11. March 2005 · Comments Off on The Crucible · Categories: General, GWOT

Some years ago, the news program “48 Hours”— whose main news hook is to roll the cameras on something interesting for a solid 2 days— followed a training company of female Marine recruits completing the “crucible”, the two-day exercise/ordeal that is the final exam for basic training in the US Marine Corps. I taped that program, as Blondie had just competed basic. By odd coincidence, her training company was doing the crucible at the same time as the company that “48 Hours” focused upon. She actually appears very briefly in the program, distinguished only by her name on the back of her helmet, in a shot of her company marching by. She fell out for the crucible on barely-healed stress fractures, and shot full of antibiotics for an infected insect bite, but insisted afterwards that she had actually rather enjoyed it, for the challenge of being able to use everything she had been taught at Parris Island, to think instead of merely do as ordered.

The program made it clear the crucible was anything but a gentle amble through the woods and obstacle courses, but a 48 hour test of endurance, on two meals and a little sleep, concluding with a grueling night-march back to base from the training area, arriving just as the sun comes up. The video of the last, long slog was particularly touching: exhausted young women, marching along, fueled by their last few shreds of energy. Some of them are visibly failing, field packs and other gear dragging at their shoulders, barely stumbling along; the only thing keeping them on their blistered feet and moving forward being the knowledge they are nearly to the end, that and the whispered encouragement of their friends around them. In one touching shot, a trainee reaches back, and is holding the hand of the woman in the rank directly behind her. One knows that that silent, encouraging hand-clasp is keeping both of them going, that and their own grim determination to become Marines.

It has struck me in the last few weeks that the latest round of suicide bombings and assassinations in Iraq may also constitute a crucible of sorts, especially those happening after the elections. The deaths are horrifying, senseless; deaths of bystanders in the street, in a bakery, of a newscaster, of Iraqi army recruits and police cadets, politicians and clerics, and people are rightfully frightened, and angered by violence dished out by the bitter-end Baathists and the foreign jihadists, and common criminals. Frightened and angry… but not cowed. They put on their best clothes and voted anyway, in spite of threats. They are stepping forward to take charge, to take the place of murdered policemen, informing on insurgents hiding in their neighborhood, and saying “enough”; creating an identity for themselves by standing in opposition to the terror.

Shia, Sunni, Kurd, devout or secular matter less than simply being an Iraqi, or so I read over and over in stories about the election and the political dickering afterwards. It is as if a national identity is being forged, right in front of our eyes, that every blow pounds a harder, finer and more flexible edge on the steel. Out of adversity, danger and horrors which are shared by all may be built a stronger, more determined and truly democratic Iraq. Both the Baathists and al Quaida wanted to create a strong Islamic state in the Middle East, and they may have done it in Iraq… but not quite in the way they were expecting.

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