Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hammer

Michael Totten interviews an Iraqi interpreter for US troops. You have to read the whole thing to get the flavor of it.

MJT: Do you like working with Americans?

Hammer: A lot. Especially when I go outside the wire. I feel like a stranger here. When I go back inside I’m home. I have no friends outside, only family. When I go home I stay in my house. I don’t go out on the streets.

MJT: Why don’t you have any friends?

Hammer: I don’t feel like I belong to this society. They think like each other, but they don’t think like me. I can’t continue with them.

The interpreter is a man who just won't fit and just won't bend. Some people may think that the interpreter is slightly addled or exaggerating. Personally, I don't think he's crazy because I think I have met the type, though not in so extreme a form, typically a smart, sassy guy unable to accept the cheap horrors and rewards of a distorted millieu. The guy who thinks there's something sad about the thin stripper gyrating on a plastic tabletop while the rest of his thuggish companions find it hugely titillating. The kind of guy who turns down the earnest offer to kill a Chinaman from a hitman friend because it's not his idea of fun. The kind of guy, who if you can believe it, actually finds an Army unit in wartime a sane and comforting environment. A man with the right kind of values in the wrong kind of world. The reader may not agree with all of Hammer's assertions, but if you amp them down some, ask yourself: how much of what he says would you expect to be true, given the history of Iraq?

Of all the things I found it hardest for visiting, educated Americans to do in the Philippines what seemed the most difficult was to "get outside their own skins" and imagine living in a world where you were an instant suspect; an automatic pariah; a poor man with the wrong passport from a Looney Tunes world.

I wish Hammer luck in the same way I hoped an African I once met in Pointe Noire with a pocketful of Green Card lottery tickets would win one of them. But that was some years before Pointe Noire was overrun by trouble. I wonder where he is now.

Nothing follows.

13 Comments:

Blogger Elmondohummus said...

"The guy who thinks there's something sad about the thin stripper gyrating on a plastic tabletop while the rest of his thuggish companions find it hugely titillating..."

Uhhhh... Wretchard, are there some ghosts from the past you want to get off your chest?

;)

No, I don't resemble that remark! I was forced, I'm tellin' ya, forced to go for the batchelor party...

:D

8/07/2007 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Ann Althouse has a roundup of the Thomas Beauchamp case but really focuses on the historical precedent set by Michael Glass, a former New Republic writer who was found to be concocting stories. One of the dead giveaways of a made-up story is it's excessive vividness.

Like me, Mark Steyn thinks of Glass: "[TNR] made the same mistakes all over again - falling for pat cinematic vividness, pseudo-novelistic dialogue, all designed to confirm prejudices so ingrained the editors didn't even recognize they were being pandered to. But this time they did it in war, which is worse."

One of the reasons I find Michael Totten's Hammer story so interesting is I don't think he could make it up. It doesn't conform to any of the stereotypes I find in print but reminds strikingly of people I used to know. For whatever it's worth.

8/07/2007 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I'm not sure he'd make a good American neighbor. If Americans can't get outside *our* skins, too often our immigrants can't get outside *their* skins, either, and imagine a way of living that doesn't revolve around bribery, theft, deceipt and thuggery.

My guess is that Hammer would run amok if he were to relocate here for a very short period of time, before he was scooped up in astonishment that the scams that always worked for him "back home" were busted immediately here by surveillance cameras, fingerprints, and neighbors eager to report him.

I wonder how he'd feel if he were offered citizenship in Canada or Australia instead.

8/07/2007 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger herb said...

The thing that rang with me is that he believes that the Iraqi need rehab.

Americans expect instant satisfaction. That is never found for the really hard problems. Construction or re-construction of a Social Contract is one of the hardest problems humanity confronts. (see US Reconstruction, Russia, et al) Nobody on this side of the water has made any effort to educate the American public as to the difficulties faced by the Iraqi. Not for pity but for support.

8/07/2007 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Some writers have proposed that the US get ready to accept hundreds of thousands of Iraqis as "responsibility" for having made a "huge mistake" in Iraq, casting things again in terms of guilt. But that, I think, is the wrong way to think about it.

Most people will only ever be happy in their own country -- even in opposition. Take them somewhere else and they will keep opposing things they hate in their old country in the new country. In the long run the problems of dysfunction in the Third World are not solved by issuing visas to the US, Australia or Canada. They are solved by encouraging change and reform in places like the Sudan, Congo, Mexico or Iraq.

8/07/2007 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Power Line looks at lawlessness in Basra after the British withdrawal and wonders how reasonable expectations of sustainable order are in parts of Iraq. It writes, "ultimately, these appear to be the real choices -- chaos or long-term engagement on a large scale. In Basra, Britain may have made the right call. In-fighting among Shiite militias arguably does not pose the kind of security risk to Britain or the U.S. that would justify years of additional occupation. In places like Baghdad and Anbar province, the calculus is probably different. However, I doubt that the American public will support a substantial troop commitment on a long term basis to any part of Iraq."

I think this is basically poses the dilemma. The solution to Iraq's problems must be left to the Iraqis themselves. There can be expectation that Americans or foreigns will fix them. But on the other hand chaos is intolerable because it creates hotbeds of terrorism which, if left unattended, create real dangers to the West. But how does one combat chaos if, as Power Line argues, no major US commitment is sustainable?

The answer, I think, lies in finding some way to do it on the cheap. Some way that can be sustained over decades at an acceptable cost. Diplomacy can't do it. September 11, I think, showed that. Major troop commitments are too expensive. OIF may have shown that. But the need to deal with chaos remains. Obama's recent threat to invade Pakistan shows that.

