Monday, September 03, 2007

ON TOUR WITH OLD BLOOD 'N' GUTS. Ralph "Blood 'n' Guts" Peters has been sending dispatches from Iraq to the New York Post, and they are a delight. Here are some of Peters' most recent "I'll-remember-this moments":
Scrawny Iraqi police recruits chattering like excited birds as they marveled at the tattoos on a Marine weightlifter's torso: A flesh-and-blood metaphor for muscular, over-the-top America and our relationship with malnourished, bewildered Iraq.
Here's what our stateside poets miss: the opportunity to make metaphors of scrawny occupied peoples. Kipling might have appreciated the chance, but I expect he would have made more of it.

Peters continues in this expansive vein:
We were standing in Iraq's Atlanta, discussing Sherman. For one of those lightning instants when you grasp something beyond words, we both felt the timelessness of war and soldiering.
The glory that was total war, the grandeur that was Reconstruction. Well, five years after it was taken, Atlanta didn't have reliable electric service either.
Sitting in a plywood-partition office in a combat outpost with an American captain and an Iraqi Provincial Security Forces general as the Iraqi "complied" with the captain's request for three bids from local firms to deliver gravel to a dirt motor pool before the rains began.

Eager to close a deal that wouldn't do his own retirement savings any harm, the general laid down three pieces of paper. They were identical, except that one specified $800 per truckload, a second $750 and a third $700.

It was obvious that the bids were all from the same source and that the drill was simply to do things in the peculiar way Americans expected.
Who says they don't know how democracy works? Wait'll they get internet access. They'll be selling our own weapons back to us.
An old sheik, who had done nicely under Saddam, reminiscing about the days of no-nonsense law and order when he could drive safely on the spur of the moment from Fallujah to Basra. As the polite old man continued telling stories, it became heartbreakingly obvious that much of the post-liberation fighting between Iraqis and Americans had been the result of confounded expectations on both sides.

Living so long under Saddam - and previous stern regimes - men such as the sheik simply couldn't comprehend our rules or assumptions or philosophy, nor did we grasp the accommodations Iraqis had made with the concept of "laws."

We began by shouting past each other, and ended by shooting at each other.
This piqued my interest, till I read on and found Peters was speaking of Americans and Iraqis in general, and not of himself and the polite old man.

Peters closes with a long, funny description of one of Saddam's old palaces, during which he remembers that he hasn't said anything bad about liberals yet. "But maybe we could organize a tour that would take them to a few of Saddam's palaces," he says, "then to see the squalor in which most Iraqis live." I suppose we all have some idea of both pictures, and look forward to the day when both the palaces and the squalor will be eradicated. But I see we are almost done building a new palace in Baghdad, while the Army Corps of Engineers projects that Iraq will get sufficient power services sometime in the next decade. Also, I doubt even Peters could vouch for the security of our tour bus. So I'll pass on the offer, and continue to rely on Peters' dispatches, which are very revealing in their way.

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