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November 1, 2007

third from the right is my favorite

Here is a video posted on youtube entitled Iraqi Army Training :: I don't know if its real, but for me it engenders a number of conflicting emotions :: first the basic physicality of it is funny:

my instinct is to paint the non-conformist soldiers as buffoons. but i can't help think that the motion of the traditional jumping jack is no less ridiculous than any of the approximations, and that its application to the business of war is a bit silly. At least everyone is moving, exercising: no one is standing still.

The motion, however, is irrelevant. This clip is also about following orders. The drill sergeant could be doing any one of those antics and we would expect the rest to follow. Thats what you do in an army. Something about that expectation, or maybe the fallacy of that expectation, makes me feel sad. Its reminder that we missed something important very early on; that we think its as simple as standing in a courtyard flapping our arms like a giant bird, waiting for everyone to do the same.

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Comments (7)

Here's what strikes me:

It's hard to tell who's giving the orders, but there's a link to a similar video of Afghans doing push-ups in which Americans are clearly giving the orders.

So if a bunch of people who invaded your country, killed thousands of people, destroyed your infrastructure and left you unemployed and hungry said they would pay you to come be in the army, what kind of respect would you show them if you were just there to put food on the table?

Posted by: gus at November 1, 2007 9:35 AM

I also wonder what they thought of the camera man (a bit weird, no?) Oh! Someone is filming us while we do this "exercise" under the command of people we do not respect.

Posted by: ingrid at November 1, 2007 9:46 AM

Third from the right is trying for 3/4 time, as the counting suggests. So: "who is out of sync with whom?" is the question that poses itself to me (with a sort of pirouette nuance).

Posted by: jeano at November 1, 2007 12:00 PM

The third from the right appears to be trying for 3/4 time, which the 1, 2, 3, counting suggests. Out of sync, yes, but who is out of sync with whom?

Plus, this could be video of an adapted PE class for all we know. The "us and them" mentality puts great store in making the "them" look inept.

Posted by: jeano at November 1, 2007 12:13 PM

Be fair.
Have you ever respected anyone who was leading you in calisthenics?

Posted by: Lee Dunkelberg at November 1, 2007 1:19 PM

I think that these Iraqi men are not used to fighting, (probably art students) and I would agree they probably joined to feed their family or who knows, perhaps they believe joining will protect and make their country safer.

To me these men looked like little kids trying to copy the big kids and the guys watching over acted just like the big kids: Distant, unamused, cynical, self-absorbed.

But jumping jacks are part of military basic training: to become physically fit, develop physical coordination and team work. Following orders is also important. This is what the army is all about. Anyone joining knows that; an important survival skill in the field. A unit must work like a synchronized watch. This is how Rome and England conquered the world; organized fighters against unorganized forces. It’s a game of chess and has evolved and worked for a couple thousand years.

It is also part of a common goal – if everyone did as they pleased that goal would be hard to reach; which in this case is to conquer your enemy.

It’s not really a matter of agreeing or disagreeing on the purpose, mine as well ask what is life all about or why men are different than women? Most soldiers will tell you, however, that organized war should be the last solution to any conflict, but the oath they take is to the constitution and the commander in chief (ultimately elected by the people). This is power.

Enlisted Oath: I, ___, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

To a soldier, "My word is my bond."

The sad part I think is taking advantage of these organized forces and abusing the power that has been given.

You may say, well this is Iraq not the United States. To that I say, England wasn't Rome and the United States isn't England.

Should we be there at all? WE are there.

Posted by: De Opresso Libre at November 1, 2007 10:15 PM

I wonder who put these videos on YouTube.
Was it a soldier?
Is he trying to show us that things aren't going well?
Is he trying to show us that the process of training an Iraqi army is a difficult undertaking in itself, not just a bullet point on a list of "Things to Do Before Leaving Iraq"?
Is he trying to show the cultural differences between Iraqis (who might have gotten "real" exercise as children, like farmwork and sheepherding) and the American soldiers (who may have mostly learned "fake" substitute exercise in organized gym classes)?
Is it just supposed to be funny?
My neighbor's son-in-law is an Army medic. He says that there is immense progress made in Iraq every day that the general American population does not get to see. On the other hand, I've seen a documentary on PBS about how the American-built facilities are so minimal as to be almost useless, and I've heard stories on NPR about how millions of dollars of funding has gone astray through poorly monitored contracts.
I would hope to see videos of Iraqi and Afghani soldiers in top form, taking on responsibility and making a positive difference...
...which is why I'd like to know who made these videos and what he is trying to tell me.

Posted by: Diana B. at November 2, 2007 12:07 AM

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