[Marxism] The perils of reading Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Ambrose

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 5 07:20:35 MDT 2007

Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2007 Friday

A higher calling than duty;
Mark Daily wrote on MySpace that he joined the Army to help the 
suffering people of Iraq. In death, his words have become a call to service.

BYLINE: Teresa Watanabe, Times Staff Writer

"WHY I joined: The question has been asked of me so many times in so 
many different contexts that I thought it would be best if I wrote my 
reasons for joining the Army on my page for all to see."

Oct. 29, 2006. On the night before he deployed to Iraq, Army 2nd Lt. 
Mark Jennings Daily sat down at his laptop in his Texas apartment and 
began tapping out an essay for his MySpace Web page. Daily, a 
23-year-old Irvine native who considered himself a liberal humanist, had 
decided to join the fight despite initial doubts about the war.

Before shipping out, he wanted to explain why.

The decision had befuddled some. After all, Daily was a UCLA political 
science graduate with a wide circle of friends and dreams of becoming a 
senator, or a history professor, or a foreign correspondent. Why join 
the Army?

His essay would turn out to be a last testament to one soldier's courage 
and convictions.

And that essay, in recent weeks, has ricocheted throughout the Internet, 
taking on a life of its own. It was read on the U.S. Senate floor and 
posted on the websites of columnists and talk show hosts. It has 
prompted hundreds of letters from strangers. Daily's words, his 
astonished parents say, seemed to resonate with all kinds of folks, 
stirring a common altruistic impulse.

He wrote it in just 20 minutes, his parents say, as he chatted with his 
family in his packed-up El Paso apartment near Ft. Bliss, Texas, where 
he was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade 
Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

"First, the more accurate question is why I volunteered to go to Iraq. 
After all, I joined the Army a week after we declared war on Saddam's 
government with the intention of going.... "

Daily's parents, John and Linda Daily of Irvine, didn't particularly 
want to see their eldest son ship out to Iraq. They would never tell him 
that directly. They respected their children too much to try to interfere.

"If not me, then who?" Linda Daily remembers her son asking, his earnest 
eyes leaving her with no good answer.

So the Dailys did what they believed parents should do: They embraced 
their son, affirmed his decision and sent him off, shielding as best 
they could their fears and doubts. His wife of just three months, Janet, 
did the same.

"Anyone who knew me before I joined knows that I am quite aware and at 
times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in Iraq. If you think 
the only way a person could bring themselves to volunteer for this war 
is through sheer desperation or blind obedience then consider me the 

Mark Daily, born on the Fourth of July, grew up in Irvine's Woodbridge 
Village, on a street of spacious homes and well-manicured lawns. His 
father, John, is an aerospace project manager; his mother, Linda, an 

His family says he became a registered Democrat who read voraciously and 
delighted in fervent debate. He read liberal intellectual Noam Chomsky, 
conservative Sen. John McCain of Arizona and everything in between.

His first passions were animal rights and environmental protection, 
prompting him to become a vegetarian and Green Party member in high 
school for a few years. He defended American Indian rights so loudly in 
one backyard debate that Linda Daily imagined the neighbors would think 
it a family brawl. His heroes were immigrants because "they risk their 
lives to achieve better ones," he wrote on his MySpace page.

Fascism and anti-Semitism particularly troubled him. If you really want 
to understand me, he wrote on MySpace, watch "Schindler's List."

He sought out neo-Nazis for online debates. In a string of e-mails, 
Daily invited one young man who featured swastikas on his MySpace page 
to explain his sentiments. After a wide-ranging discussion over German 
history, the Holocaust, African DNA, North Korean fascism and democratic 
values, Daily turned the Nazi lover around. "I think most certainly a 
lot, if not all of my beliefs have changed," the young man wrote. Daily, 
he said, was right. "Nothing was ever created with a system of hate."

After the 9/11 attacks, Daily was not convinced that a military response 
was the best option. In his MySpace essay, he runs through the gamut of 
reasons he used at one time or another to argue against confronting the 
Taliban and Saddam Hussein: cultural tolerance, the sanctity of national 
sovereignty, a suspicion of America's intentions. Weren't we really 
after their oil? he wondered.

Somewhere along the way, he changed his mind. His family says there was 
no epiphany. Writings by author and columnist Christopher Hitchens on 
the moral case for war deeply influenced him. A 2003 phone conversation 
with a UCLA ROTC officer on the ideals of commitment and service 
impressed him.

Ultimately, his family says, Daily came to believe that his lifelong 
altruistic impulses and passions for the underdog had to extend to 
Iraqis crushed under decades of oppression. It was time to stop simply 
talking about human rights and actually do something to help secure them.

And he decided that joining the Army was the best way to do that.

One thing is certain, as disagreeable or as confusing as my decision to 
enter the fray may be, consider what peace vigils against genocide have 
accomplished lately. Consider that there are 19-year-old soldiers from 
the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who 
have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative 
government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi 
voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics. Oftentimes it is less 
about how clean your actions are and more about how pure your intentions 

Daily had read historian Stephen Ambrose's writings on World War II and 
the generation of soldiers who fought for freedom from the forces of 
fascism. If not Iraq, Daily thought, he wanted to help save those being 
slaughtered in Sudan.