Therefore some method must be found to square this circle and that takes us back to the subject of this post: the Iraqi interpreter. Some way to empower the more positive aspects of a dysfunctional society must be found. Giving them Green Cards won't help much in the long run. Leaving them to die in place doesn't do much good either.

But, as I've argued somewhat tentatively in the past. We have learned something about how to operate in failed states we did not know before. And the trick is to build on that knowledge because while you can't stay in large numbers, you can't run away either.

8/07/2007 02:54:00 PM  
Blogger Yehudit said...

My guess is that Hammer would run amok if he were to relocate here for a very short period of time, before he was scooped up in astonishment that the scams that always worked for him "back home" were busted immediately here by surveillance cameras, fingerprints, and neighbors eager to report him.

I don't see anything in that story which would lead to this conclusion. I think you are working off some stereotype rather than reading the actual interview with the actual human being.

Wretchard, many people immigrate here and do very well. They keep whatever of their home cultures are meaningful to them, but embrace American values at the same time. I am sure Iraqis in the US are doing that right now. I know Iranians are.

It's Stephen Glass, not Michael Glass BTW.

8/07/2007 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger AB said...

The Men Who Don't Fit In
Robert W. Service


There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest.
If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: "Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!"
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life's been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;
He's a man who won't fit in.

8/07/2007 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The French blog http://www.lmae.net/?p=512 (with a link below) puts what I was trying to get at in the post in terms I was too timid to use.

Hammer n’est évidemment pas fou. Il est né Américain, en Iraq, comme l’expliquait à son fils un réfugié hongrois en 1956:

“We are going to America,” he said.
“Why America?” I prodded.
“Because, son. We were born Americans, but in the wrong place.”


Take that statement in the largest sense of the word. One of the things I gradually came to understand with the years is that it's not necessary to come to America to be an American. The passport doesn't count, except to bureaucrats. It's what's in your heart that matters. And nobody needs to know the fact except your secret self. Maybe that will be enough for Hammer. From what I've heard, I'm sure that it will be.

8/07/2007 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

What I was remembering when I made the comment was something I read after the Berlin Wall came down, and the USSR collapsed. We had a *lot* of Russians leaving the USSR at that point - some of them coming here to America - and many of them were behaving badly.

The comment was made by a Russian observer of his countrymen, and he said something like, "If you have a dog caged up for years, then when it's first released it will run around yapping and snapping and nipping at everything because it doesn't know how to behave any other way. We must understand this and give our Russian dogs time to figure out what is expected of them outside their cage."

I also base it upon interactions with the very large Armenian population here in Los Angeles, who come here determined to "do things the way we did back home", and in many cases end up in jail because we're better at catching them than they were "back home".

I think that most Iraqi's will be clueless as to how things are down outside their country, and the fact that Mr. Hammer tends to scoff at what is expected of him anyway does not bode well for him being a law-abiding American citizen.

It does, however, also mean he's a cowboy and self-sufficient so if he's smart too (and it's tough to tell in the interview if he is or isn't), he'll thrive.

The one who *will* benefit is the son, and it might be worth it just to take a chance on that.

(If you're being told you're stereotyping with absolutely no other rebuttal, is that a backhanded way of being called a "racist", which is out of favor now because so many moonbats use it as a tactic of last resort?)

8/07/2007 06:02:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

wretchard:

Most people will only ever be happy in their own country -- even in opposition. Take them somewhere else and they will keep opposing things they hate in their old country in the new country. In the long run the problems of dysfunction in the Third World are not solved by issuing visas to the US, Australia or Canada. They are solved by encouraging change and reform in places like the Sudan, Congo, Mexico or Iraq.

My pet definition of an imperialist is a man on a losing end of a conflict back at home, who runs off to another land and then imposes the solutions he thought were necessary back at home onto the new society.

A central case in point is the flat tax imposed onto Iraq by Ambassador Bremer. The flat tax was the kind of reform Ambassador Bremer would have liked to implement in the United States, but there was too much opposition in Congress for such a drastic change. So, possibly out of the goodness of his heart, he turned this altruistic reform into a gift to the Iraqi people. It hardly mattered whether or not Iraqis wanted a flat tax.

When Mr. Bremer imposed the flat tax onto Iraq, he undermined support for the war from those Americans who support progressive income taxes. Yet, for the classic imperialist, defeating the actual enemy abroad is rarely ever the motivating factor. Instead, dissidents from the homeland impose their views. Whether it is Puritans travelling to Massachusetts, French atheists travelling to Algeria, or Spanish conquistadors seeking titles of nobility in Mexico and Peru, the colonist seeks to use his new base of operations to fight a battle he already lost in his homeland. So it is with Mr. Bremer's faction of conservatism; reforming Iraq seems to have become a consolation prize for the losers in American politics.

And yes, this model of imperialism applies directly to al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda al-Jahiliyah is an imperialist band of social misfits who fight their ideological warfare on Islam's periphery in the hope that their conquests would give them the opportunity to gain mastery over Islam's center. They can look to Mohammed's establishment of a government-in-exile in Medina and eventual conquest of Mecca and the Ottoman's Empire's conquest of Constantinople leading to an eventual conquest of Mecca. They are would-be conquistadors who are deluding themselves into thinking America and its allies are the next Inca Empire to be conquered. Let's prove them wrong.

8/08/2007 12:05:00 AM  
Blogger Stephen Renico said...

Wretchard,

For the second time I'm reading Mark Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War. The main character, Alessandro Giuliani, is a young man who studied aesthetics, and has the kind of eccentric personality you mentioned here. It keeps him centered and sane through his trials during the First World War.

I hope you get around to reading it sometime.

8/08/2007 05:46:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

Sad. That person is dead. He will never be alive. His soul has passed away.

8/09/2007 03:57:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home


Powered by Blogger