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Cuckoos in the Nest
Michael Ubaldi, July 1, 2003.

The difficult days we knew the Allies would encounter are frustrating, though not necessarily for the reasons suggested by cynical opinion columnists:

A huge blast in the courtyard of a mosque in Fallujah killed five Iraqis late Monday night, prompting locals to declare that the U.S. had bombed the building. American troops at the scene said instead that a hidden ammunition dump appeared to have blown up.


By Tuesday morning about a dozen Iraqis remained, looking through the rubble for pieces of metal they said would prove the Americans had attacked the mosque. "These are pieces of a missile," said Aqeel Ibrahim Ali, 26, holding out a box filled with metal shards. "An airplane shot a missile."

Aqeel and his bosses, the group who stepped up to accuse American forces for the blast whose ignition they obviously oversaw, are in the business of terror and mayhem; whether they're Ba'athists, employees of Tehran's homicidal meddlings or simply common louts on the streets with chaos to propound, they seek to disrupt the lives of people traumatized for decades.

A thought: was Aqeel part of the scheme to begin with or was he cajoled into playing a part? Or threatened?

The Allies will move to succeed in their tasks. Unfortunately, the well-being and complete reconstruction of Iraq depends on its population to rise to the challenge of defending their country from outside influence and offer their irreplaceable contribution to law and order. Fear under Saddam was the stuff of miserable life, yes, but it can no longer dictate the actions of the Iraqi people. Gangs must be reported, troublemakers cornered, flimsy tales and misbegotten protests challenged. A society's ability to shame mischief and reward selflessness is best not forgotten. For all the foreign money and manpower in a country undergoing democratization, only its native citizenry can preserve moral and ethical integrity.

This will take time; even Japan, which, militarist swoon notwithstanding, possessed a traditionally strong cultural ethos, fell into what it rightly considered to be utter moral debasement and incivility. 1948, three years into Allied occupation, was in fact the height of lawlessness, murder, corruption, licentiousness and faithlessness. Despair nearly became an integral part of contemporary Japanese culture. From Jiro Osagari's Homecoming, excerpted in William Chapman's Inventing Japan:

[Protagonist] Kyogo couldn't forget the [protest] broadcast. It showed him how much of the grace had gone out of Japanese life. Nowadays, poverty had only an evil effect, even on Japanese. It had made everyone terribly impatient. Post-war Japan was really a desert. The young were devoid of subtlety - as one might expect of a generation stripped of its past.

Chapman explains how, predictably, the book's twinkles of hope come only from the past - the past seen everywhere in the present to be lost and unattainable for the future. Appealed to by a friend with an analgesic, Chinese adage, "The sun sets and the myriad aimless movements cease," Kyogo answers bitterly:

But Ushigi - it's still aimless movement. The state is dead but the aimless movement hasn't ceased. Is there anyone in Japan who lives in accordance with his own definite opinions? That's what I wonder about. It's a narrow land. And the people - they're so poor, so terribly poor. There's no room to dream, no leeway. The Japanese can only work up enough courage to grab somebody's leg and beg for food. A pathetic people.

In their stories, Osagari and his contemporaries birthed maudlin chroniclers that lived and, happily, died as Japan gradually withdrew from the nightmare of moral and industrial collapse. We should take from this historical parallel two points. First, the troubles of post-war Japan must not be taken lightly: suffering and confusion of the Iraq people will be at once unique in its aesthetics - the evil of regionally cultural anarchists and terrorists - and universal in its effect - potentially paralytic vitiation. The country will most likely remain dangerously uncertain of its course and worth for some time. But, second, and more encouraging, is the record of Japan's transcendence. While all nations walk in their own Valley of the Shadow of Death, every one is capable of defeating their worst imperfections.

The Allies will be a source of endless logistics and guidance, if only those resources can be utilized by Iraqis. To this, all that is needed is patience and perseverance and faith.