'Any day I'm here could be the day I die,' wrote Travis Youngblood, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class
Newsweek Tells Story of the Iraq War Through Letters, Journals and E-mails to Families From Soldiers Who Died
For the families who participated, 'The point that united them is grief -- and the centrality of the human story of war,' writes Editor Jon Meacham
For every U.S. service member killed, at least 20 Iraqis die violently; The stories of four who died on one day
America's fallen warriors are garlanded and buried beneath white marble, revered but silenced. Yet they still have stories to tell, stories that bear hearing, and remembering, writes Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham in the issue on newsstands Monday. "In letters and journals and e-mails, the war dead live on, their words -- urgent, honest, unself- conscious -- testament to the realities of combat. What do they have to say to us? This special issue of Newsweek is an attempt to answer that question."
A team of correspondents and researchers collected the correspondence of American soldiers who served in Iraq and put them together in the April 2 issue, "Voices of the Fallen" (on newsstands Monday, March 26). Almost all of the magazine is devoted to the Voices project, which marks the beginning of the fifth year of war in Iraq. The accounts written were not for the public, but for those they loved -- wives, children, parents, siblings. "Each of the warriors whose words are excerpted died in the line of duty. Each of the families chose to share their stories with us, and with you," Meacham writes.
"It's become very important to me that these soldiers and Marines are viewed as individuals with lives, dreams, experiences and families," says Terri Clifton, whose son, Marine Cpl. Chad Clifton, was killed by a mortar in the Anbar province. "They aren't cardboard cutouts in shades of red, white and blue." Meacham writes that the families who cooperated with Newsweek did not do so to make political statements: their views are as divergent as the broad public's. "The point that united them is grief -- and the centrality of the human story of war."
The correspondences are broken up into four chapters:
-- 2003: Invasion: The start of the war, when messages are positive and soldiers are optimistic that they are helping the Iraqi people. "It's really awesome to see a cavalry troop work and win. [ ... ] Everyone is doing their job well, and the commander is very pleased," wrote Army Sgt. Patrick Tainsh. He continued, "The people are very friendly and welcome us with open arms. They want to give us gifts, but we don't take anything. [ ... ] I traded a Marlboro to an elder yesterday for an Iraqi-made cigarette, and it was OK. He wanted me to take the whole pack, but I insisted he take mine, which he did.
He said 'Bamerican, Bamerican,' and was very happy. They really want us here. You can see it in their eyes."
-- 2004: Insurgency: The insurgency begins, carnage and chaos are everywhere and service members find themselves fighting a faceless enemy. "A big battle broke out and we were in the middle of it," wrote Army Spc. Justin W. Johnson. He continued, "That night we lost 10 soldiers and 49 got wounded. [ ... ] The next night we took a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of Sadr City around midnight. We had to drive through burning roadblocks, ram cars to get them out of our way and do about 60 mph to get out alive. We were informed that it is no longer a peacekeeping mission, now it is war again!"
-- 2005: Democracy: The White House focused on turning Iraq into a showcase of Middle Eastern democracy. For U.S. troops, mission fatigue began to set in. "There will be heightened security for elections. I expect to be busy around that time, just because these people feel safe whenever we are around. I wonder why?" wrote Marine Cpl. Kyle Grimes. "I usually get so incredibly bored whenever we are working with civilians. But you also can't trust any of them. I am getting tired of not being able to trust average people. But I really have no choice with this place and an enemy like this. One thing is for sure. I know men that I can trust my life with. That is a great feeling."
-- 2006: Civil War: Soldiers are finding themselves in the middle of a civil war. "[In] Mosul we were bring attacked everyday," wrote Army Sgt. Kraig Foyteck. "Out here we are not the targets. It's one religion against another, we are just caught in the middle. However, if we are in the way, they will attempt to get rid of us as well."
Also in the issue, Chief Foreign Correspondent Rod Nordland and Baghdad Bureau Chief Babak Dehghanpisheh tell the stories of four Iraqi civilians who died on February 4. For each U.S. service member killed in Iraq, at least 20 Iraqis die violently. As they report, Feb. 4 was no exception. Most of the day's 81 victims of violent deaths -- about the usual daily toll this past winter -- were civilians like Jalal Mustafa, a mechanic, the softest of soft targets. "Forty-two of them were gunned down execution style, many of their corpses bearing signs of torture: hallmarks of Shia death squads. Most of the other deaths appeared to be the work of Sunni and Al Qaeda extremists. Newsweek talked to the families of four of the Feb. 4 victims. Among them were a street vendor, a former TV journalist and a truck-parts dealer. Two were Shia, and two were Sunni. And in each case their families lost not only loved ones but breadwinners. None of their killers has been identified."
And Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria writes what victory in Iraq would mean. "To speak of victory in Iraq might sound like a cruel joke. This is a nation that is now devastated, where 2 million people have fled, another 2 million are internal refugees, militias run large parts of the country and the government sanctions religious repression, ethnic cleansing and vigilante violence. What does 'victory' mean in such circumstances?" Zakaria analyzes the steps the Iraqis and the Iraqi government should take in order for there to be a victory.
The Special Issue concludes with Columnist Anna Quindlen, who reflects on how the Iraq war has changed us at home and its legacy of what-ifs. "There's nothing like a protracted war to shift the landscape of existence wholesale. Stand in front of any war memorial or military cemetery, in a small town, in the capital, in Gettysburg, in France, and the what-ifs are heavy in the air. The marriages precipitously ended or never made. The children orphaned or never born. The families broken, the towns denuded," she writes. "The rationale for going to war has to meet many tests, but one of them -- perhaps the most important one -- is whether the mission is strong enough to carry the weight of so many ghosts and so much misery, here and in Iraq, too."