Saturday, December 01, 2007

Introduction to the revised edition of my book, Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: Helpful Tips for Touring Today's Middle East (available at

Part 1: Return to Iraq:

I am revising this book in order to include new stories about Iraq that I wrote when I returned there this fall. I hope that you will find them informative and interesting -- or at least a good read. And I also wanted to incorporate some of my reflections on a summer spent in South Africa, where I got to see how the people there are trying really hard to cope with the aftermath of years of repression and violence.

The first time I went to Iraq in April of 2007, I stayed mainly in the Green Zone, ostensibly the safest place in the country -- but even there, I barely missed getting blown up while visiting a session of Parliament. And seeing all those Parliamentarians covered with blood was an experience that helped convince me that the Iraq "war" was un-winnable and that the U.S. needed to leave Iraq ASAP, if for no other reason than that we Americans needed to minimize our moral and financial bankruptcy while we still could.

Because I took this anti-war position on Iraq, critics on the Right called me a traitor and unpatriotic, and the State Department did their best to keep me from entering the Red Zone while I was there and to keep me from returning to Iraq once I got home.

In the fall of 2007, however, I did return to Iraq. And, to my great surprise, I discovered that recent developments in Anbar province were actually sort of positive and showed definite signs of hope for a peaceful future in Iraq.

But when I came back to America from this last trip and wrote about some of the positive things that were happening in that region, this time I got yelled at by both the Right and the Left.

The right-wingers hated me for still wanting to see George Bush in jail. "I am surprised they let you back in the country considering all of your verbiage regarding my country and my President," one right-wing non-fan wrote. "If you don't like it here, then you can just leave." Shades of Vietnam!

The left-wingers hated me because, by approving of what the Marines were doing in Anbar province, I appeared to support the slaughter of innocents in Iraq.

Like that's ever going to happen.

I'm sorry, guys, but I can only report on what I saw and, from what I saw in Anbar province, local Iraqis are successfully using the Marines to keep the peace. And this is a good thing. Do we really want Iraqis to keep on dying just to see Bush fail? No. It's okay to have good things happen in Anbar – and still want to see Bush and Cheney in jail.

I just received the following e-mail from a Marine friend in Anbar province that better expresses what I have been trying to say. "Jane," he wrote, "I think that most Americans have made up their minds about what is happening here and I find it fascinating that you are getting views there that are polar opposites. As you mentioned, the right wing folks are always quick to say that we are winning and we are doing good things across the board and that this is the right war at the right time, but do so blindly and not fully realizing that the situation is far more complicated than Marines riding into Iraqi towns under flags unfurled and showered with flowers and accolades, which is the picture they often portray." Yes, I've been hearing that version too.

"The left wing views are no more accurate, however," continued my friend, "showing us as vicious occupiers fighting an illegal war. The reality, as you found, lies somewhere in the middle. I do hope you get the opportunity to get back out to Baghdad, however. That place is a world unto itself. If the future of the country rests on what happens in Baghdad, Iraq has a long way to go." Yes, I am up for returning to see other parts of Iraq. I do need to report on the whole picture, not just the Green Zone and the Miracle of Anbar. But first, give me a month or so to recover from the last trip. Being 65 years old and keeping up with the Marines and the sheiks was a whole bunch of work!

I also just received an e-mail from an Army platoon leader stationed in Baghdad who gave me a brief 411 on what's happening in his part of town. "The situation in our neighborhood has improved," he wrote me, "although my platoon did get a hand grenade thrown at us yesterday. One of my soldiers got a concussion, but no one was seriously injured -- very lucky to say the least. In any event, the underlying corruption and twisted web of power brokering in each neighborhood in Baghdad is a problem I am not sure we will resolve any time soon. The days continue to surprise me here, despite the hold we thought we had on the area. If it is not one thing, it's another...."

If it's not one thing, it's another? I can't deny that! So it looks like this intrepid reporter still needs to go back to Iraq and report on places like Baghdad and Basra and Mosul -- the hotspots where things are still falling apart and there is still a "war". I also need to report on other parts of the Middle East such as Afghanistan and Pakistan and Gaza. Why not? I've already bought my flak jacket so I might as well get some use out of it. And I'd also like to go to Darfur and the “Democratic” Republic of Congo and Burma and.... But that's a whole other book and I gotta win the lottery first in order to finance all this stuff! But before I can attempt to do any of this, I need to recover from jet lag first and to be home in Berkeley for the birth of my new grandchild on January 1.

Part 2: Reflections on the meaning of all this:

This book describes the wonders of ancient Egypt, the holiness of Bethlehem and Mecca and the aftermath of the "war" in Afghanistan and Iraq, thus covering over 4,000 years of the human race's struggle to evolve into something more meaningful than just another species of animal motivated by blood-lust and need.

Has mankind evolved at all since the pyramids were built? I like to think that we have. And, in my travels, I have seen many examples of individual kindness and creativity and true efforts toward civilized behavior on every side. But, in the end, I truly cannot say that our leaders today are any more enlightened or any less blood-thirsty and greedy than our caveman ancestors were. The only difference between then and now seems to be that today's weapons technology has evolved -- and that our current leaders have learned to tell better lies.

Let's hope that in the next few years, months and days now left to us that the human race will finally wise up and start behaving itself. We're not in kindergarten any more. And we don't have much more time to screw around.

If mankind had spent even one half of its current weapons budget on education instead of on guns and bombs, almost every 22-year-old in the world might be graduating from college this June. What a waste.

And as for the Middle East, you gotta give it snaps for at least one thing. It is almost solely responsible for creating the world's first two trillionaires -- Cheney and Bush!

And as for the people who live in the Middle East today, what your lives all seem to boil down to at this point is that you were born in a place that has oil. Thank goodness that my home in Berkeley is not similarly blessed!