Combs Spouts Off

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Posts Tagged ‘soldiers’

Thanksgiving greetings from Iraq

Posted by Richard on November 28, 2008

Bill at Castle Argghh! reported on his Thanksgiving Day in Iraq (don't mind the acronyms and jargon; that's typical military-speak) and passed along a message from the locals:

I stopped to chat with two of the Kurdish kaydets in Class 70. One's best bud is a Sunni and the other has a pal who's Shi'a.

As I was walking to the DFAC, I stopped to exchange pleasantries with a couple of the Turkish Ell-Tees who are here as Liaison Officers — the pilots of the Iraqi 3rd Squadron had invited them to be their guests at lunch.

Walking into the DFAC, I yakked with some troops from the Kurdish Army who'd been invited to have lunch by the MITT working one of the outlying FOBs. The whole group sat with a couple of the Nigerian construction workers operating the cranes that hoist the steel sheeting that a local builder is using to erect the new IqAF Flight School complex.

Every Iraqi soldier I saw this morning wished me a Happy Thanksgiving.

I'd like to pass those wishes along to you guys..

You know, that's heartening on so many levels.

BTW, Castle Argghh! is a fellow member of the Army team raising funds for Project Valour-IT. Have you clicked the banner in the left sidebar and donated a few bucks to this wonderful cause yet? The Army team has extended its lead over Navy to $10,000 now, so we're home free. But the severely wounded soldiers waiting for this technology assistance to aid them with their recovery and independence still need more help.

If you'd rather donate via another service team or directly, that's OK too. But please give. You can donate directly here

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Thank a wounded vet this Thanksgiving

Posted by Richard on November 27, 2008

If you're a regular reader, you've seen my earlier posts (here and here) about this year's Project Valour-IT fundraiser. It's a friendly competition among teams of bloggers representing the different service branches to see which team can raise the most funds for this wonderful cause. 

In honor of my late father, Col. Samuel R. Combs, I'm a member of the Army team (the second blogger to sign up, in fact). The good news is that, after falling well behind Navy for a time, the Army team has now taken a commanding lead of more than $8,000. The bad news is that the total raised by all teams is only a little over $72,000. 

This fine project needs — and deserves — more to continue its valuable work. Let's see if we can't push the total to $100,000 this Thanksgiving (the last day of the competition). Please express your thanks to our severely wounded veterans by clicking the banner in the left sidebar and making a contribution.

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Another Project Valour-IT update

Posted by Richard on November 20, 2008

Have you clicked the Project Valour-IT contribution banner in the left sidebar and donated a few bucks to this worthy cause? Please do! The Navy team is still in the lead in this friendly inter-service competition, but the Army team has closed the gap and only trails by $2,000.

With your help, Army can regain the lead — and help lots of severely wounded troops in the process. Please contribute right now. You can use PayPal or a credit card, it only takes a minute, and it can make a big difference for someone who's given a lot for our country. Thanks!

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Project Valour-IT competition update

Posted by Richard on November 15, 2008

I noted yesterday that the Navy team was "coming on strong," and I was right. They've surged into the lead. The Army team is still solidly in second place, far ahead of the also-ran services. With your help, Army can regain the lead — and help lots of severely wounded troops in the process. 

If you've served in the Army, or have a friend or relative who's serving or has served, or if you just like the Army uniforms or recruitment ads — click the Project Valour-IT contribution banner in the left sidebar and donate a few bucks! It's a great cause, and you'll feel good for being part of it. I promise.

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Please help Project Valour-IT

Posted by Richard on November 13, 2008

One of the many fine projects of Soldiers' Angels is Project Valour-IT. It provides voice-activated/adaptive laptop computers to troops recovering from hand and other severe injuries. To date, it's provided over 2700 laptops, and recently expanded its program to offer other technology items that aid injured troops with their recovery and independence.

DoD caseworkers and Soldiers' Angels representatives at many military medical centers continue to identify patients in need of such support. But the cupboard is about empty. Project Valour-IT desperately needs funds to continue its fine work. 

To help raise the much-needed funds, a number of bloggers are engaged in a friendly competition. We sign up for the team representing the service branch of our choice, and compete to be the team that raises the most money. Once again, I've joined the Army team in memory of my dad, the late Col. Samuel R. Combs, who "answered his country's call even before the phone rang."

Please click the Project Valour-IT banner on the left and contribute to the project via the Army team. The competition runs through Thanksgiving. Right now, we're far in the lead, having raised almost as much as the other service branches combined. But Navy is coming on strong, and as I recall, they edged us out at the end last year. So please add a few bucks to the Army total by clicking that contribution banner right now.

