As I wait for my mobilization orders, I am re-publishing the op-ed pieces that I wrote during and after my 2004 tour in Iraq. I began the “American Ranger” blog on December 17, 2006. If you did not see the entries from last month, please check them out.
This is the latest:
TOLERANCE: A LONG JOURNEY AHEAD
Special to the Orlando Sentinel
August 8, 2005
As wars go, World War II was an easy war. I don’t mean it was easy to fight, but it was easy to understand why we were fighting. When one nation attacks another the solution is obvious: Our military forces must defeat their military forces, we must invade their country and we must remove their leaders from power.
With such a crystal-clear goal in mind, it was easy to sell war bonds, ration food and gasoline and instill in the minds of all Americans that each person was a critical component in the struggle for victory. The nation pulled together, civilians and soldiers, and the spirit of America prevailed over ruthless and evil enemies.
After Sept. 11, America seemed reborn in a 1940s brand of patriotism, with a common national goal of bringing to justice those who had slaughtered so many of our fellow citizens. It was clear to virtually all Americans that the “holy warriors” of al-Qaeda and their Taliban protectors in Afghanistan would have to be decisively defeated.
Then came Iraq. Confusing issues like weapons of mass destruction made some Americans question how the war in Iraq became a part of the war on terror. As the initial reasons for invading Iraq became clouded, Americans began to have doubts. As in other post-World War II conflicts, public support has become tenuous as the toll of dead and wounded Americans continues to rise.
The brutal homicides of civilians in the United States, Baghdad, London, Spain, Egypt and other parts of the world have only confirmed that this new war is truly a world war between the civilized nations of good and decent people and an uncivilized, perverted group of killers who believe only in hatred and chaos.
This is a war that must be fought and won on all fronts though real victory will probably only come over decades. Unfortunately, with no nation to conquer, no standing armies to defeat and no front lines to move forward on a map, this epic battle is the ultimate guerrilla war.
The Islamic world is filled with millions of peace-loving citizens. Still, in dark corners of that world, hatred and ignorance have spawned men and women willing to kill themselves as they murder innocent people. Understanding why these terrorists continue to pervert their own religion is the daunting task of both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The fact remains that it must be Muslims who refuse to tolerate this evil in their own ranks and who educate their next generation that it is wrong to commit such horrible deeds in the name of God. They must also teach tolerance, a democratic ideal not overly prevalent in the Muslim world.
I once told a story to a young Muslim in Iraq. Three men – a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian – were walking down a path to a common destination. They reached a forest and, when they could not agree on the same path, each took a separate way. When the forest ended, the paths converged once again and the three walked together to the end.
I tried to explain to my Muslim friend that those of us who believe in God all want to go to heaven but that we have chosen different paths on which to journey through the forest of life. In the end, we should respect the right of each person to choose their own path to that ultimate destination.
Before I left Iraq, the young Muslim and I embraced shook hands. With tears in his eyes, he said he hoped he would be able to see me again. Being a big strong soldier, I did not shed tears but I told him that, if it were God’s will, we would indeed meet again.
Different races, different faiths, different paths in life, but friends nonetheless. It all seems so simple.
SFC Chuck Grist