Beyond the Green Zone cover

I just finished reading Dahr Jamail’s “Beyond the Green Zone,” one of the best books I’ve ever read. At the same time, I’ve never been so angry, so frustrated, and at times even nauseated with sadness. Dahr’s book chronicles his reporting and travels in Iraq between 2003 and 2005, interviewing civilians, medical professionals, U.S. soldiers, and even an Iraqi resistance fighter, a member of the mujahdeen.

I’ve been against the war almost since it started in 2003, and have always understood that America’s interest in Iraq has been in its oil and geostrategic position. However, “Beyond the Green Zone” put a truly human face on the horror that is the inferno of Iraq. Dahr interviews hundreds of people during his travels, civilians who have endured treatment from U.S. soldiers that should be earning our administration massive criminal sanctions to their immeasurable violations of the Geneva Conventions. As Dahr reports from Fallujah, describing the ruthless soldiers in the “free-fire zone” killing women and children waving white flags or trying to escape over the river, to get to safety, the demonization of the Iraqi resistance for trying to defend their homes and families…it brought tears of rage to my eyes.

How can we as Americans sit back and do nothing about this when thousands and thousands are dying in our name? When millions more are fleeing from their homes, for their lives, as the corrupt Iraqi government that our administration installs rapes Iraq? Contracts being gleefully signed by our administration and the Iraqi “government” to allow foreign private contractors and oil industries 2/3rds of all oil revenue, for up to 35-40 years? What sort of monstrosity is this? How can this be happening in this day and age?

My mind was driven again and again to comparisons of the Nazi soldiers, psychologically conditioned into believing that the Jewish people were subhuman and deserved to die. The common line Dahr reports hearing from the soldiers “aiding the enemy,” while shooting on sight, beating anyone in their way, resistance fighter or woman on the way to the market…it smacks sickeningly of the same sort of elitist mindset. We have not fallen so far as to outwardly proclaim our “superiority” over the Iraqis, but the military seems perfectly content with treating them like criminals in their own country. American soldiers killing Iraqis in a mosque because they don’t follow their orders immediately, either unwilling or unable to understand that their prisoners didn’t speak English…the unremitting arrogance of this country, of this America, makes my heart want to die in my chest.

When Dahr started doing this in 2003, he was all alone. In the prologue of the book, he recalls that during his previous work (he was a tour guide in Alaska) he was always appalled by the willingness of the mainstream media to merely parrot whatever military propaganda was on the menu, leaving the American population with no knowledge of what he knew must be a bigger and far more horrific story than the padded fuzz the military drools out. Throughout the book, he talks about seeing the “embedded” journalists for massive news groups like the New York Times huddled in humvees with their troops…they only see what their military caretakers want them to see, Dahr comments.

My hands are still shaking as I type this. Today, as I went Christmas shopping with my parents and my sister, who is a foreign exchange student from Tajikistan, I couldn’t get the images out of my head of what the Iraqi people are suffering through. This isn’t a history book, my mind whispered to me. This is happening now, right now, as you walk past the Gap’s sexist advertisements, and as you watch the kids play video games in the kiosks at the mall. I felt repulsed at myself for having all these material things, all these things I’ve always taken for granted my entire life, as my corrupt bastard of a president signs the contracts that send thousands of Iraqis to die, and thousands of Americans to Iraq to protect his power-hungry interests. What if it was Tajikistan, I thought to myself as I watched my sister browse the stores. What if it were her mosque, her family back at her home, being killed by troops kicking open her front door? I’ve only known her for a comparably short time since she arrived through the AFS program, but my blood rages at the thought. Is it any wonder why these brave Iraqis fight against the occupiers, who of course are viewed as terrorists by the majority of the country, when it’s their friends and families being killed for nothing? I wonder what those bored cashiers sitting at the registers would do if it were their parents being killed, their mothers being raped? What would any human being do if his homeland was invaded by hostile foreigners and a puppet government was installed as the foreigners’ mouthpiece?

“Beyond the Green Zone” has changed me as a person, I think. My activism will change when I return to Madison after the holiday season. Before reading this book, before putting names and stories on the carnage my government has wrought, I didn’t truly understand that America is a terrorist, and that our troops that unthinkingly, unfeelingly carry out the blood-spattered orders that their superiors hand down are terrorists as well. As humans, God gave each one of us the ability to think, to decide for ourselves what is happening, and to decide if our actions are morally right. If you choose to kill and kill just because you signed a contract, without understanding why you are doing it, you are no more a human being than the creature which currently sits in the Oval Office.

I had the honor of helping to interview Dahr Jamail last month, as the Campus Antiwar Network hopes to have him visit Madison and give a lecture on his experiences. In the interview, I asked him what a college student, young, unexperienced, but wanting to serve humankind could do…could he go to Iraq to do what Dahr had done? Dahr instantly cautioned me on my naive optimism, telling me that because of the ever-worsening situation in Iraq, the danger was now monumentally higher than when he had first traveled over there. Instead, he told me (and the radio audience) of the millions of refugees in the neighboring country of Jordan, needing aid, housing, and assistance.

That’s put the current driving thought into my head. After I graduate in May and travel around Europe with a friend, I hope to spend a year in Jordan, if I can, doing whatever I can to help Iraqi refugees. I can never, ever truly understand the horror that my country has put them through, but my heart is filled with a passion to do right, to be there, to see it with my own eyes and help in any way possible. Insh’Allah (God-willing), I can accomplish a fraction in the Middle East of what Dahr has.

Dahr’s book can be purchased either from his website, or from I am not affiliated with, nor do I represent, Dahr Jamail in any way.