Orange, Calif., is my hometown. I was there two weeks ago on spring break, enjoying family, friends and sunshine. I went to Disneyland, walked along the sands of Newport Beach, and marveled at how six hours on a plane could mean the difference between 8 inches of snow and 70-degree days with cloudless, blue skies.
I wonder now if Jose A. Garibay will miss those treasures I took for granted.
Corporal Garibay, 21, of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, was also from Orange, Calif. But to there he will never return: he was killed in action near Nasiriyah on March 23.
He was a classic example of the American Dream fulfilled. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Cpl. Garibay came to the United States with his family when still a baby. He played football for his high school and joined the Marines shortly after graduation. He sent money home to his mother every month so that she could buy a house. His hope was to gain U.S. citizenship through military service, but no one could deny Garibay’s courageous dedication to protecting his fellow men from harm — he planned to join the police force once his tour was over. He is, to echo Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s sentiments before the 108th Congress, “an American hero — [who] will be honored alongside the many brave Americans who have gone before him in defending family, freedom and country.”
Sometimes heroism emerges from unexpected places — like Palestine, W.Va. Anyone following the news lately is familiar with the miraculous story of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the 19-year-old supply clerk captured by Iraqi forces when a 507th Maintenance Company convoy made a wrong turn and was ambushed.
Rescued by American troops from an Iraqi “torture hospital” on Tuesday, she has captured American hearts through stories of her bravery, determination and sheer willpower. Pfc. Lynch is being treated in Germany for a fractured spine disc, broken legs and a broken arm; there are conflicting reports as to whether or not she suffered stabbing and gunshot wounds. The Iraqi source who revealed her location to U.S. military officials reportedly informed them that she was being tortured. Yet in the face of these hardships, Lynch apparently resisted her captors at every turn, firing at them until she had expended all of her ammunition, even as she saw her fellow soldiers fall beside her.
This is extraordinary courage from anyone, let alone a 19-year-old girl who aspires to be a kindergarten teacher and is happy that her casts will be pink. Pfc. Lynch has taken an amazing journey that has transformed her from a good-hearted Appalachian softball player into a nation’s inspiration.
Garibay’s and Lynch’s valor may be exemplary, but it is not unique: America’s armed forces are filled with thousands of young men and women like these two, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their families, their fellow servicemen, their God and their country.
But even as we hear stories like Lynch’s, we read about others like the recent debacle in Fieldsboro, N.J. There, the town council voted to ban yellow ribbons and other demonstrations of support for the troops on public property. At least many of the citizens of Fieldsboro are now voicing adamant objection to the ban, but unfortunately, small-town Jersey politicians aren’t the only ones showing an astonishing lack of respect for our troops.
Here at Yale, many also fail to give our brave soldiers their due, to proudly acknowledge them for what they are: heroes.
The troops, we hear, shouldn’t be there in the first place. They’re fighting Bush’s immoral war for oil and familial vengeance. They’re not progressing quickly enough and so have failed — even as we hear that they are 10 miles away from taking the capital of a country the size of California. As cover, these protesters will argue that while they are against the war, they are for the troops — yet this distinction is an impossible one to make. We cannot divorce the morality of the order from the execution of it; we learned at the Nuremberg trials that “just following orders” was no defense. As such, to put a moral stigma on the war is to chastise the troops waging it — hardly a demonstration of support.
This rhetoric from the protesters deters us from calling things as they are and giving praise where praise is due. Despite what relativists might think, there is good in this world, and there is evil. Right now evil resides in the last remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime — as his minions abuse our captured soldiers in violation of the Geneva Convention, send civilians to act as human shields at Baghdad’s airport and hang Iraqi civilians so treacherous as to wave at passing American tanks.
Those who oppose the war in Iraq fail to acknowledge this. They defend their position by saying that Iraq has a rich culture, that Iraqi civilians’ lives matter as much as American lives. This may or may not be true, but whether it is is beside the point. It doesn’t change the fact that Saddam Hussein and his stooges have created a depraved regime modeled on some of Saddam’s personal historical favorites: Hitler’s and Stalin’s. As we receive news of Iraqi atrocities on a daily basis, we are forced to confront the reality of pure, inexplicable moral wrong.
And we should also confront the reality that an amazing group of men and women are protecting us from it.
They protect us even as the pseudo-intelligentsia of Yale criticizes them for perceived failures, and their courage in the face of evil requires no historical perspective or critical judgment from a marginalized viewpoint. Right before our eyes men and women our age and younger are showing vastly greater valor, integrity and steadfastness than most of us could ever dream of having. Lynch, Garibay, and the thousands of soldiers like them require no teach-in or intellectual sophistication for us to understand their selflessness: they are heroes, pure and simple.
And for their heroism we are in a far greater debt than we can ever repay. Instead of demoralizing the troops with histrionics, we should donate to programs that collect phone cards so that they can call their families. We should write letters to bases in Iraq and Kuwait thanking them. Even then our support, while undoubtedly appreciated, will still be insufficient. For without them, our freedoms to protest, to collect phone cards and to write personal letters would be nothing more than a hopeful fiction.
As I lie in my comfortable, safe bed tonight, I will think of the other 21-year-olds who are sleeping in the Iraqi desert in my stead. I will reflect on how they are there so that I might luxuriate in the security and freedom all Americans enjoy. I will be grateful that they have restored a notion of true heroism to the American people.
In a letter to a former teacher, Pfc. Lynch wrote a simple request and an earnest promise: “Keep me and all soldiers in your prayers and thoughts, and we will do our best to protect you all.” So I will also be praying that Lynch and her colleagues return safely to a country that appreciates and thanks them appropriately, even if some at Yale can’t.
Meghan Clyne is a senior in Branford College.