Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Out Misbehavin'

A recent trip to Al Bakir Village confirmed what I already suspected about Iraqi kids—the steady supply of free stuff from well-intentioned folks in the U.S. has spoiled them.

On March 15, I went to deliver supplies to two local schools with a few soldiers from Headquarters Battery, 3-29 Field Artillery. Everything was going smoothly until one of the kids caught sight of a soccer ball mingled in with the boxes of pencils and notebooks. From there on out, I was swarmed with scores of kids demanding soccer balls. One of the more articulate brats said “Mister, Mister I am pupil at school. Give me soccer ball now.” Others just opened and closed their hands in the air as if to say “gimme.”

The kids seemed completely oblivious to the dangers of stepping right in front of a moving ten ton truck. As we left the first school to our next destination I had to pull several youngsters out of the way and continually check under the vehicles to make sure no one was crawling under them (some were).

Even after all the goods had been equitably distributed, the swarm followed the military vehicles to the next school a few blocks over. With the efficiency and team work of a colony of army ants, a dozen children piled on top of each others’ backs to breach the fence of the other school to get to the booty. Some of the older ones preferred a more subtle method of attack—the little kleptomaniacs pretended to help carry boxes into the other school but clandestinely hid coveted items in their shirts when they thought no one was looking.

As a few brawls broke out among the boys, the only vestige of authority in sight was the irate and overwhelmed schoolmaster, whose switch dealt swift justice upon any hand that grabbed something out of turn. I also saw one father carting off one of the boys and hitting him upside the head until he was crying hysterically.

I learned from the first sergeant in the convoy I was in that despite all the effort to ward off thieves, a quarter of the items came up missing.

Experiences like that make me think twice about programs like Operation Iraqi Children. It seemed to me that all this stuff just contributes to the general disorder of the country, rather than “endearing the people” or “winning the hearts and minds” or any other overused slogan.

On the way back to the base, I felt the hemmet vehicle I was in go over something. I joked it was either a speed bump or a first grader. Aggressive begging just isn’t cute.


Blogger Marshall Thompson said...

I think your definition of "spoiled" is backward. Spoiled implies that an individual receives everything he wants and becomes unpleasant because of it. I think "starved" would be more accurate here. They don't get much, so when they see something wonderful like a soccer ball, it's almost too much to wait in line.

Still, charities are insignificant compared to long-term economic stability. It would be best if we could provide them with enough prosperity to purchase their own soccer balls. Unfortunately, that seems a long way off.

A few months ago I went with a group to deliver Operation Iraqi Children items to school children who, judging by their nice clean uniforms, were doing better financially. They sat in their chairs without making a peep as we handed out the items. I guess they didn't need them as dearly.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Spencer Case said...


I would submit that those particular kids just had less exposure to American troops, but would have behaved the same way had they come to expect soccer balls.

9:20 PM  

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