Christmas in Kuwait

Christmas in Kuwait (And Qatar, and Hanoi, and Singapore, and Jakarta)

From a Starbucks, on a U.S. Military Base, in Kuwait

Christmas seems to have escaped the bonds of Christianity. During the past month or so, I’ve seen Vietnamese preparing to celebrate Christmas in Hanoi, “Sings” stuffing stockings in Singapore, and Muslims galore wearing Santa Claus outfits in Jakarta. It’s Christmas day in Kuwait, where I sit in a Starbucks among soldiers, sailors, marines, air force and civilians. I’ve seen probably a hundred people in the last 15 minutes, yet few were wearing uniforms, giving a lone writer plenty of cover to swim silently through the waters. Although few media visited our troops in the course of 2006, this Christmas they seemed to flood in. Harried journalists with big cameras are easy for troops to spot. Rarely can they get a truly candid look at the state of morale of our people at war.

This war has a thousand faces. A couple weeks ago in Singapore, an opportunity arose to speak with a clutch of field-grade officers, most of whom were foreign veterans of the worldwide war. These officers were from countries such as Singapore, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia and the United States. A common theme among our foreign allies is a concern that we Americans seem to think we are standing alone against a world teaming with enemies. Our military leaders of course know that we are not alone and that enemies do not lurk in every cave or under every rock. They know, too, that we have more allies than enemies, and even more who fit into neither category.

Some foreign officers surmised that the false sense of isolation felt by many Americans propels our civilian government to precipitous behavior bathed and bleached by bright stage-lights. Under pressure from a packed house all too willing to suspend disbelief, our civilian leaders pretend they have a crystal ball and magic wand, knowing that if they do not, we’ll vote for a better set of actors who can persuade us they do.

The world is not teeming with enemies, it only seems that way; such is the insidious nature of terrorism. Some of the safest, most welcoming places in the world for Americans are not within our own borders. If the world were truly arrayed against us, Singapore streets would not be ablaze with Christmas lights, and filled with holiday shoppers. Meanwhile, where ever they might find themselves Americans seem intent on conjuring Christmas spirit through the most typical means—a big Christmas dinner.

This war is strange. I never hear soldiers worried about their own morale sagging. Contrary, the war-fighters here are more concerned to bolster the morale of the people at home. Here in Kuwait, where the dining facilities are bedecked in Christmas decorations, soldiers stream in from Iraq on convoys and stream back north along those bomb-laden roads. The service members here are not all rear-echelon people who never see fighting or blood. Yet their overall morale obviously is high. Few of them know I am a writer, and so they speak freely at the tables around me. In Qatar, from which I’d just departed, I spoke with troops taking 4-day R&R passes, some having just returned from the most dangerous parts of Iraq, and others heading straight back and their overall morale was also very high. The morale at war is higher than I have ever seen it at home; makes me wonder what they know that most Americans seem to be missing.

My bold on the part I feel is most profound

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