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SF Blogger in Iraq: Jacob Appelbaum: It's complicated

Interesting blog by a US citizen in Iraq. this blog is more like a tour with cultural, technological, and theological reflections by the writer. Many exclusive photos and videos on his journal. His bio is below with recent entry.
please stop believing me
please stop believing me
Reflections on meeting humans in Iraq

Last night I was listening to the daily prayer, I had stayed up so late that it was nearly dawn. I was thinking about the people I've met in Iraq. These are some personal reflections.

I've met some amazing Iraqi people, absolutely amazing. They're strong and loyal. They're able to learn quickly, they adapt. Some of them have issues with only being taught rote memorization and not critical thinking.

They're emotionally strong, they're survivors. I've made friends here in an amazingly short amount of time and it's likely to last a lifetime. I'm planning to write more about them later.

I've met some US military people here. The one that stands out the most was obviously some sort of military intelligence. He said he was a seal, so I assume these days he's some sort of Navy Intel fellow.

He told us about some mission where he cut the fuel lines of a Greenpeace ship in San Diego during an action in the mid-90s. He was a very self assured man. He was very proud of how he was able to clip their fuel lines and how he laughed at their concern over their fuel dumping into the bay. They were going to hang a banner off of a ship and he stopped them. The general idea: Stupid Greenpeace, what is the point of all that anyway?

Now I won't comment too much on how the Navy knew to send Seals out to the San Diego bay at 03:00am. Greenpeace has some security issues or at the time did. I won't comment on Echelon or any program that could have helped the Navy to figure out the plans for the action. Obviously, loose lips drain ships in addition to sinking them.

Rather, I want to elaborate on this man because he really rubbed me the wrong way. He didn't really make me angry with what he said, or even with how he felt. I felt annoyed about how he thought, his entire process for making choices was very shallow.

To his credit he told a story where he was given orders to kill someone and he did not do it. It turned out that he was correct and he got a medal for that choice. It's not like this fellow couldn't think, it was simply a matter of obvious responsibility. People in the system aren't all bad people, they're humans like the rest of us. This guy's a good example of it. He's no doubt taken the order to kill someone and he's told us when he didn't take the order.

Tyler, Jayme, Spook and I sat around having a few beers. Eventually, the topic of why we were all in Iraq came up. For some reason, I decided to explain to him a few of the reason that I came. We all did.

Tyler and Jayme had perfectly acceptable reasons compared to mine. He did have some rather sexist comments about bringing (I quote as was said to Tyler) "your wife to Iraq." Then it was made clear that Jayme wanted to be her of her own will. And really, this man wanted to get down to business about ripping my ideas to shreds.

I'll be honest with you, my reasons for coming here make absolutely no sense to anyone but myself. If I told you that I was coming because I promised Tyler I would, you'd say it was bullshit. No one would fault me for breaking my word, but I felt it was important. If I told you that it was because of the things that resulted in my fathers death in December, you'd tell me it wasn't what he would have wanted. If I told you it was to take photos of things unseen in the major network media, you'd tell me that it was an ego trip. If I told you that I wanted to go because I wanted to conquer the fear that I had of doing the things that seemed impossible, you'd call me and that entire concept arrogant and very occidental in it's thinking.

How do I know this? I don't for each and every person reading this but nearly every single person who I talked with expressed similar concepts. Friends, family and random idiots on the internet. Thanks Anonymous, I never knew you so well.

This man shared that he felt those things about me.

This man was so shocked that I was here and it just threw his world upside down. Iraq to him is a warzone, it's unsafe, it's insane to come here and it's absolutely nuts to do it by choice for such a stupid reason. He was very adamant that his self-righteous volunteering made sense. Also, my reasons were just stupid and really, I had dangerous ideas. Go home was his advice.

I think every thinking wants to think they're different from everyone else, that they're on top, that everyone else is the proletariat. He gave me a speech about how I was a sheep and he was the sheepdog protecting me from the wolves. In fact the fellow had a mathematical breakdown:

Sheepdogs 1%
Sheep: 97%
Wolves: 2%

So even the sheepdogs were out numbered but that was alright, they're just that good at winning.

I think after this, he insulted my ideas for another thirty minutes and then harped on my age. I'm one of the younger Americans in Iraq that isn't here for the war as a soldier. For those that are unaware, I've been 22 for about a month.

I think the reason for this is both his experience, of which he has far more than I and because of the disillusionment.

Imagine you're walking along in the jungle and you find a bunch of people living in a different reality. You've been shot at, you've been in major battles, you have these totally horrible ideas about the people here. It's dangerous for you and thus, it's dangerous for everyone like you.

You build up what you're doing, you're winning the war, you're doing it for your daughter at home to be proud of you. You're smart, you're strong and you're Right by GOD!

Then in that same reality, you meet someone that changes everything. They're Jayme and Tyler. They're living a normal life with normal people all around them and at the moment, they have a visitor that's here as a tourist. They're not getting shot at, they're not in a major battle every day and yet, they're living in Iraq.

This cannot be!


But it is.