Donating is quick, easy, and painless, and even if you can only spare five or ten bucks, you can help to really make a difference for men and women who've suffered a lot defending our freedom and safety.

Thank you.

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Veterans Day salute

Posted by Richard on November 11, 2008

 soldier saluting flag

To those who have served, and to those who serve today:

Thank you

It Is The Soldier

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

Charles Michael Province, U.S. Army

Copyright Charles M. Province, 1970, 2005

Papa, I love you and miss you. And I'm grateful.

On this Veterans Day, please make a contribution to an organization (or two or three!) that supports veterans or active-duty military personnel. Such as Project Valour-IT to help severely wounded soldiers. Please click on the Make a Donation button at the top of the left sidebar and help me help the Army team in this friendly inter-service rivalry for a good cause. The competition runs through Thanksgiving.

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How the troops celebrated in Iraq

Posted by Richard on July 4, 2008

Speaking of patriotism, our troops in harm's way know the meaning of true patriotism and the significance of Independence Day. Bob Krumm has a marvelous report and video of an Independence Day ceremony in Iraq:

BAGHDAD – How are you spending your 4th of July holiday? While most Americans probably slept, 1,215 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines raised their right hands and committed to a combined 5,500 years of additional service during the largest reenlistment ceremony in the history of the American military. Beneath a large American flag which dwarfed even the enormous chandelier that Saddam Hussein had built for the Al Faw Palace, members of all services, representing all 50 states took the oath administered by Gen. David Petraeus, Commander of Multi-National Forces Iraq.

Among those in attendance were service members from the more than two dozen Allies serving with MNF-I. Along with their American counterparts, each appeared in awe of the sacrifice of these incredible men and women. Each of the reenlistees knows full well the costs of war, and yet, they chose to stand with their units, their mission, and each other. It was as humbling an experience as I have ever witnessed. On this 4th of July, while you celebrate around grills and coolers all across America, keep in mind the 1,215 who allow us that privilege.

Thanks to Bob for a great Independence Day present (and to Instapundit for the pointer).

I'll be quite surprised if this story makes it onto any of the broadcast networks' evening newscasts. Here's Bob's video (1:23):

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Sadr City — a journalist responds

Posted by Richard on June 15, 2008

My brief post about Sadr City on Friday drew a long comment from Fox News reporter Anita McNaught, who has been reporting from there recently. Since it's an important report from on the ground in Iraq that might be missed as a comment, and since I have (as usual) some things to say in response, I'm posting it here, along with my reply. Here is her comment:

You know.. sometimes I get really exasperated with bloggers who feed off limited intakes of media reports and construct their own realities off the basis of how they interpret something like a photograph.

First of all, your assertion that 'mainstream media' has not been in Sadr City is flat wrong.

I am a reporter with Fox News. I have already filed 2 reports from Sadr City examining the situation there – one at the end of May and the other in early June. We were the first TV crew to embed with the Iraqi Army and go beyond the US-controlled area to see what was going on there.

I have just got back from another 4 days in Sadr City, and am about to put together 3 more stories on the issues there.

The person with the camera on the left of that photo is, I believe, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal who was arriving as we left in early June.

This picture was shot in the US-controlled area of Sadr City. This part of the densely packed conurbation of more than 2 million people represents only about a quarter of the total area, and less than a quarter of its population. It is the most affluent part of the city, and a place where the Mehdi army extorted local businesses for million of dollars in cash every month in a violent protection racket. It has a population of business people whose priority is to get their businesses up and running as soon as possible.

Any kind of new military force maintaining a semblance of order allows them to do that.

Let me tell you what the situation is like there. Parts of the area (as you could see) are a complete bombed-out mess.. The US military are doing what they can about this, with compensation payments and grants of cash. Although Mehdi Army fighters probably caused most of the damage you are looking at, the locals still blame the US for the bulk of it.. because after all, if the US had not gone after them, their shops would still be standing.

And the security cordon the US has put up is causing many local complaints because they say it's keeping customers out.

This is perverse, and probably from an outsider's point of view unfair.. but it's the reality.

Are people happy to see the US military? Yes – up to a point. Kids are ALWAYS happy to see soldiers these days. The soldiers love them. They play ball with them, and give them lollipops, and ruffle their hair.. Kids steal their pens and ask them for money and footballs. They both kid around with each other. That's been the case in Iraq from the outset. Do their parents feel the same way? Who knows? People in Iraq survive by being nice to the person with the most power at any given moment in time.

