Febuary 23, 2007


Farewell to Private Ryan

By Humberto Caspa, Ph.D

The war acquires a quite different meaning when someone has a loved one in the line of fire, fighting against enemy combatants, such as Shiite and Sunni insurgents, or members of the Al Qaeda terrorist group. These family members’ insights –not the most or least coherent opinions— are very special to us because they come from a subjective rather than an objective view.

That’s why, today, I write this column from the world of subjectivity; that is from the bottom of my heart.

In March, a young man, who I have seen growing up since he was a little boy, is going to the Iraq War. His name is Ryan (family name is kept in private). He told me that he isn’t among those new 21,500 conscripts who are expected to join the over 130,000 soldiers already installed in Iraq.

Ryan was scheduled to go to Iraq last year, but his name has been taken out of the list for reasons that he doesn’t know. However, his departure is a reality now. In a few weeks, he will be wearing camouflaged khaki pants, a full-metal jacket, and a bullet-proof helmet. Perhaps he will be riding on a Humvee, carrying on heavy ammunition in his backpack, and an automatic rifle.

Before its time to go, private Ryan is making a last trip to his native home in Springfield, Missouri, where his family awaits his arrival and grieves his departure to Iraq. I am sure that all of them, despite their own opinion about the war, will be showing their support to Ryan in a mission he has never asked to be included in. “I go there because I follow the orders of my superiors,” he said.

To my knowledge, Ryan isn’t the first one in his family to enlist in one of the U.S. military institutions. He has a sister and cousins in the navy. His uncle Bob (Robert), who now rests in peace, joined the marines in Camp Pendleton, San Diego, where Ryan is stationed today.

However, none of them engaged in direct military combat. Ryan won’t be the first one to do it either. His grandfather, Stanley, defended the U.S. flag and fought bravely during World War II.

The objective of going to war was very clear to Ryan’s grandpa. It was to stop the spread of fascism in Europe and the world. Hitler had successfully invaded Germany’s closest neighbors and was in the process of expanding his regime over the former Soviet Union and Great Britain.

In addition, during that period, people in Europe began to hear the horrors of the Holocaust, where approximately 6 million Jews were exterminated in concentration camps.

Consequently, Stanley’s family, including his wife Georgia, and the whole country always supported his patriotic service in the army.

Ryan, on the contrary, isn’t clear whether the mission he’s been asked to fulfill in Iraq is good enough to pay, perhaps, with his own life.

On the one hand, the American objective in Iraq isn’t very clear. Initially, the Bush Administration repeatedly argued that Saddam Hussein had, or was close to, building weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear warheads. Since nothing was found after the U.S.–led invasion in March 2003, the White House immediately changed the objectives.

Later, President Bush insinuated that a democratic regime could be created in Iraq. The U.S. government spent billions of dollars to meet such demands. Scholars and administrators left the country for Iraq to build a democratic regime. National elections were held in the midst of violent explosions, and while Al Qaeda fighters continue to terrorize the country.

In the end, the situation in Iraq today is worse than what it used to be before the invasion. No lethal weapons were found, no democracy exists, there isn’t even the abusive authoritarian regime, which dominated Iraq for so many years and, ironically, protected that country from a fundamentalist movement that plans to turn it into the center of its irrationality.

Regardless how I look at it, Iraq waits for my friend Ryan. He will be there very soon. His family, the American people and, especially, I still continue to look for answers to justify his departure.

My only hope is that he will be able to find it once joining his comrades in Iraq. I wish you the best of luck, Ryan.

Dr. Humberto Caspa, Adjunct Professor at California State University, Long Beach. E-mail: hcletters@yahoo.com

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