It was important for him to tear my ideas to shreds I believe this was because he felt like they devalued his. He felt that he understood me, where as for example, the other soldiers I have met were curios. Being in Iraq is important to him as it is to anyone here. But I am not here for the same reason and that makes me crazy, crazy wrong, crazy stupid and just plain infuriating.

No matter what I had to say, he would just blurt out some sort of insulting comment, entirely devalue my life, my actions or my ideas without being able to back them up with actual rational thought.

At some point during the end of the conversation, he said:
"Everyones father dies, so what? Big deal."

For the first time since my father died, I wasn't entirely overcome with sadness, I'm really moving on and making progress. I sat and thought for a few days, a week and then decided to write about it. I think being in Iraq has made a serious difference, I've really been able to separate my environment, my emotions and my past from myself. I'm really in control of how other people can affect me again.

Sure. Almost everyone who has a father will watch him die.

Does that mean that I should be unaffected by that fact? Almost everything in life when viewed in a general sense would be devalued with that view. Almost everyone falls in love, does that mean that love is less valued?

Should I lose my humanity, my compassion, my passion, my ability to care?

I'll take it a step further, should I become a very cynical person with regards to other peoples emotions and in general take a very negative view of the world?

No. I do not think so.

I've found people that have been through much more than I can ever imagine, more than I will ever experience in my life. I've met men whose entire families have been lost, men who were snipers for Saddam's army, people who walk outside to and see dead bodies in their front yard.

These people have the most amazing spirit, the most amazing ability to be happy and to be positive. That's what happens in the face of serious despair so that one can survive, you make the best.

That's the key. Don't let the world harden your heart, don't forget who you are and what you've decided to do with your life. Learn, experience, grow, move on, share and become wise. Do not spend your life being negative.

Conversely, don't lose hope. Don't reject pride. Don't forget what you've experienced and what you've done. Keep perspective and at the same time, remain kind when it's appropriate.

To quote a close friend:
"To carry yourself in this life like a benevolent monarch. Be arrogant but kind. If people don't like it, forget about them, they don't have to be in your kingdom."

We're in the Iraqi peoples kingdom now and neither of us should forget that.



I am a network security consultant and network/system administrator for educational facilities, Non-Government Organizations and other Non Profit entities. I live in San Francisco where I currently work for GreenPeace International. I also work for the Rain Forest Action Network. I am on the board of directors for the North Bay Linux User Group (NBLUG) as a director at large.

I am a curious person, I am friendly, I only bite the deserving, I can't be easily pigeonholed into a political group. I am not left or right, I am a critical thinker which rules out joining a single group to represent me. I vote.

I consider myself to be an activist as well as a culture jammer. I support non-violent direct action but I dislike permitted marches that exist only to create a feel good spectacle with no actual outcome that results in any type of change.

I travel quite extensively, mostly in Europe.

I travel as a consultant, but more often I travel simply because I want to. It's one of my passions, I loathe being stuck in the same place all the time. Unless it's supremely interesting and I am doing something I consider worthwhile. I always find myself returning to San Francisco when I am finished traveling, it's the closest thing I have to a home. I grew up here, I imagine if I don't die while traveling, I will end up in the necropolis that is Colma. Here's for hoping for a plane crash over the Rhine.

I give lectures or head discussions about technology that I work with. Most of my interests are in cryptography with an application in the real world. I am interested in hardened servers, VPNs, encrypted and seizeable laptops (without any important data compromise), anonymous/mix-master remailers, generic tunneling, network penetration, encrypted cell phones, encrypted PDAs, wireless network scanning and mapping, wireless video sniffing, Unix programming, Open Source/Free Software such as Debian Gnu/Linux and the list goes on.

I am interested in flying small aircraft, scuba diving (I am a certified PADI Open Water Diver), rock climbing, kung-fu (Wing Chung), mountian climbing, shooting semi/auto-matic firearms, throwing knives, spinning and juggling fire, the above geek stuff, digital and analog photography, and other arts.

I am interested in many different types of music, film, photography, and books.

My favorite author at the moment is Herman Hesse, the author of Steppenwolf, which happens to be my favorite written work. Goethe's Faust ranks second. Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead is a close third in the fictional story department.

I take a large number of photos, some of which can be found on my photo gallery. I have often taken non-digital photos over the years and those aren't normally put online for various reasons. If I have taken a photo of you and you would like a copy, contact me at the above address. I take photos at many clubs and other events. Most of the events that I photograph are in or around the San Francisco Bay Area.

I enjoy documentaries as well as other films. I often view them at my favorite worker owned local film house.

I most commonly listen to varying genres of music. What I am listening to is entirely dependent on my mood and my location. I have a list that I haven't bothered to post, if you care to inquire, contact me.

If you're interested in the sites that I view other than LiveJournal, check out my LinkBlog on Del.icon.us/jake

Although I am not normally one to join other peoples groups, I support a number of them.
I am a member or contributor to a number of groups including:

The American Motorcycle Association (AMA)

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

The Church Of Satan (COS)

Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

The Free Software Foundation (FSF)

Amnesty International (via their US branch)

GreenPeace International

The North Bay Linux Users Group