POVERTY IN WORLD'S RICHEST NATION
I have recently traveled to some of the poorest, most isolated rural areas of the United States, where poverty rates are highest. Peter Dreier ["Poverty in the Suburbs," Sept. 20], and most Americans, would find it difficult to imagine the extent of poverty and the effect it has on children. There are places where children can't read in school because they have no glasses, can't drink the water because it's contaminated and can't get to a doctor because they have no transportation. In parts of Appalachia, less than one-third of adults have graduated from high school and less than 6 percent have a college degree. In New Mexico the per capita annual income in the Navajo Nation is $4,106, and for every 100 Indian children entering kindergarten, only seven will go on to college. With greater investments in programs that focus on literacy and other basic skills, we could help these children become American success stories rather than sad statistics.
MARK K. SHRIVER
Save the Children
CALIFORNIA LEADS THE WAY
Santa Monica, Calif.
I'm glad to hear that state governors have awakened to the threat of globalization [John Nichols, "Global Fights Go Local," Aug. 30/Sept. 6], but the battle was engaged on a far more local level, far sooner. Our City Council passed a resolution against the extension of NAFTA to the Free Trade Area of the Americas more than three years ago. We did so because such globalization treaties put undue pressure on states and localities to remove their standards and laws that protect public health and safety, the environment and workers' rights. As long as Washington, DC, is corporate-controlled territory, it will be up to local government to defend quality-of-life issues.
Mayor pro tem
LETTER FROM A MARINE
I'm the Marine who wrote the August 23 New York Times op-ed "Over Najaf, Fighting for Des Moines," which Naomi Klein cites in her "Lookout" column, titled "Bring Najaf to New York" [Sept. 13]. I respect the right of every person to express their own opinion, but Klein's article has many falsehoods and is misleading to the point that it demands attention.
Klein evokes the stereotypical "baby killer" myth when she states that "every day, children are killed in their homes as US soldiers inflict collective punishment on the holy city; every day, more bodies are disturbed as US Marines stomp through the Valley of Peace cemetery, their boots slipping into graves as they use tombstones for cover." First, children were not killed in their homes by US soldiers; most of the local residents fled town once the hostilities commenced, and we Americans only fire on known enemy positions.
Second, fighting in the cemetery was not something we wanted to do, but after the militia attacked Najaf police stations, they fled to their weapons stockpiles in the cemetery and left us little choice. Every possible measure to minimize damage was taken, including those that put American lives in jeopardy (such as withholding fire because of concerns about the proximity of enemy mortar positions and strongholds close to the Imam Ali Shrine and civilian buildings).
Klein later states, "It's not just that sacred burial sites are being desecrated with fresh blood; it's that Americans appear unaware of the depths of this offense." No one is more aware of the complexities of fighting on the Shiites' holy grounds than this culturally sensitive military I'm serving with in Najaf. Klein said that in my article I "bragged" about knowing "a bit about the caliph, about the five pillars and about Allah." I was not bragging, I was explaining that I, like most of my fellow Marines in Iraq, have studied a little about this country and culture in an attempt to avoid some of the pitfalls novelist Tim O'Brien describes about his time in Vietnam, as you cited--what he described as a "memory of ignorance, and I mean utter ignorance." Klein identifies O'Brien's remorse as "humility" and my honesty as "cockiness," conveniently failing to mention that when briefly describing my limited understanding of the Islamic religion and Iraqi culture, I also stated that "I know that I don't know enough."
My "blithe dismissal" of the enemy as foreign fighters and ex-Baathists was anything but; I should not be so fortunate as to dismiss those who would kill me, nor will I mistake their identity. Klein is apparently well versed in Mahdi Army goals and structure, since she said, "the Mahdi Army that Butler is attacking is made up of Iraqi citizens, not foreigners.... they are enraged that they still lack electricity and sewage treatment despite the billions pledged for reconstruction."
I cannot vouch for the membership criteria to join Sadr's gang, but there are indeed hundreds--if not thousands--of foreign fighters here in Iraq, and in Najaf. The Iranian influence is unmistakable, evident in captured documents and equipment, in communications and personnel. Jihadists from all over this region have flocked to the conflict like moths to a flame. I wish I were wrong on this, but it is the truth.
The "rage" Klein says Sadr's militia feels for Iraq's lack of infrastructure improvement is clearly overshadowed by their desire to kill Americans and use violence to suit their selfish needs and quest for power. In fact, the only reason US reconstruction money has not been more effective is because of groups like the Mahdi militia, which endanger prospective workers, kill civilian contractors and threaten the security of those who wish to help rebuild.