So what about the Jaish Al Mehdi?

We spent a lot of time on the street, over the course of 4 trips in, talking to locals about how they felt. And most of them are far too scared about the ongoing presence of J.A.M. fighters to even tell you. JAM spies are everywhere, even in the US-controlled districts.

We can't go anywhere as reporters without 20-plus soldiers armed to the teeth and extremely vigilant. Twice last week the military escort to the US State Department working in Sadr City with local politicians was fired on by snipers. We dare not take off our helmets or body armour.

There was a place I wanted to go to film – in the US-controlled area of Sadr City – yesterday but was not allowed to because it was deemed too great a risk to me and my crew.

And there's the rest of Sadr City where the US isn't 'allowed' to go because of the terms of the Iranian-negotiated truce.. and where the Iraqi Army have not ventured either, except for token forays to say: "We're here! – (sort of)".

Has JAM been dealt to? Has it received the 'fatal blow'? No way. It's accepted universally that they are going to try to stage some kind of a come-back.. that they are waiting for a lessening of vigilance or a reduction of troop presence on either the US or Iraqi side, or both, to raise their heads again and try to re-establish control.

The only thing that will keep them at bay is if the local population stop backing them. But for decades, the Sadr Movement has been the only consistent support the people of Sadr City have had. With good reason, they don't trust anyone else. And the militia men are the 'devil they know'.

The media here is not 'hiding' a 'victory' from the US public. Things have in places all over Iraq demonstrably improved from how they were a year ago. But in many of those places it's on a knife edge. That knife edge COULD be a 'turning point'. I hope history will show it's a turning point.

But for any responsible journalist who sees what it's like on the ground, there are simply too many variables – very nasty variables – at play here.

There are plenty of conspiracy theories out there about what's 'really' happening in Iraq. But there is not some kind of 'liberal plot' to deny US citizens the facts.

It's a lovely photo. Like any photo, it doesn't tell the whole story.

First off,  Anita, thank you very, very much for sharing your on-the-spot perspective with me and my modest readership. I really appreciate it.

I admit I often paint with a broad brush. "Spouting off" — especially late at night after adult beverages — frequently leads to that. And of course, all generalizations are wrong. 🙂 I should have said there haven't been many reports instead of any. Your name sounded familiar, so I did a quick search and found a transcript of your June 10 story on Brit Hume's show. I'm sorry I missed that. Gen. Qureshi and Maj. Rider sound like interesting people, and it's a good story.

Frankly, I don't watch Fox News as much as I probably should. Maybe my timing is just bad, but most of the time when I tune in, it's either the latest missing coed, another murdered spouse, this week's Trial of the Century, or Democratic and Republican spinmeisters talking over the top of each other and quickly getting on my nerves.

I read the local papers and watch the local late news, and their Iraq coverage is mostly wire service reports. Online, I look at the NYTimes, WaPo, FoxNews, MSNBC, etc. But again, except for the first two, most of the stories are from AP, AFP, and Reuters (and most of those rely in part or in whole on local stringers whose objectivity and objectives are very much in question). In general, I don't see nuanced, balanced assessments. But I do see far, far, far fewer reports than in the past when the situation in Iraq was worse.

Case in point: In late March and early April, I saw a constant flood of stories about Operation Knight's Charge, and they were unrelentingly negative — "Basra Assault Exposed U.S., Iraqi Limits," "Assault on Basra Backfires," "Defeated Maliki Accepts Cease-Fire," "Sadr digs in as Basra attack falters," "Maliki Blinks," and my favorite, Time magazine's analysis of "How Moqtada al-Sadr Won in Basra." I don't remember even one of those stories (which generally built up al-Sadr and how he "stood up to" Maliki and the U.S.) mentioning that Mookie was in hiding in Iran the whole time.

To get a different perspective (and analyses that are much more knowledgable about military matters), I read Strategy Page, The Long War Journal, IraqStatusReport, etc. Dafydd and Sachi at Big Lizards (shield your eyes; the banner is blinding) performed yeoman service with a series of in-depth analyses (on March 27, March 28 , March 29, March 30, March 31, April 2, April 9, and a wrap-up on April 30) of the Basra and Sadr City operations, the negative MSM reports, and the very different assessments from alternative sources like Bill Roggio. Looking back now, it's clear that Dafydd and the sources on which he relied had the story far more correct from the beginning than, in particular, the AP and NYTimes.

