Along the Tracks

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Open letter to a young Iraqi

My Saturday, March 27 column from the Bryan Times and Northwest Signal:

Dear young Iraqi,

I begin with an apology. War is brutal; its costs, incalculable. You never wanted to be held at the mercy of a dictator. You did not bring Iraq to its knees. You never threatened me, my family or my country.

However, the man who usurped your nation and pilfered its resources did threaten me, threaten us. You know better than I his thirst for blood. He had to be stopped.

Even so, war falls hard, like a sliding hill, smashing, grinding, crushing and uprooting. And killing. For what you have had to endure in the past year, and what you endure even now - for these things, I am sorry.

If you can bind the wounds, and wipe the tears, and lift your eyes from the dark days of despair under Saddam and the loud, terrifying convulsions which overturned that night and echo with thunder today - if you can see the dawn, you and I may yet walk together as friends.

We do, after all, share a cultural father, a man who answered a great call, yet did not consider himself great. We share a father who packed all he had and followed not fame nor fortune nor power, but a promise. His promise came from his God, who declared him to be the forebear of a great people. He was born in Iraq. His name was Abraham.

His heritage is your heritage, is my heritage. His faith in the one God was passed to you and to me.

I can see well how strong that faith burns in you. I see it as proof that you will do more than “rebuild” your country. You will advance it. Each day, as I read the news reports and see the video beamed back from Iraq, I am more convinced that the worries expressed by many people outside your country are founded on misconceptions. Where they see protests, I see freedom of expression. Where they see reluctance, I see patience. Where they see fanaticism, I see faith.

All these could be found in the United States in its first fumbling years of democratic government. We have become a bit lax in teaching our own history, but the road from the 1776 Declaration of Independence to constitutional government in 1789 was rocky, and the first few years under our present system of government were nearly as rough. There were revivals, there were rebellions. There was separatism along geographic and ethnic boundaries. Worst by far, there was slavery - the fatal flaw which would eventually tear us apart before we could be made whole again.

The fear is that you, too, will fall upon your brothers and sisters in civil war. Perhaps the greatest gift I and my fellow Americans can give you is an appreciation of our own failings, and how we have learned - and continue to learn - to set them to right. Today, Iraq has the seed of a constitutional government, one which respects the voice of the majority yet protects the rights of the minority. Domination by force is morally repugnant to a free people, and a free people cannot forever tolerate it in their midst. While rights may frustrate the will of the masses, they also protect the masses from sliding into tyranny, a burden free people can not and ought not carry. We learned this the very hardest way.

You may be skeptical of America’s intentions. That seems natural - you have been exploited by those in power before. Many will try to play on your doubts and fears, not to protect you, but to advance their own agendas thousands of miles from where you sit reading this. I am but a simple writer in a small town, far from American circles of power or wealth. I have no inside knowledge or special insight to the minds of the leaders our people have elected. Let me tell you something: No one I know would sacrifice hundreds of our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters to gain control of oil fields. No one I know would vote for people with plans of conquest or agendas based on the welfare of a few at the expense of America’s best men and women. Your oil belongs to you; your nation belongs to you; your freedom belongs to you.

I am, by the way, happy that Iraq begins anew with that valuable resource under the ground. Oil could make your steps into the future quicker and more certain. Please don’t let your leaders fall into its trap. Please don’t fall into oil’s trap yourself.

The greatest resource in Iraq is not below the sand. The greatest resource is not found in its history or its identity. The greatest resource will not be grown in the valley of the rivers or mined from the northern mountains.

You see, young Iraqi, you are the greatest resource on which your nation can be built. Your hands will produce greater things than oil money can buy, your mind will produce greater ideas than oil wealth can copy. If you invest the wealth you draw from the ground into wealth multiplied by your talents, your people will have the comfort and peace to enjoy their freedom, and your nation will take its seat of honor among the world’s elite.

It won’t be long, measured by the steady flow of years, before some Americans are complaining that you have taken their jobs. Some will complain that the course Iraq sets is not in tune with American economic or policy goals. Some will even complain that you have forgotten the sacrifice Americans made in the battle for your liberation.

I hope that day comes soon, for you. For when it does, you will be joining a special class of nations on whose soil American blood was spilled - France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, among others - who stand today as sometime competitors, squabbling challengers and general pains-in-the-rear, but ultimately and always, peaceful friends.

Take this opportunity before you. Take it for yourself and your children. Bring hope to the oppressed in your corner of the world, and on continents across the globe. You can succeed. You can be free and happy. Inspired by your example, perhaps they will take their opportunities as well.

Your friend,
Paul Miller

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