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Captain America in the Forever War

American troops in Iraq are near-suicidal. Or maybe they couldnt be happier. It all depends on the flavor of blog you read, I guess. But what I found in my time in Iraq didnt cling to any neat political storyline.sgt_looking.jpgOver three weeks in and around Baghdad this July, I spoke to dozens and dozens of soldiers about their views on the conflict. For the most part, morale among these infantrymen and engineers and bomb-disposers was high. Shockingly high, given the fact that they didnt buy the Bush administrations rationales for the war.Democracy? Here? Are you fucking kidding me? one sergeant laughed, as we drove near the Abu Ghraib prison. This was from a guy from helped safeguard the January round of elections. He figures the place will collapse into civil war as soon as U.S. troops leave.But hes glad hes in Iraq, regardless. Mostly, because of the insurgents.The guerillas in Iraq have been brutal, killing way more innocent bystanders than American occupiers or Iraqi collaborators. While I was in Baghdad, a group of soldiers in a nearby neighborhood were handing out candy to bunch of kids. Until a suicide bomber stepped in, and killed 27.It boggles my mind, how someone can go into a crowd of kids, and kill them all. Ill never understand it. But thats why Im here, said Staff Sgt. Mark Palmer, with the 717th Ordnance Disposal Company, an Army bomb squad. Yeah, its still fun to blow stuff up. But its not the core thing. Figuring out how this shit [the bomb] works. Stopping it from hurting people. Thats the main thing.U.S. troops are highly trained. So theyll do what theyre ordered. But in order to feel good about their mission, they need a cause. They need a bad guy, a villain, so they can play Captain America. The insurgents have been only too happy to step collectively into the role of Dr. Doom.The result is a cycle of attack and reprisal that has nothing to do with WMD or drafting constitutions but can easily drag on for years. Most of the soldiers I spoke with didnt expect the deadly feedback loop to stop any time this decade. Im staying [in the Army] until I retire, which is another ten years, one non-commissioned officer told me. So I figure Ill be back here, what, another five or six times?Most of these GIs were ready to whoop ass, when they first get to Iraq. Theyre part of Americas professional, increasingly-permanent military class. Which means theyve been training for years to go to war with precious few full-out battles to fight. For a solider, this is like the Super Bowl, Captain Greg Hirschey, the 717ths commanding officer, said.But the Super Bowl is only one day long. To keep going for years and years, they need a mission, a reason to stay and fight. Washington isnt providing. The insurgents are.And make no mistake, soldiers are staying. Id say three in four of the GIs I spoke with were planning to reenlist. The new, fat bonuses are one reason, of course. But another is the sense that there are real-life psychopaths out there that need to be stopped. It may sound corny. It may sound dumb. But thats what I saw.THERES MORE: Now, Id be remiss if I didnt throw in a few caveats here. These soldiers we all stationed at Camp Victory, the poshest military base Ive ever seen. Its also one of the safer places would could be in a warzone. Which means better morale. Could soldiers and marines feel differently out in the sticks, where its MREs three times a day and mortars all night? You bet. Also, I was in Iraq in July. Since then, 233 American troops have died over there. That could have been a major morale-changer, too.AND MORE: Chris is embedded with the 2-2 Batallion of the II Marine Expeditionary Force in the Anbar province. Which means you go read his blog, now.AND MORE: Joe Katzman's response is really worth a read.

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