As it became increasingly clear that the Maliki government and U.S. were achieving important political as well as military goals, that al-Sadr was being seriously weakened and marginalized, and that Operation Knight's Charge was not the defeat and embarrassment that media reports had prematurely declared, I saw fewer and fewer stories about how it was going. And the AP, as Dafydd pointed out in his April 30 post, decided that the best way to characterize the successes of April was to emphasize an increase in U.S. casualties.

Now, some of the lack of interest in success may be the natural tendency of the media to focus on disasters, tragedies, etc. And please understand that my criticism is not directed at you and your fellow journalists in Iraq. I realize that you're almost certainly correct to point out that this hasn't been an unqualified or final "victory." And I realize that reporters there are continuing to risk their lives and file stories all the time, but that the decisions about what to print or broadcast are in the hands of their editors and producers. I only see what passes through the filters, and only a fraction of that.

Nevertheless, the pattern of trumpeting bad news and downplaying or ignoring good news seems very clear to me (and very consistent over time). So I'll continue following the work of independent journalists like Michael Yon, Bill Ardolino, and Bill Roggio. They've been there too, they have military experience that informs their reporting, and they've been fair and balanced, as best I can tell — quite critical of our efforts when that's how they saw it. When their version of events contradicts that of some Iraqi AP stringers with unknown backgrounds and agendas (some of whom have clearly filed bogus stories and photos in the past), I know who I'm more inclined to trust.

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No news from Sadr City — I wonder why

Posted by Richard on June 14, 2008

Remember Sadr City, the Shi'ite suburb of Baghdad? That's the place where, according to mainstream media reports earlier this spring, American and Iraqi Army forces were being handed a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of the all-powerful Mahdi Army, proving that the surge was a failure and the insurgent militias were in control.

There haven't been any mainstream media reports from Sadr City in a while (or from the other "Mahdi stronghold," Basra, which is now firmly in the hands of the Iraqi government). Gateway Pundit posted this U.S. Army photo that makes the reason for the MSM's sudden disinterest pretty clear:

US Troops Celebrated In Sadr City

A U.S. Army Soldier gets a lift from an Iraqi boy and his mule on Route Douglas in the Jamilla Market in the Sadr City district of Baghdad, June 9, 2008. (U.S. Army photo by Tech. Sgt. Cohen A. Young, MNF-Iraq)

Really– What more can you say?
US Soldiers- Smiling children- Safe Streets- Sadr City


(HT: Doug Ross, who thinks this may be the "photo o' the year," and wondered "when Reid and the rest of the Democrats will issue a formal apology to the U.S. military.")

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Our hero dead

Posted by Richard on May 26, 2008

"Flags In" for Memorial Day, Arlington National Cemetary. Photo from Isaac Wankerl (
The grave of his father, Maj. Max W. Wankerl, is in the foreground.


Memorial Day

by Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959)

The finest tribute we can pay
Unto our hero dead to-day,
Is not a rose wreath, white and red,
In memory of the blood they shed;
It is to stand beside each mound,
Each couch of consecrated ground,
And pledge ourselves as warriors true
Unto the work they died to do.

Into God's valleys where they lie
At rest, beneath the open sky,
Triumphant now o'er every foe,
As living tributes let us go.
No wreath of rose or immortelles
Or spoken word or tolling bells
Will do to-day, unless we give
Our pledge that liberty shall live.

Our hearts must be the roses red
We place above our hero dead;
To-day beside their graves we must
Renew allegiance to their trust;
Must bare our heads and humbly say
We hold the Flag as dear as they,
And stand, as once they stood, to die
To keep the Stars and Stripes on high.

The finest tribute we can pay
Unto our hero dead to-day
Is not of speech or roses red,
But living, throbbing hearts instead,
That shall renew the pledge they sealed
With death upon the battlefield:
That freedom's flag shall bear no stain
And free men wear no tyrant's chain.


Today, please remember those who died "that liberty shall live." And if you have friends or relatives — or maybe an elderly neighbor down the street — who are veterans, thank them now. Don't wait until they have a marker over their head. 

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Olbermann unhinged

Posted by Richard on May 15, 2008

In a rant so over the top that he seemed to be channeling Howard Beal, Keith Olbermann on Wednesday night accused President Bush of creating "cold-blooded killers … who may yet be charged someday with war crimes" and who have "laid waste to Iraq." Of course, this was on MSNBC, so almost no one saw it.
(text | text with commentary | video)

They're lapping it up at Democratic Underground, Huffington Post, Pandagon, Crooks and Liars, etc.

