Fish swimming the wrong way

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I can’t be the only person who is uncomfortable with the premise behind Spirit of America. But I looked around, and see nothing but universal approval of this organization.

Look at the premise behind this organization–it fills requests submitted by service people. This sounds good, true. But it also sounds like a lot of propaganda, and not just in Iraq.

When you consider that one of the largest ‘requests’ met was to provide TV gear so that the people of Iraq could have access to ‘unbiased’ news, doesn’t this give you the slightest pause?

Current TV news in Iraq often carries negative, highly-biased accounts of the U.S. presence. Unanswered, its effect is to stoke resentment and encourage conflict. The Marines seek to ensure the Iraqi people have access to better, more balanced information. By equipping local television stations and providing the ability to generate news and programming, the Marines will create a viable news alternative – one owned and operated by local Iraqi citizens.

The donated equipment will be the property of the Iraqi stations. The stations can create their own news and choose their own programming with the agreement that they will prohibit airing of anti-coalition messages that incite the local population. The stations also agree to sell airtime at a fair market price so that the Marines can communicate their information efficiently and quickly when needed.

For example, images were recently broadcast of a mosque in Fallujah damaged during fighting. With these stations the Marines could have provided the full picture by airing video of combatants firing on them from the mosque grounds. These stations would have enabled Iraqis to understand the complete picture. News of reconstruction projects and humanitarian assistance that balances the news of conflict will also be provided on these stations. The stations will be free to criticize the Coalition.

I read this and did not get a warm and fuzzy. Do you all read this, and get a warm and fuzzy?

There are the heart touching stories of dental kits for kids and frisbees and lots of pictures of really cute kids, and I can see how questioning this would be tantamount to, well, kicking kittens, but read the following:

“The amount of poverty and desperation after the Hussein regime is legion. Hopefully kids will grow up in this free Iraq because we were here. Kids just love to hear you talk and sing and know that you care about them. We will help them again in the future.”

“It is not yet safe for non-military humanitarian organizations operate in Iraq as they can in other nations. Therefore, in many cases, it falls to the American military in the region to provide that extra relief to help the people recover. Kirkuk is “home” to the 507 AEG at Kirkuk AB.”

I think it’s great these soldiers want to help…but I can’t help thinking an Iraq safe enough for non-military organizations, much less the people, themselves, has to be a priority. For instance, these schools discussed–which ones will allow girls, and how safe will it be for the girls to attend? Just something that came to mind when I read the description.

Spirit of America just seems like so much dripping patriotism, like butter on hot pancakes. More of a way to feel good about ourselves then to really make a meaningful difference in Iraq.


I don’t mean to ignore the other excellent comments in this list–regardless of whether they are in agreement or not–but did want to specifically address one that has been on my mind tonight. Dave Rogers asked:

Now, all that being said, I could be wrong. There may some aspect of this idea that I haven’t thought of that makes it a totally bad idea. I’m not sure what that would be, but if someone makes a convincing case for why this is a bad idea, then I would certainly actively oppose it.

That pushed me into looking more closely about why I disliked Sprit of America, enough to actively write against it. Is it because it’s rather saturated with patriotism? Or that the effort is more for the people of this country then the Iraqi? These are both valid concerns, but not enough to explain my own strong reaction.

I was about to go to bed, and it hit me: because it’s a lie. It’s a nice lie, and a patriotic lie, but it’s a lie.

The Spirit group says that the effort is to help the Iraqi people, but we know just from the discussion here and elsewhere related to the first deliverable of television equipment that most of the effort is being directed at creating a positive image of America in Iraq. This isn’t bad–but that’s not the ostensible reason given for this action. So the very premise is based on a lie.

However, that’s not important. What is important is: is it a good lie? Does great good come of Spirit of America regardless of the inherent truth behind it? After all, kids get toys, and people get tools. These are good things.

True–but I can see harm coming from these actions; how we perceive these acts won’t be the same as how others, including the people in Iraq, will perceive these acts.

If this catches on and ends up in the media, which I’m sure it will, and Iraq and the Middle East see us patting ourselves on the back for sending a bunch of frisbees to the country, after we had just been exposed for harming and humiliating prisoners, what will their reaction be?

