The Corner

The Testimony of an American Officer

On Monday, I wrote a post called “A Question of Honor.” It summarized a piece I had in a recent National Review. The piece had to do with our former allies in Iraq and what we owe them.

I’d like to publish a letter from a reader. It’s long, but worth reading and pondering, I think:

Mr. Nordlinger,

Your piece about abandoning the Iraqis who helped us resonates with me deeply. I spent two years in Iraq. I couldn’t help but think, as I watched the vice president’s speech from about 30 feet away at BIAP in the autumn of 2011, of Saigon. [BIAP is the Baghdad International Airport.] This time there most likely won’t be any helicopters on an embassy roof, I thought. I wondered what the modern version would be.

Turns out, there was no modern version. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of them couldn’t get out at all, via helicopter or otherwise. Many more ended up boxed in by ISIS. In Vietnam many of our erstwhile friends who couldn’t get out had to go to re-education camps. In Iraq, they just get herded into pits and shot.

I don’t have PTSD from my combat time. [Those initials stand for “post-traumatic stress disorder.”] At least I don’t think I do. I just have a deep and abiding anger. My mom senses it. She asked me over Christmas why I was still so angry. I told her about a conversation between me and a good friend. He and I have served together under fire and back home in garrison.

Last time we were together, I was asking him about an Iraqi officer we’d known in a city we both served in. I don’t want to name him or even the location. Let’s just call him John Doe.

John was brave, and smart, and tough, and knew English better than either of us. He took initiative and was genuinely concerned with his soldiers. Before the war and until about 2006, John had been a relatively wealthy urban professional, respected and liked in his community. He looked around and saw the country he loved being torn apart and talked seriously with his wife about leaving. But he chose not to.

John left his career, which even in war-torn Iraq was pretty lucrative, and joined the Iraqi Army. He became an officer and led his men very well. Better than some American officers I’ve worked with. He showed rare interest in proactive maintenance, planning, and property accountability. If the Iraq Army has a good future, I thought, it will be because of men like him.

Last year when I talked about John with my friend, I casually wondered aloud whether John had gotten out when his city fell to ISIS. My friend looked at me, surprised, and said, “Seriously? He’s dead, man. He’s dead. You know him as well as I do. He loved [his hometown]. He either died fighting or died in the mass executions after the city fell.”

As I realized he was right, and before I could overcome my sudden sadness, he added, “And you’ve read the intelligence intercepts the same as I have. You know what those ISIS psychopaths are doing with the people in the towns they overrun. If they’re lucky, his family was killed too. Otherwise his son was murdered and his wife and daughter enslaved.”

I thought after a few years that I’d gotten a handle on my anger. It all came back when he said that. He’s right: All the good, honest people who just wanted to free their country from oppression, tyranny, and the grip of a death cult — all those people either fled or got killed.

I hate thinking about John on the streets of a city I know better than my own, fighting in his hometown after his allies abandoned him. I hate having to decide whether he died fighting or somehow got tricked into surrendering and was then killed. I hate having to hope that John’s family was murdered before they could be enslaved. What a choice. What a choice.

We left those people to die. Because we couldn’t wait to leave. Because we’re so terrified of another Vietnam that we throw away victory and call it a responsible end. I feel apologetic toward them. I’m sorry we’re so fickle. I wish we had more honor. Instead we consign millions to darkness.

As I said, your piece stirred me because I too have been wondering about what happened to our honor. I hope it isn’t gone forever.

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