Tuesday, February 20, 2007


[posted by Callimachus]

We live in two nations, two realities. Do a Technorati search for "Mark Daily," if you get a chance, and see how many bloggers have picked up his story. Many. See how many of the anti-war bloggers have deigned to notice the fact that he existed. As of this writing, I see none.

I would introduce some people to Mark Daily. Probably if you're a regular here, you already have met him. It's too late to take him by the hand and thank him, but I dearly wish I could.

The night before he shipped out to Iraq, Daily tapped out on a laptop computer that short essay on why he had volunteered for the Army. With the touch of a button, he uploaded it to his MySpace site. Three months later, on Jan. 15, he died with three comrades when a roadside bomb demolished their vehicle near Mosul.

Volunteer armies at all times are a mix of people and motivations. But perhaps no army in modern times has had more collective ideals and ethics than the current U.S. military. Daily, a cherished child from a privileged neighborhood in California, exemplified all this. He was a thoughtful, liberal (in the true, noble sense of that abused word), secular college student, a registered Democrat and a vegetarian.

Yet he grappled with his conscience and joined the U.S. Army for the sake of the humanitarian purposes it attempts to accomplish.

9/11 didn't change him overnight. But instead of kicking in to knee-jerk patriotism or "no blood for oil" opposition, he kept reading, and he kept thinking, and he decided ...

But let him speak for himself:

I joined the fight because it occurred to me that many modern day 'humanists' who claim to possess a genuine concern for human beings throughout the world are in fact quite content to allow their fellow 'global citizens' to suffer under the most hideous state apparatuses and conditions. Their excuses used to be my excuses.

... Anyone who knew me before I joined knows that I am quite aware and at times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in Iraq. If you think the only way a person could bring themselves to volunteer for this war is through sheer desperation or blind obedience then consider me the exception.

... (C)onsider what peace vigils against genocide have accomplished lately. Consider that there are 19-year-old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics.

... Don't forget that human beings have a responsibility to one another and that Americans have a responsibility to the oppressed.

And so on. Since his death, Daily's little essay has become a well of inspiration to people who never met him. His family has been flooded with letters, mailed from the White House and from mobile home parks.

John Daily, Mark's father, praised his son at the memorial service in his honor for "choosing the difficult right over the easy wrong." He also has said, as any father would, "I'd give it all back a thousandfold just to hug him one more time."

The media followed the blogs to the story. LA Times told it, though it relegated it to the local section in print and hid it behind the subscription wall online.

Ultimately, his family says, Daily came to believe that his lifelong altruistic impulses and passions for the underdog had to extend to Iraqis crushed under decades of oppression. It was time to stop simply talking about human rights and actually do something to help secure them.

And he decided that joining the Army was the best way to do that.

... Daily had read historian Stephen Ambrose's writings on World War II and the generation of soldiers who fought for freedom from the forces of fascism. If not Iraq, Daily thought, he wanted to help save those being slaughtered in Sudan.

In the fall of 2003, he entered the UCLA ROTC program. ... Lt. Col. Shawn Buck, who headed the UCLA military science department at the time, said Daily was a deep thinker and natural leader who persuaded many cadets to stick with the program. "Once he made the decision to join, he jumped in with both feet and gave it everything he had," Buck said.

In a 2005 videotape of his officers' commissioning ceremony, Daily told the crowd that the U.S. Army is one of the few militaries in the world that teach not only tactics but also ethics. "I genuinely believe the United States Army is a force of good in this world," he said.

He was not blind to military transgressions and fumed to his father that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib was a failure of leadership. But that was exactly why he needed to get over there, he said. He was going to make sure that his men upheld Army values of integrity and honor.

Men like this just don't fit into some people's comfortable pictures. He didn't join up because he was impoverished and stupid and fell for a slick recruiter's spiel. He didn't join up because he was a sadist who just wanted to "kill A-rabs." But read the anti-war blogs, and you only meet soldiers in those two varieties: victims or thugs.

"Stuck in Iraq?" An "army of rejects?" I don't think so. Unless you mean people like Mark Daily, who "rejected" comfortable platitudes and the simplistic morality that says it doesn't matter how much "they" kill each other, so long as we don't have to stand too close to it.

I would introduce them to Daily -- for he still lives, in his words -- but I doubt they'd see him. I doubt they'd see anything at all.

[Hat tip: INDC Journal]

Reading about his memorial service, and the quotes by him ("Never forget that you can be a positive force for change") and about him ("He felt that all people should enjoy the sense of community he enjoyed," ... "He passionately felt that he could make a difference in this world") I thought how easily they could be said of another American martyr, another young casualty in this war that I will never forget, and have vowed to help keep the world from forgetting: Marla Ruzicka.

