Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Back to Iraq?: An exchange between 2 Marines in Hawaii with different views

By Lt. Jacob O. Bridge, USMC Best Defense guest correspondent This is a conversation that happened Thursday, Sept. 25. I don’t normally have this kind of conversation with anyone at work because I know that I’ll get nowhere. But this sergeant had been sitting in my office for over 15 minutes complaining about his life ...

Via flickr/torbakhopper
Via flickr/torbakhopper

By Lt. Jacob O. Bridge, USMC

Best Defense guest correspondent

This is a conversation that happened Thursday, Sept. 25. I don’t normally have this kind of conversation with anyone at work because I know that I’ll get nowhere. But this sergeant had been sitting in my office for over 15 minutes complaining about his life to his sergeant friend.

When he started talking so flippantly about going back to war in Iraq I couldn’t take it. I had to challenge him; challenge his views and actually make him answer questions. I didn’t lash out or yell at him, I had an even conversation. I could tell no one had ever done this to him before, and that the cookie-cutter answers he thought would placate me had worked for him in the past. I dug real deep on these and most of his answers were accompanied by uncomfortable shifts and blank stares. I know I probably shouldn’t have gone off the deep end with him, but I think it was as much for his sanity as it was for mine.

Sgt: Can’t wait to go back to Iraq, hell yeah.

Me: Why? Why is that a good thing to go back? Why do you want to go back?

Sgt: Because sir, things are different over there.

Me: What things?

Sgt: Well, there are less rules.

Me: Like what rules?

Sgt: You can kill people, that’s one…

Me: Ok, great, wonderful.

Sgt: And… Well, day five after getting there I got blown up and I pretty much realized that they wanted to kill us all.

Me: But isn’t that what you were there to do? Kill them?

Sgt: Well, not all of them.

Me: Right.

Sgt: So what, sir? Should we just let them behead people on television? And kill innocent people?

Me: Wait. You’ve seen them actually behead someone?

Sgt: Yes sir.

Me: You’ve watched the videos?

Sgt: Yeah.

Me: And you’ve actually seen them cut the heads off?

Sgt: Well they’ve shown the beginning with the sawing and then they cut to the head removed, so…

Me: But you haven’t actually seen them cut anyone’s head off, then?

Sgt: What are you trying to say, sir?

Me: Just that you haven’t seen enough to say one way or the other. You didn’t see it, so you’re really just taking everyone’s word for it. Can’t really make a solid decision off that. 

Sgt: …Well, I don’t want another 9/11 to happen.

Me: Do you even know why 9/11 happened in the first place?

Sgt: Yes sir, al Qaeda.

Me: Right, right. But why did they attack us?

Sgt: Because they hate America….

Me: Ok. But really that comes from the Gulf War in ’92 when we set down in Saudi Arabia to help Kuwait. We angered a lot of Muslims then because we "defiled" Mecca, their holy land, and didn’t really seem to care. Our continued involvement in that region led to the ’93 Trade Center bombing and eventually the 9/11 attacks. You know we funded bin Laden and gave him weapons and training in the ’70s against Russia, right?

Sgt: Yes sir.

Me: So what do you think about us giving arms and aid to Syrian rebels right now?

Sgt: I think it’s stupid, history is cyclical.

Me: I’m glad you said that! History is cyclical. What did we do in 2003?

Sgt: Invade Iraq.

Me: What are we doing now?

Sgt: Invading Iraq.

Me: Right. Did our previous engagement — still ongoing — make anything better over there?

Sgt: Well yeah, we’re liberators.

Me: Liberators? You think we made things better over there?

Sgt: Yes sir.

Me: Who’d we liberate them from, ISIS?

Sgt: No… Saddam Hussein.

Me: Right, but after we got rid of him who showed up? Who took his place? Did things get better over there or worse?

Sgt: [Blank stare]

Me: It’s easy to call ourselves liberators, but our opinion doesn’t really count. I think if we asked an Iraqi civilian we’d probably get a different answer. If they call us liberators, then maybe we are, but their opinion is the one I’m interested in.

Sgt: Maybe.

Me: But now we have ISIS and without the first Iraq War there is no ISIS problem as we’re experiencing it today.

Sgt: So what would you suggest sir? That we do nothing?

Me: I don’t know, but I don’t think bombing is a great idea. It’s one of the most indiscriminate ways to kill people and we almost always kill civilians. We have to rely on intel that we get from the area and hope it’s correct. And there’s no telling if there are any innocents in the area once we actually initiate the attack. The more civilians we kill, the more we legitimize ISIS’s killing of civilians.

