Saturday, November 3, 2007

Iraq, again

So apparently the Afghans aren't a heck of a lot better at PT than the Iraqis. Go figure.

I haven't put these clips up just to poke fun, incidentally. The bigger point is demonstrating exactly how hard it is to set up a functioning country from scratch. Even on something as fundamental as physical training, the average recruit to the Iraqi army is coming with almost no practical skills. As out-of-shape as many new American soldiers are, almost all are at least familiar with the concept of performing calisthenics in a group, in cadence. I guess we can thank public school gym classes for that. Iraqi recruits, however, come from a culture in which physical fitness for its own sake is a completely foreign concept. Iraq is really hot. One simply doesn't do hard physical work unless it is actually necessary. Additionally, it's the sort of place where fitness is identified with the peasantry, where being out-of-shape is a sign of luxury and wealth. I'm pretty sure soccer is the only reason any of them are in decent shape at all. The Iraqi people are continually amazed that American troops work and patrol during the heat of the day, because to them it's something you just don't do. There are all sorts of rumors that we have special pills that let us withstand the heat, or that our body armor is air-conditioned. Don't we wish.

In any case, the Iraqi Army is a microcosm of the sorts of issues that will continue to hold the country back for a while, because the doctors, teachers, judges, and civil engineers are hardly in better shape to do their jobs. We forget that though we destroyed the physical infrastructure of Iraq in the invasion, Saddam had been destroying Iraq's human infrastructure for 30 years. We forget that the knowledge and expertise of the population needs to be rebuilt along with the infrastructure, and these sorts of things just take time. I for one, along with most of the soldiers I know, have no problem with the idea of this taking another decade, though preferably not at current troop levels, obviously. There are a lot of things that are really looking up, but there's still a long road ahead. Patience, however, is not one of the great American public virtues.

1 comment:

elephantschild said...

...we have special pills that let us withstand the heat

But I'm sure someone is working on this, right? At least until Hilarack O'clintobama cuts off the funding.