Sunday, February 27, 2005

Chicago and the World

Years ago I heard Georgie Ann Geyer say Jimmy Carter shaped his foreign policy through the experience of growing up the son of a patrician in a small Georgia hamlet where the locals all deferred to him. Had Carter grown up in Geyer's Studs Lonigan Southside of the 1930s he would have realized some guys only understand a fist in the face. As a fellow who threw few fists, but did plenty of running, I know how Chicago shapes your outlook.

A classmate on the Grinnell 76 listserv told me the "world's not Chicago" so quit hurling Chicago stories at us, but here's one in today's Chicago Tribune on Chicago Austin-District Police Officer Jim Roussell using the same tactics he used hunting down the "Four Corner Hustlers" and "Conservative Vice Lords" on the West Side today in Iraq as a warrant Officer with the Marine Reserves: Gang-busting Chicago cop now hunts for insurgents.

He sees familiar tactics in his current assignment. Iraq is a world where the enemy hides in plain sight, using street names to cloak his identity and intimidation to protect it.

"The thing they're most afraid of is for us to know who they are and where they sleep at night," said Roussell, a chief warrant officer 5 in the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, a reserve unit with headquarters on the Northwest Side. "They're not so much afraid of airplanes and artillery."

Many of the most effective techniques against those insurgents are more familiar to Roussell's old colleagues in the Chicago Police Department's Austin District than Marines drilled in taking ground from the enemy and defending hilltops.

The tools include painstaking searches for connections between myriad pieces of information and patiently repeated sweeps of neighborhoods to overcome potential witnesses' hesitation to come forward. They depend on quick assessment of truthfulness and the ability to cultivate inside informants who may be motivated by money, a desire for leniency or, often, revenge.

A teacher told me everything I needed to know about life was in Shakespeare's King Lear but Chicago works just as well.

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