November 24, 2004

Your House Is My House


Something has been nagging at me as I look at pictures of the Fallujah operation. I always feel a little uncomfortable about the occupation of Iraqi homes and mosques for U.S. military operations.

I remember a shot I saw last week of three marines in the living room of a nicely furnished upstairs apartment. The soldiers were brandishing their weapons as they peered at the street from an upstairs window. What primarily stood out to me, however, was that they were standing on top of the couch. In examining pictures of the Iraqi campaign over the past few weeks, I just can’t help noticing the casual and apparently unselfconscious way in which our military avails itself of the intimate spaces of the Iraqi people. At the same time, not being versed in these matters, I just have a lot of questions. Here are just a few things I’ve been wondering about:

If soldiers are in need of rest and a mosque is unoccupied, is it appropriate for them to camp out there? If so, are there any guidelines for which parts of the building might be more appropriate to utilize than others? If our military does decide to camp out in a mosque, is there any consideration or discretion paid regarding whether photographers should document it?

If soldiers need to occupy a private house, are there any rules or guidelines for the treatment of that house — especially if there is no immediate threat of hostility?


If soldiers are in need of rest and they have access to a residence, is it appropriate to sleep on a couch as opposed to the floor?

Is it appropriate to sleep on a bed as opposed to a couch?

Is it appropriate to get in the bed, or just sleep on top of it?

Is it appropriate to use the pillows or not?

And, if it’s deemed appropriate to use someone’s bed, is there any protocol as to whether one should remove one’s boots first?

(photos: NYTimes — Ashley Gilbertson; LATimes; USA Today — Scott Nelson, Getty Images)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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