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Americanism in Iraq, &c.

A scene in Kirkuk, Iraq, October 9, 2006 (Samuel Bendet/U.S. Air Force)

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A couple of American officers who had served in Iraq were talking about their time there. And, in particular, their departure. An Iraqi said to one of them, “I can’t believe you came here and didn’t take our oil.” Another Iraqi said, “I can’t believe you’re leaving voluntarily. No invading army ever does that.”

One of the American officers said he had felt like the mayor of a town — responding to the needs of the people, keeping the town together. I saw this with my own eyes on a visit to Iraq: American officers essentially acting as mayors.

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Say what you will about nation-building (and there’s a lot to say). But, after hearing this latest testimony, I got angry all over again, remembering a conversation I had with a prominent German in about 2006. He talked about American servicemen in World War II and after. They had helped the people around them, and formed bonds with them. This, however, was not happening in Iraq — or so said the German. We were betraying our best traditions.

BS. (That is not a bachelor of science degree.)

Oh, one more thing: An officer said, “You know how the press referred to the people who were trying to kill us as ‘insurgents’? We always just called them al-Qaeda.”

My heart went out to the guy at ESPN.com who wrote the headline “Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-stopping Loss to Hornets.” Lin is Chinese or Taiwanese American. The headline-writer was fired. (Story here.)

He felt absolutely sick at heart about the incident. It had not occurred to him that . . . you know, “chink.” I would never have written that headline in a million years. But not everyone is as “sensitive” — i.e., paranoid? — as I am.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, a Republican congressman referred to Senator and Mrs. Obama as “uppity.” Great gasps, all over. The congressman pleaded, “I had no idea that ‘uppity’ was a word traditionally applied to blacks, in a derogatory way.” (I’m paraphrasing.) He had just thought the Obamas were — you know, uppity. As people of all races can be.

It was hard to believe that this grown man — a congressman, to boot — didn’t know about the history of “uppity” in America. But after I wrote about the matter in Impromptus, many readers e-mailed me to say, “I had no idea either — and I don’t consider myself sheltered.”

I grew up in a hyper-sensitive environment. But not everybody did. (Good for them.) And, sometimes, people should be given the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, they should be cut some slack. But we’re not very good at that in America, are we? Especially when race or ethnicity is involved.

What did Michelle Obama say about America? “Just downright mean.”

In the Senegalese presidential contest, there is a birth-certificate issue. The incumbent, Abdoulaye Wade: Is he 85 or 90? May we see the birth certificate, please? And even if we saw it, could we trust the information written on it?

Fascinating story — go here.

On Monday, I read about a school in Chicago, and said, “Hallelujah.” See if you agree:

A sense of order and decorum prevails at Noble Street College Prep as students move quickly through a hallway adorned with banners from dozens of colleges. Everyone wears a school polo shirt neatly tucked into khaki trousers. There’s plenty of chatter but no jostling, no cellphones and no dawdling.

A miracle. The story continues,

The reason, administrators say, is that students have learned there is a price to pay — literally — for breaking even the smallest rules.

Noble Network of Charter Schools charges students at its 10 Chicago high schools $5 for detentions stemming from infractions that include chewing gum and having untied shoelaces.

Naturally, there’s an army of people trying to tear this school down. I hope they don’t succeed. Oh, do I hope they don’t succeed. It seems that, in human affairs, whenever something good happens, there are people who can’t stand this good, and seek to punch it in the nose.

If the “broken-windows theory” can apply to cities, can’t it apply to schools, too? Be vigilant about the little things — shoelaces — and you have helped yourself enormously with the big things.



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