NewsWeek’s cover story“Love and War” explores the hope and sadness surrounding the relationships between Iraqis and Americans.
In Baghdad in May 2003, amid the chaos, fear and hope (it is easy to forget how much hope there was in those early weeks when Americans and Iraqis began meeting face to face after years of tyranny and war), Jimmy and Lena were among the first to fall in love. He was a career officer in the U.S. Army—Capt. James Michael Ahearn from Concord, Calif., winner of two Bronze Stars, veteran of tours in Korea, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. She was from a middle-class Baghdad family that had seen better days.
Such romances have been part of the American way of war for as long as anyone alive can remember. In the 1940s, wherever U.S. troops were deployed, whether among steadfast allies or recently conquered enemies, and regardless of culture, language, religion or the best efforts of the military hierarchy to prevent “fraternizing,” soldiers and locals got married. “War brides” (and a handful of grooms) came to the United States from Britain and Australia, Italy, France and eventually Germany and Japan. Their stories were the stuff of comedy (“I Was a Male War Bride” with Cary Grant) and tragedy (James Michener’s “Sayonara,” about thwarted love in occupied Japan in the early 1950s). A reasonable estimate of the total number approaches 1 million from 50 different countries. Certainly there were hundreds of thousands. War brides from Japan, the Philippines, China and Korea, for instance, increased the population from those countries in the United States by 20 percent in just 17 years from 1947 to 1964. By the 1970s, thousands more spouses had been brought to American shores from Vietnam and, sadly, like Miss Saigon, many other partners were left behind.
What is striking about the Iraq War is not that couples have met and fallen for each other and succeeded like Jimmy and Lena in getting married. It’s that so few of them have.
The feature details several couples’ struggles and James and Lena Ahearn’s tragically cut short marriage. James converted to Islam to marry Lena, but had a real interest in the religion. As a convert to Islam, married to an Iraqi, he had hoped to build bridges between Americans and Iraqis. His life was cut short by a roadside bomb.
More on James Michael Ahearn here.