Sgt: [stare…]

Me: Radical Islam needs something to push up against, and the West is almost polar opposite to its values. Our involvement in that area has been one of the most useful recruiting tools for radical Islam. The more civilians we kill and the more we destroy their country, the easier it is to recruit for their cause. You’ve seen the Matrix, right?

Sgt: Yes. 

Me: All three?

Sgt: Yeah.

Me: Remember how the stronger Neo got, the stronger Agent Smith got? And how in the end, Neo had to kill himself in order to rid the Matrix of Agent Smith?

Sgt: Yes. 

Me: Because without Neo to balance him out, Agent Smith collapsed in on himself. I think if we were to remove ourselves from this conflict, something similar would happen. I think ISIS wouldn’t really have anything to push so hard against, so they could eventually crumble. I think the surrounding areas wouldn’t put up with their nonsense indefinitely and an Arab solution to the ISIS problem would arise organically.

Sgt: So you think we should do nothing, sir?

Me: I think so, yeah.

Sgt: Well, what if they come here?

Me: Who, ISIS? 

Sgt: Yes sir.

Me: Are you really worried about ISIS attacking the United States? The most isolated world power, incredibly difficult to attack let alone invade, hasn’t been attacked by a sovereign nation in centuries…You’re worried about ISIS attacking us?

Sgt: Well, yes sir. Some people just want to watch the world burn.

Me: What, like the Joker? You think there are purely evil people out there who just want to destroy the world with no real purpose?

Sgt: Yes sir.

Me: Come on man, that’s ridiculous. It sounds like sensationalism to me. I think Ebola is a much bigger threat to the world than ISIS, it certainly has the potential to spread more than that shit does.

Sgt: Yeah…

Me: Look, I’m not mad or angry, and I’m not trying to say this is bad or good. I just want to get you to think more about what you’re actually saying. Like just playing off that going to war is a good thing for A or B reason and not actually considering what that means. I think that you sell a little bit of your humanity by talking about it like that, taking human lives is a terrible thing to have to do. I know you’re better than that. Alright… I’m stepping down off the high horse.

Conversation ends. 

Jacob Bridge is a first lieutenant at the Marine Corps’ Combat Logistics Battalion 3. He graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a bachelor’s degree in international affairs. He filed for conscientious objector status earlier this summer.  This article represents his own personal views, which are not necessarily those of the Marine Corps or the Department of Defense.

By Lt. Jacob O. Bridge, USMC

Best Defense guest correspondent

This is a conversation that happened Thursday, Sept. 25. I don’t normally have this kind of conversation with anyone at work because I know that I’ll get nowhere. But this sergeant had been sitting in my office for over 15 minutes complaining about his life to his sergeant friend.

When he started talking so flippantly about going back to war in Iraq I couldn’t take it. I had to challenge him; challenge his views and actually make him answer questions. I didn’t lash out or yell at him, I had an even conversation. I could tell no one had ever done this to him before, and that the cookie-cutter answers he thought would placate me had worked for him in the past. I dug real deep on these and most of his answers were accompanied by uncomfortable shifts and blank stares. I know I probably shouldn’t have gone off the deep end with him, but I think it was as much for his sanity as it was for mine.

Sgt: Can’t wait to go back to Iraq, hell yeah.

Me: Why? Why is that a good thing to go back? Why do you want to go back?

Sgt: Because sir, things are different over there.

Me: What things?

Sgt: Well, there are less rules.

Me: Like what rules?

Sgt: You can kill people, that’s one…

Me: Ok, great, wonderful.

Sgt: And… Well, day five after getting there I got blown up and I pretty much realized that they wanted to kill us all.

Me: But isn’t that what you were there to do? Kill them?

Sgt: Well, not all of them.

Me: Right.

Sgt: So what, sir? Should we just let them behead people on television? And kill innocent people?

Me: Wait. You’ve seen them actually behead someone?

Sgt: Yes sir.

Me: You’ve watched the videos?

Sgt: Yeah.

Me: And you’ve actually seen them cut the heads off?

Sgt: Well they’ve shown the beginning with the sawing and then they cut to the head removed, so…

Me: But you haven’t actually seen them cut anyone’s head off, then?

Sgt: What are you trying to say, sir?

Me: Just that you haven’t seen enough to say one way or the other. You didn’t see it, so you’re really just taking everyone’s word for it. Can’t really make a solid decision off that. 

