Thursday, January 20, 2005

Travels in American Iraq, by John Martinkus

Assiduous television news watchers may remember a story about Australian journalist John Martinkus being kidnapped by insurgents late last year in Iraq. He was later released, because he could prove he was a journalist. His kidnappers fed his name into google and up he popped. Later he said, 'google saved my life'. Alexander Downer later castigated him for being irresponsible, then Martinkus shot back that Downer owed his an apology.

Obviously, his book Travels in American Iraq was about that trip he had just returned from. For seven weeks he toured Iraq. For dramatic effect he starts the book off with a description of the scene after a bombing. It's utterly revolting, as you'd expect. There are descriptions of body pieces everywhere. Then he feels his foot sliding on something gooey - human brains. Later that day, he dreads looking at the bottom of his boot, because he knows there may be bits left stuck (as indeed there are).

The book is a short one, 200 pages, and you can read it in a day or two. It has a sad, heart wrenching tone. Your heart just sinks as you read about the relentless suffering of the Iraqi people, who for the most part just want to get on with a better life.

The 'take away' I got from the book was the different attitudes, wildly different in a lot of cases, between occupied and occupier. Some of the conspiracy theories from your average Iraqi in the street were (from my point of view anyway) completely loopy. It seemed that so many Iraqis were clearly desperate and starved for real information on what was happening to their country, that they'd grasp at the most far fetched explanations. As for the American occupiers, you get the impression of an official line being repeatedly spouted, despite the reality on the ground. Both sides misunderstand each other, and for American soldiers, they'd obviously prefer to be home than fighting this dirty war.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush is planning a 40 million dollar party to celebrate his inauguration.

This is a very sobering read.

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