IN MEMORIAM - It was 15 years ago this month that Joseph Anzack Jr., private first class, United States Army, faced impending death on a dark and dusty road during America’s long war in Iraq.
You remember the Iraq war, don’t you? In 2002, the U.S. propaganda machine was working overtime to convince us that Saddam Hussein threatened the world with weapons of mass destruction. In March of 2003 American forces invaded Iraq and shortly thereafter President George W. Bush declared ‘Mission Accomplished!’ The allied armies had prevailed and the evil dictator had been removed from power. But four years later the horrific bombings and bloodshed in Baghdad were still going strong.
Joseph Anzack Jr. was just 20 when he died; a kid barely out of his teens. Classmates from Torrance South High remembered him as friendly and easy-going. He played on the football team and dreamed of a career as a military officer. When Joseph died, the local papers ran stories about how he was an authentic war hero. That may be. But the ugly truth is that Joseph also died as a victim in a much larger wartime tragedy.
The official story was that on a hot, May night in 2007 Joseph and his squad were ambushed while on patrol. There was a fierce firefight. Most of the American soldiers were killed and Joseph was taken prisoner. Hundreds of his fellow troopers spent the next several days searching for him and his body was finally found over a week later.
But there is more to this story. Here’s what really happened. Joseph and seven comrades were ordered to go out on a nighttime patrol. Their mission was to park near a certain village and to keep a lookout for possible enemy movements. There they sat, sweating in the dark in their two unarmored Humvee utility trucks. A rag tag group of Arab fighters spotted the vehicles. Allah be praised for providing such an easy target! The enemy crept closer and then let loose with a fusillade of bullets and RPGs. Joseph and his squad fought back and called for help on their radios. Tragically, they didn’t stand a chance. It took a backup platoon almost 40 minutes to get there. When reinforcements finally arrived, they found the two Humvees in flames and the dead bodies of the American soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter. But Joseph Anzack had apparently been taken alive as a prisoner. Eventually his body was discovered in a shallow of the Euphrates River, showing gruesome signs of torture.
To this day, there are still people that believe the Iraq war was justified; that it was not based on the lies of disingenuous leaders; that Americans always fought honorably for causes that were pure and just. And now another terrible war is with the world again. Every night we watch from the comfort of our living rooms on our wide screen televisions the destruction of Ukraine villages and cities by the bloodstained hands of the Russian invaders. How can the Russian soldiers be so cruel? we ask ourselves. How can they rape and kill innocent civilians? American soldiers would never do that!
Actually, during the war in Iraq, they did. You may recall that Joseph and his fellow soldiers were positioned near the village of Mahmoudiyah. The village where a few months earlier five U.S. Army soldiers gang raped a young Iraqi girl, Abeer Hamza. She was just 14-years- old. Her name meant ‘fragrance of flowers.’ After the American goons were done with her, they shot her in the head. Then they shot her mother and father and six-year-old sister and set their house on fire. The villagers were completely outraged by the rape of the girl and the murder of her family. There wasn’t much talk about ‘forgiveness’ — they wanted revenge for what the American invaders had done to this beautiful child and her family. An ‘eye for an eye,’ as God himself sternly commands in the Book of Exodus. In the following months there were several attacks on American troops where individual soldiers were taken prisoner and then painfully tortured for several days before they were finally killed. Including Joseph Anzack Jr., the good-natured kid from Torrance.
Abeer and Joseph both perished as lamentable victims of an eight-year undeclared war in Iraq. A war that was orchestrated by shrill lobbyists from the oil industries and the pro-Israeli think tanks. Eight years of pointless destruction, $400 billion dollars wasted, and thousands upon thousands dead. And on that long scroll of those who died in Iraq, civilian and military, you will find, somewhere in small print, the names of Joseph Anzack Jr., age twenty, and Abeer Hamza, age fourteen. Two kids in the flower of youth, with their own childish dreams of a future they thought that they could reach out and embrace.
This short commemoration was written to be a brief reflection on the tragic death of Torrance’s Joseph Anzack Jr. that occurred fifteen years ago this month. But perhaps it may also serve as a cautionary tale of how a complacent public can be easily manipulated by the highest levels of government power. There was a vigorous propaganda effort by the Bush administration to claim that Saddam Hussein posed a danger to Western nations by his possession of “weapons of mass destruction.” Putin and his cronies claim that Ukraine poses a existential threat because the government in Kiev is filled with “pro-Nazis extremists who want to attack the Russian motherland.” Both of these are and were bold-faced lies.
Let us all hope and pray that someday there truly will be peace on earth. Real peace, where young people like Joseph Anzack Jr. and Abeer Hamza are not forced to fill the tragic and horrific roles of war hero or war victim that have been painfully and tragically foisted upon them.
(Doug Shepardson is a fine artist who once resided in the Harbor Area. He now lives in Sugar Land, Texas. This article was featured also in RandomLengthsNews.com)