photo by Nada Bakri, The Washington Post
photo by Nada Bakri, The Washington Post

“You know, I wanna go to Texas and be a country boy,” he said, as he stood in the sweltering shade of Baghdad’s Academy of Fine Arts. “I wanna be a cowboy, and I wanna sing like one.”

Yesterday, the Washington Post had an interesting front page article on the cultural footprint the U.S. occupation of Iraq is making on Iraqi citizens. A Quiet but Undeniable Cultural Legacy: U.S. Occupation of Iraq Will End, but a Host of American Influences May Linger by Anthony Shadid sheds light not only on what the post-occupation Iraq will look like after a lenghtly militarized encounter, but the most dominant cultural references of the U.S. Military serving in Iraq, i.e. Metallica is gaining more new fans but no mention of Miles Davis, Marc Anthony, The Roots, Foo Fighters, not even Beyonce (I’m attempting to keep it contemporary – feel free to fill in the blanks).

Iraqi teens are chewing Skoal tobacco.

First came the British; now the Americans.

The military aesthetic may prove to be this occupation’s most lasting cultural artifact. If the British can claim credit for an array of industrial words used by Iraqis, including “radiator” and “machine,” the Americans are responsible for a military lexicon that is still evolving.

Military service is definitely not the same as adventure travel or cultural tourism. One is there to “do a job.” And when the job’s occupation, it’s my guess very few residents are inviting you in their homes for dinner with open arms, or taking you on a “day in the life” walking tour. I’ve been fortunate in my travels to immerse myself in the local lifestyle whereever I go.

However, if this article accurately depicts the depth of the cultural footprint of encounters between U.S. military servicemembers and citizens of the countries they are serving in, it begs for further examination of these cultural encounters: the culture(s) U.S. military personnel carry to ground them in “the comforts of home” and identity; the transformational nature of all encounters; the representational role of U.S. military in these encounters; and the unwillingness or fear of being touched by the unfamiliar. Like Anne Tyler’s Accidental Tourist, U.S. military personnel do leave home with the things they carry to do a job, with little to no intention to be touched by the places they go. But after the occupation, for both service members and Iraqi citizens, the places once called called “home,” will more than likely be another stranger to be encountered.