Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mind of Mansel: JR & I in Iraq, Parts 3 & 4

JR and I in Iraq - part 3

Dodge city, that's what the Marine's called the area we were in. One marine, so young he shaved once or at least twice a week whether he needed it or not had already killed three people. When I asked whether or not they were insurgents or civilians he just answered, "Well, one was shooting back and the others weren't, but screw'em man. I say arm yourself, shit we're MWA bitch, Marines with attitude!" Raised on MTV this white marine was born in Tennessee and had served a tour in the KKK while still in high school he told me before I even asked where he was from. When I asked him how he liked serving alongside other Marines he laughed and spit at the burning sand.

"You want to know what I think about all these highly esteemed people of color? They're all marines ain't they?" Then he laughed and patted his weapon and slapped it down to his side and saluted me and added, "You think nobody fragged anybody since Vietnam?"

How bad an epidemic racial strife between soldiers serving in Iraq was we might never know. Jack had secured an interview with a Major and was coming back across the camp and looked worried. As he walked he looked around, his head looking this way and that the way someone does before they tell you a secret or avoid someone they do not want to see. In the soundtrack in my head I instantly heard "Peace Frog" by the Doors. I don't know why these things always occur to me but they do. I remember a time in Chicago when I was covering a story on the heated talks betwen labor and management and War's "Spill That Wine" hit me all of a sudden and within minutes violence broke out and I spent the night in a jail cell fighting for my life.

Jack got over to me and his voice was quiet which was unlike him in so many ways. "This Major I went to talk to just got a call about an ambush of civilians. They were targeted by security forces." I looked around now because I wanted to be the first to get there and because the security forces always have friends serving in just about every platoon in Iraq and many after their tour is up will join private security to cash in.

I asked Jack, "How do we get there?"

Jack replied, "That's just it, the guy that called him while I was sitting there is his brother, and his nephew was in charge of the group that opened fire. I just got out of the office before the crazy bastard could call a corporal to detain me."

I looked around and as far as I could see were Marines with weapons at the ready, well trained and loyal to their commanding officer, the chain of command. I stood to scout a method of transportation, a friendly ride to anywhere other than where we were and saw the Marine from Tennessee. I turned to Jack and looked back at the racist marine and I thought I might have a plan. Shit it worked in Hollywood.


Author's Note: (Before beginning to write this next installment I see this excerpt from the New York Times, and I am constantly reminded that the ugliest of man often occurs to me and as I see through their eyes it makes me want to close mine. I had no idea of this report before I wrote about the racist Marine but I am not surprised as human nature often tends to lean toward that line from Apocalypse Now that quotes Abraham Lincoln, you know the one, "Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature and good does not always triumph." I don't see any good in this, after all where can there be good in starting out to shoot someone because of thier skin color?)

"Lance Corporal Woods is black. He smoked in the darkness and said it has been a topic of conversation in his unit, Mobile Assault Platoon Five. "Valdez and me talked about that," he said. "He's Hispanic. He said, 'Man, I'm going to paint my skin darker, man.' That's what he said. And the next day he got shot."

"I hate this place," he said..."Out here, it really makes you love your country. I love my country, man. I love my country. I didn't hate my country before, man. But I had some problems with it."

"The United States of America," he said. "That sounds like heaven right now."

C.J. Chivers, "Marine Unit and Iraqis Fend Off Attacks and Boredom," NY Times, 7 December 2006.

JR and I in Iraq - part 4

Jack and I came up with a plan. Racists are notoriously patriotic, reference most of America's history, governmental and citizenry for evidence of this, and certianly ignorant, so Jack approached the marine from Tennessee playing the role of a C.I.A. agent.

Jack approached the racist marine who was kicking at the sand and aiming his weapon at the horizon.

"Hey, you hear about that American got shot in Fallujah yesterday?"

The marine looked around and then looked Jack up and down. He didn't take but a second or two to size up Jack. "Yeah, terrible shot that guy, took'em two."

Jack laughed, "Yeah well, what are you gonna do, poor training."

They both laughed and Jack shot me a worried and disgusted look.

Jack went on, "Say, John Russell, C.I.A., in country to take care of some loose ends. Not saying we need some help but always looking for some willing participants, those who can be covert and keep their goddamn mouth shut. It's below the radar of course." Then Jack snatched the weapon from the racist marine's hands so fast he told me later it scared even him, "So, you got the balls to pull the trigger without caring where the rounds land or are you just another weekend faggot here till your wife fucks the whole town back home?"

