Earlier this summer, Private First Class Stephen Tschiderer – a medic attached to the 101st “Saber” Cavalry Division in Iraq from Mendon, N.Y. – was standing patrol on a street corner in Baghdad when he was hit square in the chest by a sniper’s bullet.
The insurgents responsible for the attack were filming the incident as a snuff movie intended to build morale among murderers.
Their camera was unsteady, but the recovered footage shows Private Tschiderer collapsing under the force of the bullet, then springing back up, adrenaline surging, his life saved by the protective body armor worn beneath his uniform. His fellow U.S. soldiers returned fire as Private Tschiderer sought cover behind their Humvee.
The insurgents were hit and scrambled to get away. They were caught, and Private Tschiderer handcuffed and applied medical treatment to the man who had tried to kill him minutes before.
No moral equivalence
If there is a better story of forgiveness and grace under fire in this war, I have yet to hear it.
This little-known incident, first reported by the Army Times, is fresh evidence of the fact that there is no moral equivalence between the sides in the war on terror.
War does not make much room for St. Francis of Assisi-like behavior, but Private Tschiderer’s actions may stand out as among the least sordid acts ever recorded on a battlefield. In the long history of humanity, a far more normal thing to do would have been to blow your attacker’s head off with extreme prejudice.
The stark contrast of this Hippocratic oath in action was not just a matter of personal kindness, but also American military training.
Our troops may not be perfect – we are human beings at war, not angels in heaven – but there is no moral equivalence between terrorists who target innocent human life, and the soldiers of the civilized world who try to bind the wounds of those who have just tried to kill them in combat.
On a battlefield diary level, this attack and its aftermath replayed the larger contrasts seen during the London subway terrorist attacks last month.
On one end of Great Britain, the elected leaders of the civilized world were meeting to discuss ways to alleviate global poverty – in what amounted to world history’s largest charitable gift – while on the south side of the nation, radical Muslims targeted their fellow citizens with homemade bombs designed to kill as many people as possible as they quietly commuted to work.
Actions speak louder than words, and apologists who like to paint this war as a misunderstanding between essentially peaceful peoples at the hands of equally intolerant leaders are not paying attention with any sense of perspective.
Iran – U.S. contrast
Another lens to use to view the clash of civilizations is the recent election of a new president in Iran.
Reformist forces were dismayed when the mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appeared to win what many believe was a rigged election. This disappointment was thrown into sharper relief when former American hostages identified Mr. Ahmadinejad as one of their armed captors during the 444-day siege. Photographs later emerged corroborating their allegations, despite strenuous denials from the Iranian government.
In a darkly comic way, with serious long-term geostrategic implications, this elevation of a war criminal to the presidency of Iran offers yet another useful cultural contrast in the war on terror.
In the United States, youthful indiscretions usually tend toward fraternity parties, cheerleaders, and smoking pot. In the world of Islamic fascism, a youthful indiscretion is about storming embassies and taking hostages. It is a matter of freedom versus fanaticism.
Meaning of Private Tschiderer’s response
When the history of the war on terror is written, the attempted murder of Private Stephen Tschiderer and his morally courageous response may not rise to the textbook level, but as an anecdote it confirms what has been true since the attacks of September 11 – we are meeting the worst of humanity with the best of humanity.
When the will gets weak and the purpose gets murky, it only takes a quick step back to recognize that this is a conflict between a culture of death and a culture of life; the differences cannot be more stark or the stakes higher.
John Avlon, b. 1973, worked on Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign, then was Mayor Giuliani’s chief speechwriter from 1997-2001. He is the author of Independent Nation (Crown / Random House, pbk. 2005).