In the fall of 2003, he entered the UCLA ROTC program. The UCLA military 
science faculty selected Daily as cadet of the year for 2005. He was 
named a Distinguished Military Graduate, an honor given to 20% of cadets 

Lt. Col. Shawn Buck, who headed the UCLA military science department at 
the time, said Daily was a deep thinker and natural leader who persuaded 
many cadets to stick with the program. "Once he made the decision to 
join, he jumped in with both feet and gave it everything he had," Buck said.

In a 2005 videotape of his officers' commissioning ceremony, Daily told 
the crowd that the U.S. Army is one of the few militaries in the world 
that teach not only tactics but also ethics. "I genuinely believe the 
United States Army is a force of good in this world," he said.

He was not blind to military transgressions and fumed to his father that 
the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib was a 
failure of leadership. But that was exactly why he needed to get over 
there, he said. He was going to make sure that his men upheld Army 
values of integrity and honor.

So that is why I joined. In the time it took you to read this 
explanation, innocent people your age have suffered under the crushing 
misery of tyranny.

Don't forget that human beings have a responsibility to one another and 
that Americans have a responsibility to the oppressed. Assisting a 
formerly oppressed population in converting their torn society into a 
plural, democratic one is dangerous and difficult business, especially 
when being attacked and sabotaged from literally every direction.

So if you have anything to say to me at the end of this reading, let it 
at least include "Good Luck."

Daily touched down in Iraq on Nov. 19 and was sent to the northern city 
of Mosul. In calls and e-mails home, he began asking for presents for 
his new Iraqi friends: cigars for the soldiers, candy and soccer balls 
for the children. He vividly described his adventures with them: a 
Thanksgiving Day game of musical chairs, a rooftop cigar session; his 
first Kurdish meal, his first local haircut.

In one video he sent, Iraqi soldiers surround him with grins, crowning 
him with a turban as a gesture of friendship.

In typical fashion, he sought out new points of view. In one discussion, 
he wrote that he asked a Kurdish man whether the insurgents could be 
viewed as freedom fighters. The man cut him off. "The difference between 
insurgents and American soldiers," Daily said the man told him, "is that 
they get paid to take life -- to murder -- and you get paid to save lives."

"That Kurdish man's assessment of our presence means more to me than all 
of the naysayers and makeshift humanists that monopolize our 
interpretation of this war," Daily wrote in a Dec. 31 e-mail.

He was equally expansive with his troops. His wife, Janet, says he was 
constantly asking for tea bags so he could invite his soldiers to his 
room for tea and talk. They asked him for advice about careers, finances 
and family problems, discussed politics and philosophy. His troops 
jokingly posted a sign on his door: "Mark's Tea Hour."

In January, Daily was transferred from a support operation to a security 
one. He told his family that if he should die, he would never regret a 

In an e-mail to his brother, Eric, Daily wrote: "I know it is hard for 
you knowing that I am over here in danger, but never forget that I came 
here on behalf of the countless brothers who were torn apart by the 
savage exploits of this region's tyrants."

On Jan. 14, the family received another e-mail:

"All is well. More war stories then I can fit in this e-mail. Having the 
time of my life!"

It was his last e-mail.

The next day, Jan. 15, Daily was killed when a roadside bomb detonated 
beneath his vehicle in Mosul. Three of his comrades died with him.

But his words have become a living appeal for his most treasured Army 
value -- selfless service -- as it rips through the Internet and reaches 
unimagined audiences.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) recently read part of the essay on the 
Senate floor. It has been posted on the websites of syndicated columnist 
Michelle Malkin and Los Angeles radio talk show hosts Larry Elder and 
Hugh Hewitt. It has traveled overseas to places as far-flung as 
Bulgaria, where it is being translated for publication in the local 

His family has received official letters of condolence from President 
Bush, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California First Lady Maria Shriver, 
senators, congressmen, judges. Most touching to them are the hundreds 
and hundreds of heartfelt notes from ordinary folk, most of them 
strangers, who read Daily's essay and wanted to share how it inspired 
them to serve others.

One woman said she had begun volunteering in a children's cancer 
hospital. Others have donated to Make-A-Wish-Foundation and other 
charities in Daily's name. Trees have been planted, scholarships planned.

So many people reached out that the family scrapped plans for a 
175-person memorial service and moved it to Mariners Church in Irvine 
instead. More than 1,600 people attended the Jan. 27 service.

The response has filled the Dailys with a strange mix of grief and pain, 
mingled with gratitude and awe. All of it, his parents muse, affirms 
Daily's faith in the decency of people and the value of community.

Which doesn't make his loss any easier to bear.

"I'd give it all back a thousandfold," his father says, "just to hug him 
one more time."

teresa.watanabe at latimes.com

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