Grim's Hall

On Spirit of America, and Iraq:

As mentioned, I went last night to the Spirit of America gathering at the Cosmos Club in D.C. I met and greatly enjoyed a short conversation with the Major and his Lady. The highlight of the evening, I am sure they will not mind my saying, was meeting and listening to Omar and Mohammed from IRAQ THE MODEL.

But first, a story.

I had never heard of the Cosmos Club. The email invitation I got mentioned the address of the place, and the name, but nothing more about it. Emailed invitations are particularly informal; this one came from a US Marine, for a time after business hours; and it was at a place called a "club." So, naturally I assumed it was a bar of some sort.

It happened that I had another engagement in town that required semiformal dress, so I figured I'd take a bit of ribbing. Still, I had no way to change, so I planned to go in my suit. It's charcoal grey, in a traditional cut. I wore it with my black Ariat boots, my black Stetson hat, and a bolo tie.

The Cosmos Club turns out not to be a bar at all. It turns out to be... well, this. This is the place where the National Geographic Society was founded, in the 19th century. It is contained in a mansion with Second Empire architecture. The interior is as rich as the exterior, and includes numerous treasures of great value, brought back from the corners of the earth and donated by the members.

Well, I'm a gambler from way back, so I simply put on my best poker face and walked right in. The doorman bowed as I entered, and I went upstairs to the gathering.

After a few minutes, a gentleman came up to me and shook my hand. He introduced himself as LtCol Couvillon, United States Marines, and former military governor of Wasit province.

"I had to shake the hand of any man," he said, "who could get in here wearing cowboy boots and a bolo tie."

Turns out the past president of the Cosmos Club is a former officer of Marines, which is why we got to use the place. It was a remarkable evening. Listening to the Colonel gave insight into the state of Iraq, outside the river-regions where the insurgents have managed to operate. He said that he had requested red, white and blue soccer jerseys from Spirit of America during his time there, to distribute to Iraqis. He'd wanted them because the number one request he got was for American flags. Under the rules of engagement, however, Marines weren't to display the flag, so he had none to offer.

He spoke about the elections they held in Wasit province, where turnout of adults was so close to one hundred percent that he couldn't calculate the difference. He talked about the opening of art galleries, inaugural ceremonies for Iraq's first elected officials in more than thirty years, and the friendships his Marines and sailors developed with the populace.

Omar and Mohammed spoke later in the evening. I quote from memory and without notes, for what it is worth, but they impressed me deeply and I do not thing I will depart very far from the words they actually spoke. They had just come from a meeting with President Bush, with whom they were quite impressed. It showed that America was a place where anything could happen, Omar said: 'Yesterday I came to your country. Today, I met the President.'

Spirit of America is helping them to do great things in Iraq. One of the things they're doing is putting out newspapers at Iraq's universities, where support for the democracy is running high. Iraq, like many similar nations, has a more formal class structure than we have. Apparently, among the educated classes, there is a lot of hope for the future.

Another thing Spirit of America is funding is an Arabic-language blogging tool. This is to help these young, educated Iraqis gather and communicate online, and to help them build communities of like-minded men across the nation. It will be a way for them to speak directly, to have their voice heard rather than filtered through our media -- the only Western institution for which they had hard words.

But that is not all the tool will do. It will also allow the voices of tens of thousands of pro-democracy students to get out on the Internet, so that the young Arabs of surrounding nations can hear them, listen to them talking about taking control of their futures and the building of their country. This is what Jim Hake, the founder of Spirit of America, calls "viral freedom."

Omar in particular was adamant about the elections. He is sure Iraq will surprise us. 'Iraqis want to take their place among the nations,' he said. 'We want to help you fight this war against the terrorists.

'The Iraqi people will never disappoint you.'

He means, of course, the ones who have not chosen to join the insurgents. But he is dismissive of them, in spite of all they do. What we don't understand, he said, is that the kind of terror they can create is nothing to the people of Iraq. Under Saddam, terror was systemic. It was daily. It meant every night, listening for the police at the door.

'Compared to that, these insurgents are nothing.'

I knew Spirit of America was a good cause, but I didn't realize just how good. "Viral freedom." If you can spare anything to help spread it, click the tartan at the top right of the page.

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