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America's best ambassadors: Our troops

By Daniel G. Jennings
web posted April 14, 2003

America's best representatives to the people of the Middle East may be our men and women in uniform. The armed forces fighting in Iraq may show the people of that nation and its neighbors the real America and real Americans at our best.

More importantly, exposure to our military may show the Arabs that the horrible stereotypes of Americans they have seen in the media are nothing but fiction. The Arabs may learn from our military that many Americans are good people of great faith and tremendous honor who really believe in and practice the high ideals that we espouse. The Arabs may learn to like, respect and even admire America and Americans by seeing our military forces in action.

The average Arab's idea of Americans comes from the media; the deceitful propaganda put out by his own government and the horrible distortions that fill our own media. From what they've seen, the Arabs think that all Americans are weak, soft, greedy, materialistic and vicious. They believe that all American military people are Nazi-like storm troopers. They believe that all American women are whores and that American men are either greedy sex fiends or wimps. They also believe that Americans are hypocrites who possess neither values nor faith.

Sadly enough, many recent Western visitors to the Middle East have confirmed these horrible stereotypes. Obnoxious tourists, self-proclaimed peace activists willing to stand with their nation's enemies, greedy businessmen looking for a fast buck, self-serving oil company executives willing to do anything to get an oil concession, sniveling diplomats and politicians interested in appeasing vicious dictators, soft-headed, morally blind intellectuals and celebrities willing to kiss up to despots in the name of peace, sanctimonious missionaries trying to push their religion down the throats of Arabs, shallow and hypocritical journalists willing to report the propaganda lies of the worst Arab dictators as the truth and worse. Unfortunately, what the Arabs have seen is Americans and Westerners at their worst. Is it any wonder that many Middle Easterners despise us?

Staff Sgt. Jack Coughlin from Boston, Mass, of the 3rd battalion, 4th Marines regiment, is greeted by an Iraqi girl as its convoy moves toward Bagdad earlier this month
Staff Sgt. Jack Coughlin from Boston, Mass, of the 3rd battalion, 4th Marines regiment, is greeted by an Iraqi girl as its convoy moves toward Bagdad earlier this month

I can't think of a better antidote to all of these distortions than exposure to our men and women in uniform. They are honorable, honest, sober, decent, friendly, civil, polite, brave, professional, hardworking, tough and disciplined. They actually believe in the ideals for which this nation stands and many of them are people of deep faith who take their religion seriously.

The Arabs respect all of these qualities and understand them. When they see the US or British servicemen, a great many Arabs will finally see a Westerner, a Christian or an American that they can actually respect. They'll realize that the men and women in the US and British uniforms aren't their enemies.

The Arabs are a warrior people with a long and glorious military tradition. They respect soldiers and traditional military values such as honor, discipline, loyalty, courage, and valor. The militaries of the United States and Britain exemplify those values. The Arabs will have to recognize this and respect our countries more.

The troops' actions will speak louder than all the propaganda in the world. When the Arabs see American and British soldiers displaying courage on the battlefield, risking their lives to save a wounded comrade or putting themselves in harm's way to knock out an enemy position, they'll learn to respect those soldiers.

When the Arabs see American soldiers actually demonstrating respect toward their mosques and showing courtesy to their women, Arabs will begin to see that they've been lied to by their leaders and the Western media and start asking why. When the Arabs see American doctors and medics treating sick and wounded Arabs and Americans distributing food to hungry Arabs, they'll realize that Americans aren't all greedy hypocrites. When the Arabs see that American troops do not burn Arab villages, rape Arab women, torture or execute Arab prisoners or loot Arab homes, the Arabs will see how civilized we really are. Especially when they compare the actions of American and British troops to the behavior of Saddam Hussein's storm troopers.

More importantly, the Arabs will see that people who live in a democratic society do not have to be greedy, materialistic, arrogant and ruthless. They'll see that freedom and faith can coexist and that modernization does not lead to becoming Sodom and Gomorrah.

So perhaps the best side effect of this war will be the impression of America and Americans that our military personnel deliver to the average Arab. We won't necessarily influence the opinions of the self-proclaimed Arab intellectuals and the worst of the Arab extremists, but we could change a lot of the minds of the ordinary people of Arab nations. In the long run, the discipline, courage, professionalism, faith and values of our men and women in uniform may turn out to be the trump card in the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab people.

Daniel G. Jennings is a freelance writer and journalist who lives and works in Denver, CO. He has worked as a reporter and editor for daily and weekly newspapers in five states.

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