I just hosted an Oglethorpe alumnus who is on leave from his second tour in Iraq (the first time as a tank and scout platoon leader, this time as an advisor to the Iraqi National Police). The highlights, from the point of view of a liberally educated soldier:
*It’s hard for him to understand a national debate where virtually no one knows what he’s talking about. Shouldn’t our opinions be informed by knowledge?
*Compared with his first tour, the U.S. soldiers this time are infinitely more sensitive to the culture of the people with whom they are dealing. The picture he paints is of a nuanced and culturally sensitive approach to the iraqis with whom they deal.
*Al Qaeda is being beaten very badly in Iraq.
*The proper war analogy is not Vietnam, but Korea, where a long-term U.S. presence stabilizes a situation and permits the economic and political development. Indeed, he seems to think that economic development (successful small business) is the key to political development in Iraq. (Warner Winborne, what do you think of this?)
*"North Korea," in this analogy, seems to be Iran. He has no doubt but that Iran is at war with us in Iraq.
All in all, I think my students heard a lot of good things from a thoughtful and frank soldier who can’t believe how little his fellow citizens know about and understand what he and his comrades are going through. He says he never sees any American reporters, even though he’s all over the Baghdad area (and spends some time in the Green Zone).
Update: A couple of other observations I didn’t have time to include in the original post:
*He’s beginning to see camera mounts on the Humvees (like those on police cars in the U.S.), presumably so that there will be a better record for assessing what went on in particular situations. And he’d have no problem having all his actions in Iraq videotaped.
*He knows of cases in which insurgent deaths are treated as "civilian" deaths because working weapons are quickly removed from the scene, recycled, so to speak.
Update: One thing we all can do: he says it means a lot to troops in transit through airports when people thank them for their service to their country.