So by my count it has been about 10 months since I contributed anything here (I probably should ask permission again). Since I just read that it was the 1-yr anniversary of the site, I guess I will contribute what may end up being the longest post to date as a birthday gift.
As NH knows, my wife and I are planning a trip to Europe in the fall and over the last few days have been discussing where we are going to go, how we are going to get there, etc. As a result I have been thinking a lot about our last trip to ‘The Old World’, specifically a visit to Munich (This was in the Summer of 2005- pre-surge Iraq was at about it’s worst in terms of insurgent violence, Saddam was about to go on trial, and it was just weeks after the terrorist attacks of 7/7 in London) During that visit I, as well as NH and our wives, had an unforgettable encounter at the Hofbrau Haus. As soon as I got home from the trip, I chronicled the event in an email so I would remember the specifics. That email follows here–
My wife and I just got back from a 10-day visit to Prague to see her sister and her sister’s husband and this past weekend the four of us drove over to Germany and spent Friday night in Munich. I have never visited Munich and as I am a big fan of beer halls, we of course had to go to the Hoffbrau Haus. The table where we ended up sitting faced the majority of the crowd and at the next table over there were three men, one generic-looking ‘Anglo’-type and two really big guys that had a swarthy Middle-Eastern look. Now, these guys were having a blast drinking, singing, etc. as were we and the rest of the crowd so–other than giving myself a brief mental reminder that we should be careful overseas and that (as the media continually tells us) the “Arab Street” hates Americans—this was no big deal in and of itself. At one point late in the night however, the two big guys go the the restroom and the ‘Anglo’, who turned out to be a local Munich resident (I’ll call him ‘The German’), turned around and started talking to us. He asked where we were from and I told him, “Texas” (in typical Texan fashion, not realizing until after the fact that he probably meant what country…). In broken English he responds with something like “Oh, Bush huh?”–to which I gave a thumbs up and said yes the same place President Bush is from. What he said next that gave us a little bit of concern: He proceeded to tell us that he was just hanging out and ended up hooking up with these “Iraqis” and that he had been drinking with them all night. Then, with a solemn look on his face he said: “These guys are for Saddam.” My brother-in-law and I looked at one other and then at him and then my brother-in-law said, “FOR Saddam???” He confirmed yes they were for Saddam. Then, after looking at the four of us staring at him in stunned silence, he said, “No, I mean they are for Saddam being gone.” While being relieved that he corrected himself, we were still not quite sure if he actually corrected himself or just didn’t speak very good English and had it right the first time. My brother in law said, “That’s good because Saddam is ‘nicht gut'”–which The German responded to with nervous laughter. So the Iraqi guys come back and sit down and the three of them immediately kind of huddle and The German is clearly telling them about our conversation. For the rest of the evening (really only about 20-30 minutes) the guy facing me stole a number of glances at me and each of our party, and the one with his back to us turned his head slightly to look at us a couple of times as well. But, they did not make an effort to say hello or smile at us or anything and The German did not turn around or talk to us anymore. Again, we were really not worried about anything happening, but at this point we were very aware they were there and that they seemed to have some interest in us. About 5-10 minutes before the place closed I noticed the guy facing me get into what looked to be a serious discussion with The German, all the while looking periodically at me—and they were leaning over something and discussing something on the table. All of a sudden (or at least it seemed that way to us), all three got up and the one with his back to us walked by and toward the exit as did the German- neither one looking at us at all. The other Iraqi guy- the one who had been facing me- stopped and faced our table, laid a napkin in front of me and stuck out his hand to me. As I stood up and reflexively shook his hand, I looked in his eyes and I cannot really describe the emotion that was there. He was gripping my hand very firmly and the handshake lasted 4-5 beats longer than a normal handshake would. He was smiling slightly but his look was more one of determination or seriousness than anything else. My immediate thought was that this was something very emotional to him and it began to seem the same to me—even though no words were spoken. As I sat back down and he walked out I looked at the napkin and written on it (with misspellings and letters scratched out) was “Thank you Texas. From, A grateful Iraqi”
My brother-in-law watched the whole thing and looked at the napkin and his immediate response was “That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen”. I wish I would have taken the opportunity to try and talk to him, but it all kind of happened so quickly, he was gone before I really knew what happened.
A few thoughts I had afterward, and which make it special to me:
1) I am not in the military and never have been, and while I did vote for the President and I did/do support the the war effort in Iraq, I have never really contributed anything personally to it. But to him I was just an “American”, and specifically a “Texan” like President Bush and was part of the country that liberated his people from tyranny.
2) Other than maybe my thumbs-up to his friend, he did not know my politics or how I felt about the war. I wonder how someone who was against the war or one of the Bush-is-evil crowd would have reacted to that situation? Would they tell him it was all a plot for oil? Maybe they would have said there were no WMD so he really shouldn’t be grateful?
3) My brother in law and I had earlier in the day been having a discussion about all of the bad news being reported out of Iraq—suicide bombing after suicide bombing, kidnapping, murder, etc–and how we were both starting to get somewhat of a pessimistic feel about it. I’ll tell you–seeing the look on that guys face pulled us both out of that and put the big picture back into perspective.
No other commentary really, other than, upon re-reading that I am struck by how different things are today than in the Summer of 2005.
Lucky for us, President Obama and Sec. of State Clinton have seemingly apologized to each European citizen individually for anything and everything the US did that preceded them, so I expect open arms and hugs and kisses everywhere we go.
Edit- here is a photo of the napkin…