The racist Marine stood up and drew a knife and said, "I'm an American, ever since 9/11 I wanted to do what was necessary for my country to fight terrorism!"

Jack didn't break a sweat and went back after him, throwing the weapon to the ground, "Since 9/11? What were you doing before that? Working in a conveinence store and cheating on your mother? Real American? Shit!"

The racist Marine was livid now and was ready to open fire on anyone. Jack knew he was ready and in less than five minutes.

Jack said, "Ok,you're what we need. What we need right now is a humvee. Think you can get one here and I mean now Marine?"

The Marine flashed a shit-eating grin, "Before you know it!."

- Chris Mansel

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mind of Mansel: JR & I in Iraq

Jack Random and I in Iraq - part 1

Jack Random and I burst into Iraq like a widow at a train station all out of quarters for the condom machine for that last ride to New Jersey for the High school reunion. The White House press office kept offering us our own poppy fields in the hills of Afghanistan if we just wouldn't go to Iraq. After breaking the story of Karl Rove and the Washington sex trade they would do anything to keep us away from the story. We were determined and even thought to go thru the wilds of Pakistan but why muddle in with the retreat of the Taliban, we end up in their clutches soon enough we were wagering.

Anyway, we hit the Iraq oil fields to the sight of an american truck broke down. Roadside bombs it was said weren't going off near the oil fields anymore since it was common knowledge the americans would be out of the country in force by the end of 2007. The George Baker plan had just hit amazon.com and all of Beirut we had read over the wires had ordered a copy and soon all of Iraq would be reading it through the black market. Once again Ed Meese would be popular among those who killed for pleasure.

The drivers of the two trucks both U.S. military soldiers were cursing at the four Iraqi members of the police who had driven by earlier and had took off quickly and laughed at the two of them stranded. One of the soldiers wanted to go off and shoot the Iraqi police and the other had for weeks left on the most recent one year tour in country. When we asked them about the term "boots on the ground" they responded with as much hate and vigor as they had when we asked about the Iraqi police.

"Boots on the ground, goddamn! I tell you what the boots on the ground think about this f-cking war, there's too much blood, too much Iraqi blood and too much american blood, and not enough old blue blood from any red states!" The soldier kicked the front of the truck violently and looked back at us quickly, "Just why are you here anyway? I don't see no boots on the ground here between you two."

We reassued the two soldiers that we wanted to report an honest portrayal of what was going on in Iraq. The other soldier who had remained quiet for most of the time spoke up, "Let me tell you something. We were on a patrol about a month ago maybe two. A roadside bomb goes off and these Iraqi troops start firing at one another, ripping each other apart and we have to mop it up. How long have we been here and we are getting killed every day. Sometimes I just want to start shooting and I don't honestly give a shit what I hit."

Jack Random and I In Iraq - part 2

How many screams did you hear until you knew they were coming from someone you could identify as someone other than yourself? That's a question you need to ask yourself when you have spent any time in a war zone.

Here we were in a war zone and as soon as we arrived we noticed that the poppy had followed here from the shores of america, from the rocky cliffs of Afghanistan. We investigated the cities amidts the sound of automatic gunfire and saw parents in the desert grip of drug addiction dealing with the unthinkable loss of three children in one day. We saw one child get his legs torn apart as visiting dignitaries bid farewell to the high security fences of Halliburton's white table cloths on CNN and its high rise bleachers. The grimace of Donald Rumsfeld quoting the words real or imagined from a wounded soldier at Walter Reed hospital.

In the days of slavery the crowd were treated to question and answer sessions between the seller and the slave. The slave was usually being judged by the crowd as to their build or visual strength so the Q&A were usually for the delight of the crowd and so in Iraq are the questions to Iraqi civilians as weapons are put in their faces by privately hired security, militia anywhere else in the world, or if you like insurgents in Iraq if it were not for the tax form they can produce given six months notice. We ran into these thugs several times and had our lives threatened until we lied and said we were with some government agency we made up on the spot. This never ceased to amazed us as it always pumped them up more in their blood lust and obscene patriotism for the red in the flag.

On american television the obsession is with crime scene investigation and forensics. There are no investigations to speak of in a war zone, especially not in Iraq. For instance, if you wanted to dig a mass grave and hide it with any education it wouldn't be too difficult, after all it is a desert region. This can work to the benefit of both sides in any war. Body counts make for headlines a soldier said once, just draw a line straight to the head, and you'll usually find more than one.

- Chris Mansel