I almost lost a Soldier because of a dog.
You might think from that first sentence that this is an epic story of war and triumph, like when Ripley had to go back for the cat in Aliens. It's not. It's actually a very dumb, verging on ridiculous story. I don't know if that's going to prove my point better or make it seem sillier, but it's the only story of this type that I've got so I'm going to tell it.
Here's what happened: a group of Soldiers were living in a building on a Forward Operating Base (FOB.) An Iraqi Army unit was living in the next building over. The two buildings were fenced off from each other for security reasons, not least of all because we didn't trust the IA. They're supposed to be our allies, but you can never tell whether they've been corrupted by insurgents or not. (This was all some years ago, so I apologize if the situation is changed. In fact, I'm sure the IA is much more trustworthy now than they were then.)
There was a dog running around the FOB. As anyone who's been to The Middle East knows, Arabs hate dogs with the same intensity that they hate pigs. (For some reason everyone knows about the proscription on pigs, but no one seems to know about the one on dogs. Perhaps because we don't routinely eat dog?) Dogs are anathema to Muslims. So. naturally, the Iraqis on this FOB were trying to kill this particular dog.
MY Soldiers then decided to "save" the dog by bringing her into the fenced compound. Guess what? The bitch was pregnant, and now there was a litter of puppies running around the American building in addition to the momma. The Iraqis very much wanted to put the dogs down, but they were reluctant to fire on the American building, for obvious reasons. So every day that went by the Iraqis got more and more furious, and the American Soldiers seemed to find it hilarious and enjoyed taunting the Iraqis.
This is all set-up. Here's what happened. One day the mother dog got out. Seizing their opportunity, the Iraqis set upon the dog to kill her. One of my Soldiers ran out of the compound after her. As he got the dog and ran away, the IA, our allies, shot at my Soldier. He got away due to good fortune or bad aim, and that was that.
So. That's my story. What's my point? Well, the point is that there have been a lot of feel-good stories lately about "saving" the dogs that our service members adopt. Every time I see one of these I get really angry, and I think most service members, the good ones anyway, do, too.
Keeping pets is illegal. It's a violation of General Order 1, the rule so important, it was the first one the Army's Central Command decided to write. It also says that we can't drink or have pornography while deployed. Yes, service members hate it. Yes, service members break it all the time. But it's not there for fun. It's there to save lives.
I hated being sober and celibate during my deployment. I would never do it stateside. But I know why I had to do it. I couldn't ever afford to be drunk, because I could've been mortared at any time. I could've thought it was safe and had a little tipple of hooch, and all of a sudden we're getting RPGed and I need to have my wits about me and lead men. And Soldiers fucking their superiors? Let's not even get into what that does for morale.
Civilians, I gather, tend to understand these restraints, but for some reason the pet thing just doesn't strike home with them. (Although, to be fair, I've also heard a civilian vociferously argue that our boys were getting drunk on beer every night and having a grand old time, "just like in Vietnam.") Well, let me break it down for you. Dogs in Iraq aren't like dogs in the United States. They have rabies, for one thing. For another thing, some of them aren't dogs at all, but are dog-like jackals.
If you disregard the health concern (?) keeping dogs is terrible for the American image in the Middle East. It's not like everyone loves us over there to begin with, but there's a difference between being a good guest, being an uninvited guest, and being a jackass. If you didn't invite someone to your house and they came anyway, you might be frustrated but if they showed good manners and made polite conversation you'd probably tolerate them and maybe even think better of them in the future. Now imagine that same person came to your house, took off his shoes and walked around barefoot, then took a big stinky shit in your toilet and didn't flush.
This whole thing with the dogs is the big stinky upper-decker in our relations with Iraq. See, the thing about the party guest in the metaphor is that he probably doesn't get that what he's doing is wrong. He probably goes around barefoot and forgets to flush at home. He doesn't mean anything by it. But when you're in somebody else's house you're supposed to think about how THEY would like you to act. Every time a service member adopts a dog they're spitting in the eyes of Islam and Iraqi culture. I imagine it would be something like if an Iraqi set up a big burning cross in my front yard, and then acted like nothing had happened and tried to have a negotiation with me.
There's a cumulative effect. No, one dog is not going to sour the whole Iraqi-American diplomatic relationship. But I just read today that one woman has saved 223 dogs. That's 223 burning crosses on Iraqi lawns. That I'm certain of. It's almost certainly a much higher number.
So, all right, let's say you don't care about the public health concerns, and you don't care about Arab-American relations. Do you care about the lives of our American service members? Because I almost lost a Soldier because of a dog.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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