Realized this morning the tenth anniversary of the blog had recently passed. Because of a platform switch to google blogspot, I don't have direct links to the 2005 posts, but I did transfer them with original dates. The first few were on mining (alluding to the Lynn Scarlett and John Tierney anti-recycling first posts of the 90s), extinction, being an "Agent of Conscience" (AoC), and this one on the Iraq Invasion. It was written a bit after my dad's cousin, Jack Hensley (a contractor CNN), was beheaded on film by Sunni insurgents who went on to found ISIS / ISIL etc. in 2004.
It was interesting to re-read ten years later. I was 43. Maybe someday I can edit these things, if I trust myself to not rewrite my history in the process.
December 17, 2005
Letter to the Iraqi People:
May God bring each of you peace and justice, health and sustenance to you and your families.
My name is Robin, and I am a father of three, and I run a small recycling and parts company in the state of Vermont. It is a cold winter here, but the people are used to the ice and snow, as fathers and mothers have taught the kids how to live in peace with it for many generations. I can imagine, for your children, the desert sun must be less of a burden than it would be for me, but they would not enjoy playing in the ice and snow as much as my children do. Both the sun and the ice must be enjoyed but treated with respect.
I’m writing to you because I was thinking yesterday, after your election, what it must be like to be going through such a revolution. The first thing that struck me is that when change happens this suddenly, quickly, and violently, that different people will come to different conclusions at different times.
Just as some Americans know more about the world than others, I am sure individual Iraqis must see the war and restructuring differently. Sometimes Americans are kind of uneducated about different histories in the world, and some of us are pretty ignorant of our own history, too, for that matter. This gives rise to different views here of what is happening and why, and who to believe and when. Is it the same there?
I’m sure to you it is obvious why some of your young men and women could still be absolutely convinced that the American army is there to do harm. Some of you may have had cousins, friends, sons or brothers who joined the resistance. Some of them have killed themselves, or killed others, trying to protest in dignity a change brought by force by a foreign soldier. Some of you, like some of us, have also lost family and loved ones to those acts of hate, anger or protest.
I just thought I’d write you this note to share my own perspective. I’m politically an independent. I did not vote for Bush in the last election, though that was more from my concern about how he borrows money than it was about the war.
When it came to the war, I was hopeful. I must confess I was naively certain America army would would face chemical weapons during the first days of war. Like millions of others, I was led to believe some things, some of which may never have been explicitly said. Our journalists, like yours, want an exciting story, and the suspicion is more exciting than the doubt. An expectation grew that Sadaam Hussein was building weapons and testing his ability to expand his power. The fact that he shot at our planes, and evidence that he tried to assassinate George Bush’s father after the first Gulf War, really didn’t put him in a position to be heard if he protested his innocence. I say if, because I don’t even remember that he did protest his innocence. Not loudly enough, that’s for sure.
As the combat wrapped up, I continued to be hopeful. Though the search for WMD came to seem a farce, I thought the war was justified more by hope than by fear. The chemical weapons were not the most important thing, to me, about the war. I do remember people giving other reasons for the invasion, and those are the reasons I listened to and still hope are correct.
This letter is to share those ideas about this war with someone on your side of the sea, and to ask for your perspective. I hope, in my deepest soul, that this is like the American invasion of Germany and Japan, neither of which had oil or other resources to exploit. I’m not speaking about the cause of those invasions, but about the outcomes. The people of Germany and Japan were lied to and suffered greatly at the hands of their own rulers. Some Americans must have been shocked at the cost of assistance after the war, for the rebuilding of those countries. Americans had seen Japanese commit suicide and fight to the last woman and child to protect barren islands, like Iwo Jima. It must have been difficult to imagine that those same Japanese would one day participate in a democracy and peaceful world economy larger than that in Mexico, Brazil, England, France, Germany or Italy.
Today, Japan is the second most powerful country, economically, on earth. All Japanese children go to school. It has fine hospitals and fine cities, and awesome factories, which have for decades been the models for, the pride of, Asia. Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and now China are following Japan; American factories emulate those which grew from Japan’s democracy. I think of it as a nation of intense pride, though much more humble and circumspect than it was in the years leading up to the war.