Sgt: …Well, I don’t want another 9/11 to happen.

Me: Do you even know why 9/11 happened in the first place?

Sgt: Yes sir, al Qaeda.

Me: Right, right. But why did they attack us?

Sgt: Because they hate America….

Me: Ok. But really that comes from the Gulf War in ’92 when we set down in Saudi Arabia to help Kuwait. We angered a lot of Muslims then because we "defiled" Mecca, their holy land, and didn’t really seem to care. Our continued involvement in that region led to the ’93 Trade Center bombing and eventually the 9/11 attacks. You know we funded bin Laden and gave him weapons and training in the ’70s against Russia, right?

Sgt: Yes sir.

Me: So what do you think about us giving arms and aid to Syrian rebels right now?

Sgt: I think it’s stupid, history is cyclical.

Me: I’m glad you said that! History is cyclical. What did we do in 2003?

Sgt: Invade Iraq.

Me: What are we doing now?

Sgt: Invading Iraq.

Me: Right. Did our previous engagement — still ongoing — make anything better over there?

Sgt: Well yeah, we’re liberators.

Me: Liberators? You think we made things better over there?

Sgt: Yes sir.

Me: Who’d we liberate them from, ISIS?

Sgt: No… Saddam Hussein.

Me: Right, but after we got rid of him who showed up? Who took his place? Did things get better over there or worse?

Sgt: [Blank stare]

Me: It’s easy to call ourselves liberators, but our opinion doesn’t really count. I think if we asked an Iraqi civilian we’d probably get a different answer. If they call us liberators, then maybe we are, but their opinion is the one I’m interested in.

Sgt: Maybe.

Me: But now we have ISIS and without the first Iraq War there is no ISIS problem as we’re experiencing it today.

Sgt: So what would you suggest sir? That we do nothing?

Me: I don’t know, but I don’t think bombing is a great idea. It’s one of the most indiscriminate ways to kill people and we almost always kill civilians. We have to rely on intel that we get from the area and hope it’s correct. And there’s no telling if there are any innocents in the area once we actually initiate the attack. The more civilians we kill, the more we legitimize ISIS’s killing of civilians.

Sgt: [stare…]

Me: Radical Islam needs something to push up against, and the West is almost polar opposite to its values. Our involvement in that area has been one of the most useful recruiting tools for radical Islam. The more civilians we kill and the more we destroy their country, the easier it is to recruit for their cause. You’ve seen the Matrix, right?

Sgt: Yes. 

Me: All three?

Sgt: Yeah.

Me: Remember how the stronger Neo got, the stronger Agent Smith got? And how in the end, Neo had to kill himself in order to rid the Matrix of Agent Smith?

Sgt: Yes. 

Me: Because without Neo to balance him out, Agent Smith collapsed in on himself. I think if we were to remove ourselves from this conflict, something similar would happen. I think ISIS wouldn’t really have anything to push so hard against, so they could eventually crumble. I think the surrounding areas wouldn’t put up with their nonsense indefinitely and an Arab solution to the ISIS problem would arise organically.

Sgt: So you think we should do nothing, sir?

Me: I think so, yeah.

Sgt: Well, what if they come here?

Me: Who, ISIS? 

Sgt: Yes sir.

Me: Are you really worried about ISIS attacking the United States? The most isolated world power, incredibly difficult to attack let alone invade, hasn’t been attacked by a sovereign nation in centuries…You’re worried about ISIS attacking us?

Sgt: Well, yes sir. Some people just want to watch the world burn.

Me: What, like the Joker? You think there are purely evil people out there who just want to destroy the world with no real purpose?

Sgt: Yes sir.

Me: Come on man, that’s ridiculous. It sounds like sensationalism to me. I think Ebola is a much bigger threat to the world than ISIS, it certainly has the potential to spread more than that shit does.

Sgt: Yeah…

Me: Look, I’m not mad or angry, and I’m not trying to say this is bad or good. I just want to get you to think more about what you’re actually saying. Like just playing off that going to war is a good thing for A or B reason and not actually considering what that means. I think that you sell a little bit of your humanity by talking about it like that, taking human lives is a terrible thing to have to do. I know you’re better than that. Alright… I’m stepping down off the high horse.

Conversation ends. 

Jacob Bridge is a first lieutenant at the Marine Corps’ Combat Logistics Battalion 3. He graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a bachelor’s degree in international affairs. He filed for conscientious objector status earlier this summer.  This article represents his own personal views, which are not necessarily those of the Marine Corps or the Department of Defense.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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