A California hippiechick anti-war activist and human-rights crusader, she died in an insurgent attack in Iraq in 2005 while working on her campaign to help innocent victims of that war. Ruzicka had invested her adult life into coaxing people to see through the term "collateral damage." To her, it didn't so much matter who started the fight, it didn't so much matter how the hurt happened: she saw people, real people, with names and faces and families. And they've been wounded through no fault of their own, and we should help them.

Her young life took some time to reach that level of practical idealism. But that she reached it by 28 -- when many so-called progressives in their 70s still don't get it -- was a testimony to the woman and her virtues.

She was well down the Rachel Corrie path. Then, gradually, something happened. She realized she really wanted to help people. And she realized what mattered was connecting people who needed help with those who had the ability to give it. Ruzicka changed her tactics. Instead of bellyaching about the corporate media, she went to Afghanistan and befriended journalists in the foreign correspondent pool and lobbied them with a mix of charm and persistence to tell the stories of the civilians she was meeting. More importantly, she began connecting the civilian casualty survivors with -- not Bay-area anti-Bush activists who would put pictures of their amputations on snazzy posters -- but with U.S. military and government officials who had the cash in-country that could help.

"She had the ability to connect with the victims and to talk with the U.S. military and be acceptable and authentic to both," a co-worker said. "I think that was because she was concerned with the victims. It wasn't about the morality of the war, or the politics."

Here's how "Rolling Stone" described her awakening:

Through her experiences in Afghanistan, Ruzicka's politics, and views toward the war, had changed. Once a dedicated peace activist, she'd decided that war was terrible but in some cases inevitable, even justified. It was a conscious split between her and her mentors at Global Exchange, and her embrace of the people Medea Benjamin calls "the realists" signified a major shift not just in Ruzicka's political philosophy but in her life as well. For about the past ten years, Benjamin had been both a mentor and a mother to Ruzicka. But now, the two clashed on their views regarding the upcoming war with Iraq, something that became more apparent when Ruzicka joined Benjamin on a fact-finding tour in Baghdad just prior to the war. "She was working with people in D.C. who were saying the war is going to happen, let's help the people who will be hurt," says Benjamin. "I thought it was a mistake to think like that before civilians were even killed." Medea urged Ruzicka to return to the activist fold and come back to San Francisco to "join us with all her energy and all her incredible enthusiasm to do whatever we could to stop the war."

She had the chance to be strident. She had the chance to be a big-mouth. Instead, she chose to invest herself in actually helping, even if it meant passing up the urge to shout, "No blood for oil." Her father, Clifford, a civil engineer, put it like this:

"She had some rebel in her. She didn't like the status quo and wanted to change injustices where she found them. But she learned that she could be more effective by working with the U.S. She wowed the people in Washington and spurred them to do more."

"She brought a spot of light to a very dim setting," said one friend. "She had this frenetic, youthful energy that made her just unstoppable." She came across as an innocent in some of the darkest, dirtiest places on earth.

But she strode in there deliberately, with her blonde, simple American demeanor, assured that there was no place else on earth she could do so much good and be true to herself.

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'Tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be

The Nation's eulogy noted the words of one of Ruzicka's myriad friends, author Peter Bergen:

"One really interesting thing is that Marla was very opposed to the Iraq war before it began, but once the war started I never heard her express any opinion about the war itself. Once the war started she just wanted to help people who were hurt, not engage in a debate about the merits of the war. Beneath her Californian happy-go-luck demeanor Marla was a very hardheaded realist about what needed to be done. The war happened. People were hurt. She wanted to help them. And an example of her realistic approach is how she worked in Afghanistan and Iraq compensating the families who died. Marla had no patience for people who demonstrated against the war, and did nothing else."

Mark Daily was born on the Fourth of July. Marla Ruzicka was born on the dying day of the Bicentennial. Both in that Other America called California. Both defied the partisan pigeonholes people use to understand the Iraq war, or all war. They didn't fit any of them because at times they seemed to fit all of them. They weren't pigeons. They soared.

I've learned to respect people who devote their energy to being "for" something, and have little respect left for people who only know what they're against. Any cause, any position on any matter, may be expressed, and lived, as a positive or a negative passion. To be against the American war in Iraq. To be for the non-combatant Iraqi people. A shade of difference, to some, but what a world of difference lies in how each statement is lived. I'm in awe of the mental and moral muscle that Marla Ruzicka and Mark Daily brought to bear on what they believed.

To be a supporter of what the U.S. is trying to help the Iraqi people accomplish, even to the point of supporting a war in which it is statistically certain some innocent people will die, is a mental calculus that involves you in a deep responsibility. It's our duty, we who back this effort, to not only insist to the world that the U.S. has high ideals, but to ensure that our government's policies in fact live up to those ideals -- Mark and Marla's -- and their sacrifices.

They were the greatest of their generation. In them and many others, we sent forth the best we bred. We will need so many more like them, and now there are two fewer.

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