What adulatory words can be written, I often wonder, that haven’t already been penned, to grant justice to the supreme sacrifice that the soldier makes in combat?
Conventional wisdom, such as the aphorism that ‘the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic,’ will not suffice. This old quote of dubious attribution misses the mark when it comes to war. It may hold true for presidents and kings. But in this violent world, the death of the brave fighter is so commonplace that its fundamental heartbreak is often lost to the impersonal and statistical ‘big picture.’
Telling the tale of the fallen soldier, emphasizing the dreams unrealized and the potentials unfulfilled, then, helps us appreciate the sacrifice all the more. Take, for example, a British Tae Kwon Do instructor of unquestionable talent with a nearly certain future of renown. He was heavily training and positioned as an Olympic hopeful when war broke out in the spring of 2003. Heeding the moral call and selflessly foregoing his prospects of personal acclaim, the expert martial artist accepted his duty and left for Iraq.
Arriving in Ramadi in central Iraq, Olympic thoughts presumably buried behind the urgencies of combat, Wa’il al Dhaleai quickly linked up with his comrades in the Iraqi resistance. For a while, he gallantly participated in the struggle, giving everything he could for his fellow Arab nation, his religion and his political beliefs.
But by the fall of 2003, Wa’il’s luck had unfortunately run out. On one terrible October day, the valiant Wa’il al Dhaleai was tragically killed by the American occupiers in Ramadi.
The palpable calamity of Wa’il’s story is truly heart wrenching. But at the same time, it gives voice to countless others who gave their lives for Iraq without having their stories told. All of these soldiers are just as worthy of a voice; the fact that Wa’il’s tale is known is solely due to his friend and former comrade who decided to give Rolling Stone an interview in 2005 under the name ‘Khalid.’
But even with a friend who went public to a popular Western magazine’mdash;not an everyday occurrence for your average freedom fighter in Iraq’mdash;only basic information is known about the life of Wa’il al Dhaleai. How diverse and equally as moving must be the stories of other, voiceless, fallen heroes of the Iraqi resistance. Iraqis, Egyptians, Saudis, Yemenis, Syrians, Iranians, Palestinians, Sudanese and others all courageously dedicated themselves to the Iraqi cause, and every one of their sacrifices should be applauded and deeply appreciated by decent people throughout the world.
Few of these heroes were Olympic hopefuls. Most never led a double life in the West or ever visited the West at all. Yet, every fallen soldier of the Iraqi resistance bears a likeness to Wa’il al Dhaleai; honoring Wa’il honors them all. Each martyr, like Wa’il, was willing to place the noble cause of Iraq’s liberation’mdash;not Iraq’s occupation’mdash;above all else. For Iraq they were willing to fight, clash and murder; and for Iraq, they readily gave up personal dreams, spouses, families and life itself.
The story of Wa’il al Dhaleai, atypical only in that it is known by us, personalizes the Iraqi resistance, a side often dehumanized by the Western media. Wa’il, along with everyone he is representative of, is a human being, just like you and I, and just like my friend Danny who may have enlisted on the American side.
Sympathizing with Wa’il’s moving narrative challenges us to decide which side to support, for non-personal reasons‘mdash;since people like Wa’il and Danny are trying to kill each other, yet both are human beings with personal bonds, dreams and a devotion to their cause. By blindly ‘supporting our troops’ because I grew up with Danny, I would be supporting the man who will kill those like Wa’il. But now that they’re both personified, there’s no reason why Danny is entitled to life any more than Wa’il. It’s certainly unfortunate that the two are in a position where they’re seeking to kill each other, but that’s not Wa’il’s fault any more than it is Danny’s. (In fact, it’s Danny’s more than Wa’il’s, since Danny is on the side of the aggressor who started the conflict, and he volunteered to sign up for it.)
So, Wa’il’s tragedy pushes the question to a higher level: which side should be supported, the American or the Iraqi resistance? Without recourse to personal appeals, all there is to go on are the objective facts. Iraq was a sovereign nation; the Americans haughtily violated international law and occupied it; the Iraqi resistance is seeking to expel the occupiers from their nation to reestablish sovereignty: the Iraqi resistance must be supported.
Thus, the subjective position to be taken up when looking at the objective facts is support for the Iraqi cause, for which Wa’il gave his life. Some may find this conclusion treasonous. But when your country is in the wrong, it is just to be treasonous! The power of honoring Wa’il is that it reminds us that we must evaluate whether our country is right or wrong before blindly supporting it simply because a friend or a cousin might be involved. After all, Wa’il was a damn good friend and a cousin too, in addition to being a true hero for the Iraqi cause. He will continue to be missed.