This leads to my next point, which regards Klein's statement that Sadr's followers' "opposition to the occupation represents the overwhelmingly mainstream sentiment in Iraq." This is simply false. From my inside perspective, I believe the vast majority of Iraqis do indeed want Americans to leave their country, but not before we help make it safe and assist them in getting to a sense of peaceful normalcy. An Iraqi soldier I ate lunch next to the other day shook my hand repeatedly after eating, then touched his heart and said, "Thank you" and "May God bless you." This kind individual was no American puppet: He was a hard-working, decent native who is grateful for our country's assistance, is anxious to suppress the terrorist threat here and represents the majority of his people.
In Najaf, most locals blamed the militia for the violence and destruction during the conflict. They are grateful we were fighting the thugs who'd hijacked their town and their shrine, and they wanted the Iraqi government to act sooner and more decisively against Sadr. The Imam Ali Shrine is a major source of income in Najaf. Hotels, shops and restaurants all depend upon the income from those who journey to this sacred location to bury their dead or pay their respects. Sadr hijacked their primary source of income and established illegal checkpoints around the cemetery for the express purpose of intimidating locals and extorting money from grieving Muslims who only wished to bury their dead in peace. Sadr had his clerical status revoked by Grand Ayatollah al-Ha'eri of Iran (his mentor) for his thuggery and disregard for the Koran and for orchestrating the killing of a fellow cleric.
Finally, Klein's comments that Sadr was peaceful until the US military "[fired] on their demonstrations and [bombed] their neighborhoods" is another misleading statement. Klein paints US armed forces as "attackers" and "occupiers" and those trying to kill us as "insurgents" or even "defenders." This is a slap in the face to those of us in uniform. What, specifically, are the militias and criminal elements defending? And what are we attacking? Roadside bombs; kidnapped journalists; weapons caches in schools, hospitals and mosques; mortars in neighborhoods; decapitations of civilian contractors; ambushed construction workers; blown-up police stations; sabotaged oil pipelines and power grids: These are the tools of the "peaceful" forces with whom Klein seems to empathize.
In "Meet the New Jihad," in Time, Michael Ware reports that the Iraqi militants' goal now is "broader than simply forcing the U.S. to leave. They want to transform Iraq into what Afghanistan was in the 1980s: a training ground for young jihadists who will form the next wave of recruits for al-Qaeda and like-minded groups." One of the "jihadists" is asked what he will do if US forces finally pull out of Iraq. His answer: "We will follow them to the U.S."
In her November 25, 2003, Toronto Globe & Mail article about FTAA negotiations in Florida, Klein used the phrase "heavy-handed police and propaganda tactics brought Baghdad to Miami." Now, dismayed at the lack of uproar against the war and its importance to the coming election, Klein talks of bringing Najaf to New York.
Ms. Klein, Sadr's forces butchered scores of Iraqi policemen and their families in a most horrific manner, then left their bodies to rot in the basement of a courthouse. Children were boiled, spouses were roasted with blowtorches and police officers were hacked to death in attempts to derive information and demonstrate the depth of Sadr's will to all who oppose him and his movement. His followers used the sacred cemetery and historic mosque as their bases of military operations, blatantly disregarding the rule of law, the laws of war and the will of their own people. They fired mortars and rocket-propelled grenades repeatedly without regard for homes, businesses or civilians in their line of fire. And during three weeks of fighting, America lost 130 injured, and four soldiers and seven Marines killed in action. As much as you want to believe that we are the bad guys, I promise you that the blood of these eleven brave Americans was not spilled as part of some evil US occupation; it was lost so you can continue to live in peace, free to grumble and dissent.
Please be careful with your mix of fact and fiction as you try to gain the sympathies of your readership. If you understood the true nature and motivations of those we Americans are fighting, you would not clamor to bring Najaf to New York; New Yorkers have suffered enough evils from the hands of radical Muslims. Go to your protests and write your antiwar rhetoric; we will still stand up for you, and many of us will die in the process. We will continue to fight, with peace our ultimate goal. We are privileged to have the honor of doing so, for our desire is to keep Najaf in Najaf.
MAJ. GLEN BUTLER
United States Marine Corps
Naomi Klein replies to this letter in her "Lookout" column in this issue. --The Editors