As I watch the news from your country, Iraq, I wonder how many years it took for the people of Japan to believe that America would help to rebuild the nation and leave it alone? And if our cause is the same, I wonder how many years it will take for your people to believe it. As your insurgents see our history of meddling in Palestine and Iran, did the Japanese see as “hegemony” our footprint in China and the Philippines? If the analogy between Japan and Iraq is stretched too thin there, I hope the difference will be paid out over years rather than as a different outcome entirely.
I hope that my children will fear and respect Iraq as my generation feared and respected Japan – for its economic might, the talent of its children and inventors, and the influence it will hold on its neighbors.
As I watch and read the news from Bagdad and Washington, I’m pretty sure America’s plan really is to do for Iraq what it did for Japan and Germany. To jump-start an Iraq which will rebuild itself.
Some Americans stayed in Japan, of course, but I think everyone in the world understands they are guests, and Japanese are in charge. I’ve never been to Iraq and I’ve never been to Japan, so I my letter couldn’t be very convincing to the insurgents following the jihadist roadmap today. What do I know, and what do my opinions matter?
I cannot say I know that much. I can say I lived in Africa for a couple of years. I think that many of the Africans I knew continue to live under such oppression that they’d secretly welcome an American invasion and a Japanese-style reconstruction. Probably not a majority of Africans. And if it ever happened, and violence continued during the process, you and I both know they would have second thoughts along the way, as you have.
I can also talk about trade and business around the world. This century is exciting and new. The internet, international banking, posts and jet travel have made it possible for even a tiny businessman like me to make close friends and business partners in faraway places. Can you believe that in the past 2 years we’ve had visitors to our little Middlebury, Vermont, junkyard from Hong Kong, Alexandria, Kaunas, Jakarta, Accra, Taipai and Guangzhou? In Egypt, in India, in China, Ghana, and Cameroon, and Lithuania, and Peru, we make business deals with small businessmen and women. Like me, they are trading and negotiating and brokering, and we are building our reputations side by side. We shake hands by email. We wave our fingers in frustration by email. We say thank you by telephone.
Last year, someone asked me if I was worried about Americans losing jobs. I thought about it. I realized that I consider myself a closer friend to the man in Hong Kong I trust, or the woman from Egypt who confides in me, or the man from Cameroon who watches my kids for me as a favor when I run to the bank. I have more in common with honest and hardworking people than with lazy and loud people who happen to share my language. I believe my children will have friends across international boundaries, and that common citizenship will mean no more or less to them than a common license plate address in an Orlando parking lot.
Someday I hope my kids and I will meet more Iraqis individually, and we will trade together, and we’ll introduce you to our business partners in other new countries. I’m sure when I do, that there will be young men working for you, like the 18 year old John on my staff, who has a new baby and is trying to build his first job. And people like Brian, who served in the first Gulf War, not knowing much history about Japan or Iraq or Iran at the time. Or Michelle, a mother of three whose husband passed away, and now works in our machine shop and sometimes drives the truck. Or Yadji, my first business partner in Cameroon, who has worked off and on for me in Vermont, shoveling snow he could not have dreamed of as a boy in Africa.
If I visit your place of work in 20 years, I guess I’d meet adults who began grade school during the Gulf Wars, and people who fought on both sides of your insurgency. If you are smart and successful, you will probably have Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds on your staff, enabling you to trade and deal as a franchise in every part of the country, and across its borders. Maybe you will have a few Africans, Mexican, and Japanese employees as well. Maybe one of my cousins will work for you, without worry, in peace, like I worked in Africa in 1985, or like the Lithuanian and Cameroonian who have worked for me.
Maybe I will hear face-to-face a side of this I have not thought of. Maybe my mind will change before then.
My father’s cousin was Jack Hensley by the way, the American construction contractor who was kidnapped and assassinated last year. He was older than I am and I didn’t know him, though I know his younger brother, Ty. Jack and Ty’s father, Jerry Hensley, fought the Japanese in WWII. When I started this letter, I didn’t plan on bringing that up, and I promise it won’t come between us if you fought against this Japanese-style liberation by occupation and separation.
This is more than a hope or dream, but far from a certainty. We will be with a new president of the USA long before then. Watch us two years from now, when America begins to prepare for life without George Bush 41. Better yet, come to Vermont for a visit, and we’ll share a maple-syrup-snow-cone.
Robin Ingenthron, USA Citizen 12/ 17 / 2005