting anybody?" Marla said. "I don't see any bodies laying around."
That was true. They were still talking about shock and awe and how many bombs were falling around Baghdad but they weren't showing any casualties. I didn't want to see any, either. (4.11-12)
The news footage of Baghdad being bombed show only the explosions from far-off, no sights of actual bodies. Do you think they purposely chose to show it this way?
The president said that our mission has been accomplished. But there are still guys getting killed, and Captain Miller said they were only counting guys who died on the spot.
"A lot of them are being rotated back to Germany or the States and might not make it down the road," she said. "And nobody's talking about the wounds over here. Blast wounds are terrible." (8.2-3)
The media picture of America's success in the war is far from the full one. Keeping the death count as low as possible makes the American side look good.
The coalition forces had won the hot war and the newscasts kept telling us that we were in the stabilizing and rebuilding phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but the situation was getting hairy. I couldn't understand what the Iraqis were about, or what they really wanted. The television coverage showed interviews with them, always men and usually, according to Jamil, Kurds, talking about how glad they were that Saddam Hussein was overthrown. It was Jonesy who had the question we all wanted to ask.
"If all the Racks are so happy with that we are doing over here, who the hell is shooting at us and laying out all the IEDs?" he asked. (11.28-29)
Good question, Jonesy. The news is broadcasting to people like Jonesy, who think of the Iraqi people as one single group. Jamil, an Iraqi, knows they're only showing the opinion of a small part of the population.
"I just wondered if they knew how many people are getting wounded here," Coles said. "I don't see any of that in the news at night."
"That's because we're still in a war zone," the chaplain answered. "Do we really want to broadcast everything we know?" (12.69-70)
The reasons for showing media propaganda are pretty complicated. Anything that Americans see, the enemy also can access. And it's helpful to have the enemy to think the American side is doing just fine.
"Stock footage," one of the cameramen said. "They have huge vaults of this kind of stuff in case they need it as background for a real story."
"Are you saying this isn't a real war?" Captain Coles asked.
"Not this part of it," the cameraman said. "This is about as real as Little Red Riding Hood." (12.127-129)
The ceremony Birdy and the others are watching is nothing more than the creation of propaganda. The next phase of the war is supposed to be Iraqis taking control of their own country, and the news is trying to show that Americans are that far along.
Earlier that morning we had received word that Saddam's two sons had been killed in a firefight. Reporters were running around shoving mikes into faces and getting the responses they expected. Al Jazeera was trying to spice up their stories with talk about whether the sons' bodies should have been displayed.
"They're tryng to play it down the middle." Evans was sipping from a plastic cup of coffee. "I bet they're coming off a lot different when they talk to the Arabs." (12.183-184)
Al Jazeera is an Arabic news network. Evans is probably right that the way they report on the deaths would be different than the reporting in American news.
What was the right way to report a war? A neat list of names in a hometown newspaper? Maybe your picture in The New York Times?
That was all that mattered. Nothing was ever settled. It was just who was dying and who was coming home. (12.184-185)
Pendleton has just died, and Birdy is coming into his point of view on the war—that it's about survival. Nothing is more important than who dies and who survives.