We send television stations after closing down those run locally, but tell the people that they can still run their own programs. Is this not a lie? Is there not a caveat that says they can’t incite the local populace, and they have to allow the Marines to run ‘ads’? Leads one to wonder: why would Marines need to run ads? And what do they mean by ‘incite’ the local populace? Perhaps by showing photos of the prisoners being humilated? This incited a fair number of people in this country – I imagine that they were a tad pissed in Iraq.

Our own hypocrisy must come into play as we compare ourselves the people of Iraq and pride ourselves on how much more in control we are. We have heard in this list how incitement of the people here is so different from incitement of the people there. After all, when they get angry in Iraq, they kill.

Well, guess what boys and girls: our history is littered with people getting angry and killing in this country. Last time I looked, more Iraqi have died because we got angry over two towers being destroyed in New York, then Americans have died because Iraqi are angry at us.

We talk about training the people in Iraq and giving them tools, as if they are children and have no skills or craft themselves. Have we totally forgotten that civilization started in that country? Are we so blind to the fact that they are college educated, and skilled, and connected, and they don’t need our patronage? They need peace.

Do we continue sending a message to the world that we in this country think of the Iraqi as slow intellect children with poor impulse control who need our help? Seeing us in this arrogant light, I don’t particularly much like America, either.

Will you send me a frisbee to change my mind?

They don’t need our tools. They need our damn respect. Can we wrap that in a red, white, and blue ribbon and send it?

Jeff Jarvis wrote:

This is important work on so many levels: As Dan says, no matter what you think about the war, we have a human obligation to help the Iraqi people. But it is also enlightened self-interest: If we can help the Iraqis build their nation and their democracy and if we can connect with them on a personal level – if, to be blunt, we can demonstrate that Americans are not ugly – then we create a foothold for democracy, freedom, modernity, civilization, and just friendship in the Middle East.

…then we create a foothold for democracy, freedom, modernity, civilization, and just friendship in the Middle East… Sorry, but that’s not respect.

I am reminded of the movie Pollyanna, and the fine, wealthy ladies of the community and their acts of charity to the poorer people of the town. In the movie this was exposed as a false act, because there was no respect given as part of the gift.

I have no doubts that there are a lot of good people involved with Spirit of America–people who really want to help out in Iraq. And I respect that and them: for their generosity and their wanting to do something to help. I have not given them the credit they deserve, and for that, I was remiss, and apologize.

And I agree that if the soldiers want to help then they should be given the means to help–by providing security for those organizations equipped to help properly.

If we truly care about the people of Iraq, then we ask our service people to do their job: with courtesy to the people, and kindness, and friendliness. However, these service people don’t need toys, they need training. They need to be rotated out when they’re tired, and they need to stop being lied to about when they’re coming home. Above all they need to realize they have to respect these people, because Iraq is their home, not ours.

In addition, we need to fire every person in command who encourages our service people to humiliate the people of that country. Starting at the top…which is us. We can’t buy our way out of embarrassment.

If we want to contribute goods or services, then there are several good organizations that will help in the area, including Doctors without Borders–but without a patriotic price tag attached. We need to encourage the UN to work with the US and Iraq and other Middle East countries to ensure these organizations can work without fear. And then we need to contribute to help keep them going. They’re experienced in providing lasting help;all we are is a bunch of bloggers with too much patriotic bunting on our hands, and perhaps a little too much ‘go with the flow’ good vibes leading us hither and yon. And yes, genuine interest in helping.

We have to realize that no matter what we do, the Iraqi people are not going to suddenly like us overnight. We have tromped rather heavily in their country, and we haven’t been on our best behavior since. Perhaps over time, if we follow through on our commitments, and we start thinking of the people with respect, they might begin to at least learn to tolerate us; maybe someday, they’ll grow to like us.

We also have to realize that a few trinkets may have bought us an island in the past, but they aren’t going to buy us love, now.

I feel with this writing that I have joined the ranks of those speaking with utmost surety. Can’t you hear my fist pounding on the table? Where’s my box? Believe me, though, when I say that I fully realize my take on this could be completely, and absolutely wrong.

Perhaps this struggle will be overcome with a frisbee. Wouln’t that be nice, if that’s all it took?

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