I am a shameless romantic, a slightly better than average student of history, and there is a current of idealism under my skin that has not yet been dulled by reality. Sometimes, these qualities come together and leave me thinking to myself of times long gone and stories all but forgotten. Lately, I've been thinking of the paradoxical enormity and insignificance of my presence here.
Here I stand, in modern-day Iraq. I have come further to fight here than any soldier of any nation before me, and I fight with weapons and equipment that lay pale the panoply of earlier armies. I represent the pinnacle of force projection and decisive battle, and yet I fight here, where unnumbered young warriors have fought and died through time stretching out of memory. It was on this land that the Babylonian empire first arose out of those first Sumerian agrarians, only to be conquered by the Assyrians, and still later throw off the foreign chains. It was here that Alexander's phalanxes swept by, trailing Hellenism in their wake. Rome, and later the Byzantines, drew their border with Persia at the Euphrates River. At that river was where the Sassanids made their stand against the spread of Arabian Islam. The Khans of the Mongols laid this land waste, sometimes killing only to build their towers of bones higher.
This region is steeped in history. We walk on it; we breath it in. Eons of history surround us, infiltrate us, and turn to dust beneath our feet. The ashes of countless cultures, civilizations, and rulers dreams lie under the earth. With each breath, I inhale a few molecules of the dying gasp of Cyrus II, the Persian "Constantine of the East". In the howling wind I can almost hear the cries of a countless multitude dying on killing grounds that bridge across the ages. The same wind carries the red dust that might yet hold a few drops of blood from the battle at Carrhae- the first, crushing defeat for Rome's red blooded legions. Under my heel, a speck grinds into dust: the last grain of sand that remains of the Hanging Gardens at Babylon that are now known only in legend. Some of the world's oldest religions tell us that somewhere in this ancient Cradle of life, God himself breathed on this dust, and it became man, the father of us all. Whatever path we take here, we walk on history.
I walk softly, for I tread on the ghosts of years.