On this Memorial Day, The New York Times
spends time with some Army soldiers in Baghdad.
What the men of the Delta Company of the First Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division -- some of whom are on their third deployment of the war -- have to say is sadly predictable. But the resoluteness of the turn in their opinions of the war surprises.
In 2003 and 2004, they tell the Times
, they felt confident in the mission. As one staff sergeant puts it, "In Mosul, in 2003, it felt like we were making the city a better place.... There was no sectarian violence, Saddam was gone, we were tracking down the bad guys. It felt awesome.â
But the soldiers have found it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good guys and bad guys. On one occasion, the soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb only to find that he was a sergeant in the Iraqi Army. On another occasion, a firefight with the Mahdi Army ended with finding two Iraqi Army soldiers among the dead insurgents. And the soldiers have noticed a disturbing pattern of IEDs showing up suspiciously close to Iraqi Army checkpoints. Staff Sgt. David Safstrom (who walked into a recrutiment office one week after 9/11) maintains a clear view of the situation:
âIf we stayed here for 5, even 10 more years, the day we leave here these guys will go crazy.... It would go straight into a civil war. Thatâs how it feels, like weâre putting a Band-Aid on this country until we leave here.â
âIn 2003, 2004, 100 percent of the soldiers wanted to be here, to fight this war,â said Sgt. First Class David Moore, a self-described âconservative Texas Republicanâ and platoon sergeant who strongly advocates an American withdrawal. âNow, 95 percent of my platoon agrees with me.â
And then, of course, there are the casualties. They continue to climb, representing a sacrifice that becomes less endurable the less hope there is in the war. For the first time, U.S. forces have suffered more than 100 fatalities for two months in a row
. And to listen to the president speak, many more months lie ahead. Says another soldier:
As for his views on the war, Sergeant OâFlarity said, âI donât believe we should be here in the middle of a civil war.â
âWeâve all lost friends over here,â he said. âMost of us donât know what weâre fighting for anymore. Weâre serving our country and friends, but the only reason we go out every day is for each other.â
âI donât want any more of my guys to get hurt or die,â he continued. âIf it was something I felt righteous about, maybe. But for this country and this conflict, no, itâs not worth it.â