Us Soldier Kept Hostage By Guerrillas

US Soldier Kept Hostage by Guerrillas is Killed

The killing of Spc. Keith Matthew Maupin by guerrillas in Iraq marks the potential beginning of a new tactic in the Iraq war. For the most part, it is hard for the guerrillas to wreak much real damage on US troops in the country, who are well armed and well protected. Ocassionally they manage to kill a US soldier with a roadside bomb or mortar or rpg fire. But these actions do not really wreak significant harm on the US war effort, though the accumulation of such deaths is beginning to alarm the US public.

Taking a soldier hostage, on the other hand, is much easier than killing large numbers of US troops. Since an individual hostage has a name and a face and family members, his story is much more affecting than is the report of a casualty statistic, even when a name is given. With the killing of Spc. Maupin, the guerrillas have initiated a new media campaign aimed at weakening the will of the US public to remain in Iraq. I fear guerrillas may increasingly deploy this tactic.

One thing I admire about John Kerry’s approach to Iraq is that he never fails to keep in view the sacrifice of the American soldiers and the positive contributions they have made. The Bush administration has grossly mismanaged post-war Iraq, but that is not the fault of US troops, who are mostly dedicated young people thrust into an unfamiliar situation in which their lives are in danger. They did rid Iraq of a genocidal regime, and they have done a lot of behind the scenes community service work in Iraq. I hope Americans, as they increasingly turn against the Iraq war (with every reason in the world) will not repeat the error of some in the 1970s, who despised Vietnam vets along with the Vietnam war. One officer confessed to me last fall when things were obviously turning bad, “Dr. Cole, I’m in a business where if I’m ordered to shoot over there, I shoot over there.” He clearly was unhappy with the policies pursued. But what could he do. The American public owes it to these troops to give them a civilian leadership who will do right by them.

[addendum: Some readers wrote to complain that the stories that Vietnam vets faced hostility from anti-war Americans was a black legend spread in the 1980s and did not reflect the reality. I’m not in a position at the moment to comment on this issue one way or another, but note the objection.]

Also captured, with his fate as yet unknown, is Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun, a Lebanese-American Marine, His case underlines the service given to the United States by Arab Americans and Muslim Americans. In the wake of September 11, it is especially important that the US public constantly be reminded that Arab Americans are not aliens but a longstanding and essential thread in the great American tapestry. Lebanese began coming to the US in some numbers in the 1880s. That wave of immigration, which was greatly reduced from 1924, also brought the Italians and Eastern European Jews to this country. Although most Lebanese immigrants were Christian, it is estimated that about 10% were Muslim.

Many Arabs took up the peddling trade in the Midwest, trekking long hours to farm houses to supply basic supplies at a time before the Model T and the Sears and Roebuck catalogue made it easy to get them. When the automobile helped kill the peddling business, many Arab Americans flocked to Dearborn to work for Ford, so that ironically the very industry that ended their previous jobs provided them new ones. The “Syrians” were a key element all along in the Detroit automobile industry, and southeast Michigan came to have the largest concentration of Arabs outside the Arab world itself.

The red scare after WW I and the spread of anti-immigrant racism closed off most such immigration from 1924 until 1965, when the Civil Rights Movement impelled Congress to end the quota system installed in 1924 (which had set tiny quotas for Syria and Lebanon and large ones for Germany and Norway). A second wave of large-scale Arab immigration began from 1965 and continues until the present.

Comedian Danny Thomas and his daughter Marlo Thomas (who married Phil Donohue) are among the best-known Arab Americans. But they are legion. They include Dr. DeBakey, who did pioneering work on the artificial heart, Paula Abdul, and Ralph Nader (Arab newspapers most often refer to him as the Arab presidential candidate), among many others.

Cpl. Hassoun has risked his for the United States of America. He is not only a Marine, but an Arab-American Muslim. All Americans owe him and his family a debt of gratitude that cannot be repaid. The next time any American looks askance at someone for having an Arabic accent or appearing Arab, they should remember Cpl. Hassoun. I only hope he can escape his captors so that we can remember his further exploits.