But don't you dare say they don't support the troops.

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Veterans Day salute

Posted by Richard on November 11, 2007

 soldier saluting flag

To those who have served, and to those who serve today:

Thank you

It Is The Soldier

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

Charles Michael Province, U.S. Army

Copyright Charles M. Province, 1970, 2005

Papa, I love you and miss you. And I'm grateful.

This would be a good day to contribute to Project Valour-IT to help severely wounded soldiers. Please click on the Make a Donation button at the top of the left sidebar and help me help the Army team in this friendly rivalry for a good cause. Scroll down or click to this post for more information.

(Yes, this is the same photo and poem and thanks to my dad that I posted last Veterans Day. You got a problem with that?)

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Support Valour-IT

Posted by Richard on November 9, 2007

As I get older, I find that time keeps moving faster, and sometimes I let things sneak up on me. Take, for instance, Veterans Day. And the annual Project Valour-IT fundraiser leading up to it.

Project Valour-IT (Voice Activated Laptops for OUR Injured Troops) is a project of the wonderful Soldiers' Angels Foundation. The money raised provides laptop computers with voice-control software for Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines with severe injuries — typically hand and arm injuries or amputations. Many of the laptops become part of "loaner libraries" at the major military medical centers, while others are provided to wounded heroes on a permanent basis. So far, over 1500 laptops have been distributed. More are needed. To learn more about the project, go here.

The annual fundraising event is a friendly competition among teams of bloggers representing the service branches to see who can raise the most money for this wonderful cause. I'm (belatedly) joining the Army team again this year, in honor of my late father, Col. Samuel R. Combs, United States Army Signal Corps, who passed away August 16, 2006, at the age of 89, and who the Rocky Mountain News described as epitomizing the Greatest Generation. (“He answered his country’s call even before the phone rang” is a phrase I shall always treasure. Thank you again, Bob Denerstein.)

Donations of any size are tax deductible and greatly appreciated. Please do me the honor of donating through my humble blog by clicking the button below (or in the left sidebar). I’ve kicked in $100. Give what you can — it's dead simple, whether you use a PayPal account or a credit card. Thanks for helping! 

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How FISA protected al Qaeda kidnappers

Posted by Richard on October 17, 2007

Apparently, it's a very small world when it comes to telecommunications. Two people having a cell phone conversation in Iraq are likely to have that call routed through American telecom infrastructure, where it could be intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies. But under the old FISA law (which the Democrats are trying to restore and further tighten this week), they'd need a warrant. It could be granted retroactively, but first someone has to stick their neck out and grant emergency permission based on the belief that the warrant will later be approved. Think bureaucrats and political appointees are eager to do that?

The problem isn't entirely theoretical, according to a New York Post story. On May 12, while the strict FISA rules were still in effect, al Qaeda gunmen in Iraq attacked a U.S. outpost, killing four soldiers and taking three others — Spc. Alex Jimenez, Pfc. Byron Fouty, and Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr. — hostage. The subsequent frantic search led to information possibly identifying the kidnappers. U.S. intelligence agents asked for permission to intercept communications that might lead to the kidnappers and their captives:

Starting at 10 a.m. on May 15, according to a timeline provided to Congress by the director of national intelligence, lawyers for the National Security Agency met and determined that special approval from the attorney general would be required first.

For an excruciating nine hours and 38 minutes, searchers in Iraq waited as U.S. lawyers discussed legal issues and hammered out the "probable cause" necessary for the attorney general to grant such "emergency" permission.

Finally, approval was granted and, at 7:38 that night, surveillance began.

"The intelligence community was forced to abandon our soldiers because of the law," a senior congressional staffer with access to the classified case told The Post.

"How many lawyers does it take to rescue our soldiers?" he asked. "It should be zero."

Democrats supporting the tightening of FISA denounced the release of the story as a cynical attempt to politicize the search for the soldiers. Fox News has a fair and balanced presentation of both sides, along with a detailed timeline. The Democrats' House Intelligence Committee staff argued that it shouldn't have taken NSA lawyers five hours to determine that they had probable cause, and it wouldn't have been necessary to track down Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in Texas if three other Justice Dept. officials authorized to approve the request had been available.

Granted, five hours seems like a long time for lawyers to hem and haw over probable cause. But consider the climate. These people knew there was an ongoing surveillance firestorm, complete with leaks to the New York Times, congressional hearings, lawsuits, endless political posturing, and threats of legal action. If you were an NSA attorney, how quickly would you stick your neck out and say, "I recommend going ahead, and I guarantee the FISA court will retroactively approve"? If you were Gonzales or one of the assistant AGs, wouldn't you carefully review the material presented to you before authorizing the intercept, knowing it could land you in front of a hostile committee with the news cameras rolling?  

The Democrats' argument amounts to saying that the restrictions wouldn't have been a problem if the officials involved had just acted without regard for the possible consequences — the consequences that those same Democrats have done their best to hang over the officials' heads.

It's nice that Democrats are so concerned about our privacy now, considering how hard they worked to undermine it for umpteen years (remember Carnivore, "key escrow" encryption, "Know Your Customer," and John Effin' Kerry's repeated attempts to further destroy financial privacy?). But do we have to protect the privacy of what amounts to battlefield communications by our enemies during a war? 

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An exceptional young citizen

Posted by Richard on October 9, 2007

Every so often, I link to something I think is truly special and encourage you, dear reader, to go read it. Never have I done so with the intensity, urgency, and depth of feeling with which I ask you to please, please read Christopher Hitchens' November Vanity Fair article, "A Death in the Family":

I was having an oppressively normal morning a few months ago, flicking through the banality of quotidian e-mail traffic, when I idly clicked on a message from a friend headed "Seen This?" The attached item turned out to be a very well-written story by Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times. It described the death, in Mosul, Iraq, of a young soldier from Irvine, California, named Mark Jennings Daily, and the unusual degree of emotion that his community was undergoing as a consequence. The emotion derived from a very moving statement that the boy had left behind, stating his reasons for having become a volunteer and bravely facing the prospect that his words might have to be read posthumously. In a way, the story was almost too perfect: this handsome lad had been born on the Fourth of July, was a registered Democrat and self-described agnostic, a U.C.L.A. honors graduate, and during his college days had fairly decided reservations about the war in Iraq. I read on, and actually printed the story out, and was turning a page when I saw the following:

"Somewhere along the way, he changed his mind. His family says there was no epiphany. Writings by author and columnist Christopher Hitchens on the moral case for war deeply influenced him … "

I don't exaggerate by much when I say that I froze. I certainly felt a very deep pang of cold dismay. I had just returned from a visit to Iraq with my own son (who is 23, as was young Mr. Daily) and had found myself in a deeply pessimistic frame of mind about the war. Was it possible that I had helped persuade someone I had never met to place himself in the path of an I.E.D.? …

… I feverishly clicked on all the links from the article and found myself on Lieutenant Daily's MySpace site, where his statement "Why I Joined" was posted. The site also immediately kicked into a skirling noise of Irish revolutionary pugnacity: a song from the Dropkick Murphys album Warrior's Code. And there, at the top of the page, was a link to a passage from one of my articles, in which I poured scorn on those who were neutral about the battle for Iraq … I don't remember ever feeling, in every allowable sense of the word, quite so hollow.

I writhed around in my chair for a bit and decided that I ought to call Ms. Watanabe, who could not have been nicer. She anticipated the question I was too tongue-tied to ask: Would the Daily family-those whose "house lay wrecked"-be contactable? "They'd actually like to hear from you." She kindly gave me the e-mail address and the home number.

I don't intend to make a parade of my own feelings here, but I expect you will believe me when I tell you that I e-mailed first. For one thing, I didn't want to choose a bad time to ring. For another, and as I wrote to his parents, I was quite prepared for them to resent me. So let me introduce you to one of the most generous and decent families in the United States, and allow me to tell you something of their experience.

I promise you that reading the rest — both Hitchens' fine prose and the wonderful passages he quotes from Mark's statement and letters — will be well worth your time. Just have some tissues handy. It's both profoundly sad and joyously uplifting. I feel better just knowing that people like Mark Daily and his family exist.

I'll quote one more passage, this one from Hitchens' recounting of the day that Mark's ashes were scattered:

I became a trifle choked up after that, but everybody else also managed to speak, often reading poems of their own composition, and as the day ebbed in a blaze of glory over the ocean, I thought, Well, here we are to perform the last honors for a warrior and hero, and there are no hysterical ululations, no shrieks for revenge, no insults hurled at the enemy, no firing into the air or bogus hysterics. Instead, an honest, brave, modest family is doing its private best. I hope no fanatical fool could ever mistake this for weakness. It is, instead, a very particular kind of strength. If America can spontaneously produce young men like Mark, and occasions like this one, it has a real homeland security instead of a bureaucratic one. To borrow some words of George Orwell's when he first saw revolutionary Barcelona, "I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for." 


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