A specter is haunting America—The specter of cowardice. All the powers of old America have entered into a holy alliance to propagate this specter: Congressmen and Presidents, Hannity and Olbermann, Tea-Partiers and Berkeley students.

I fear that while these individuals and movements continue to struggle for power, a new power has emerged from their constant bickering and politicizing. The youth of America has been left to rot in its obsession with social media and glamour, and others have moved in on our once great push for economic prosperity and free-market dominance. I have seen the change after my travels to developing nations. Nations we have attempted to create in our own light. I have come to one conclusion.

Iraqi children are better than American children. There, I said it.

I saw it right away when our battalion crossed the border during the invasion—or liberation—of Iraq in 2003. We didn’t even make it a mile into that country before the children were coming out in droves to greet us. They knew that their country was being overtaken by foreigners, and yet they came out to meet us. They were barefooted when American youth were wearing the latest Jordan’s. Their clothes were ragtag when American kids were wearing the latest designs. They had dirt and soot on their bodies while American young were being obsessively cleansed by their germophobic parents.

They bombarded us with cheers and screams.

“Mistah mistah mistah!”

As we trudged north towards the urban center of Baghdad throughout those weeks, we increasingly saw the children take on an entrepreneurial spirit that we have lost in our own country. I don’t know where they got their products from, nor do I care to think about it, but instead of retreating into their homes with fear, they came to us with an arsenal of items for sale. They had cigarettes, alcohol, chai, dogs, books, DVDs, even old Iraqi Army equipment. We didn’t even need half of these things, but the little runts convinced us that we should buy from them. That’s capitalism baby!

Not only did we buy heaps of marked down merchandise from these little ones, but they bartered and haggled us out of our American dollars quicker than you can say “The United States of China.” They saw a rotten situation in the collapse of their government, and capitalized off of the state of affairs. There we were, American men in their late teens and early twenties being fiscally taken by a bunch of juveniles in a third world country. These kids were street smart and innovative, with an asserting manner that places used car salesmen in a good light.

Some of these children became mainstays outside of our temporary military establishments. Every time we would leave the base to go on patrol we would see consistent faces set up outside of our base, pushing their product and enticing us with the goods. One child in particular was a 12 year old named Abrahem. Abrahem was approximately 5’5, 200 lbs. He wasn’t a gelatinous pork-chop like it would appear on paper—the kid was built like a brick shithouse. We would affectionately name him “Fat Abe.”

Fat Abe patiently waited outside of our base every day in his red Adidas track suit. While most of the kids would run up to us and start shoving their product in front of our faces, Fat Abe just stood on the corner, confident and assured that he had what we needed. He did too. Anything a Marine needed, Fat Abe could get it for him. The Marines in my platoon began to gradually rely on this mini-Gotti for all of our black market needs. Abe had the music, the candy, and the smokes.

It wasn’t long before he had completely monopolized outside of the base and its surrounding area. He soon had enough money to bring on other associates in his business enterprise. They were some colorful youngsters too, and just as eager to don an Adidas jumpsuit. There was the young man with a thick and illustrious unibrow we named “Monobrow Mohammed.” No one could forget “Big Rocks Raheem,” or his little brother “Jamail the Jeweler.” This organized syndicate of young businessman was a shining example of the human spirit in adversity. Of course it wasn’t long before our superiors forbade us from dealing with these young men and we were forced to pay into the overpriced post exchanges on the base. Fat Abe lost his bazaar and the post exchange further proved its reputation as a government regulated market that is afraid to compete.

When I went back to Iraq in 2005, these mini-Carnegies had evolved from an aggressive street merchant army and had now infiltrated our military bases. They had shops, service centers, and semi-markets inside of our operational centers. They were legitimized by being allowed to operate there. They were makin’ cash-money-dolla’ dolla’ bills ya’ll. Why would I pay over 3 dollars for Marlboros at a military post exchange when I could get a pack of Ishtar or Miami cigarettes at half the price from these youngsters, and support the local economy—we were there to rebuild right?—in the process? It was like when Vegas transitioned from an Italian-Mafia controlled city to a place that was ran by large corporate conglomerates.

Every deployment I went on, I witnessed the youth of Iraq overcome a strenuous situation and make do with what they had. What did I see when I would come back to the states? I saw American children being held back on leashes—literally held on leashes! I saw kids riding their bikes around with more padding and protection than Marines in combat. American teenage males sit inside the house all day and drink energy beverages while comfortably playing video games that allow them to become make believe US Soldiers in a war torn country. Meanwhile, Iraqi children are still going outside in real life and with real danger surrounding them every day.

American kids are allowed to fail at everything because they know a professional will find some sort of medical diagnoses to explain their shortcomings as a human. What ever happened to calling a kid pussy? Anytime a Marine is lagging in his obligations, he gets called a pussy. It’s usually effective in straightening someone up.

I used to watch Iraqi children throw rocks at each other for play, and they smiled and laughed as they did it. American kids can’t even play dodgeball anymore because we’re too afraid that a hollow rubber ball will hurt them, not to mention the main motive for the dodgeball ban is because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or single a child out. Iraqi children are having BRICKS thrown against their chests while Americans play PARACHUTES! SHIT!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Chewy, it’s good that American children don’t have to be subject to this kind of behavior and barbaric competition.” WRONG! You’re wrong! Your child is probably obese too. While American children are learning that we must all be equals and everyone can share, the Iraqi kids are building important tools to survive in the global market. They are on pace to totally disrupt and create a vacuum in the world’s child labor economy.

I will openly admit that a lot of Iraqi children become untrustworthy once they reach their teenage years, and American Troops must always keep in mind that these teens are capable of horrific violence. Regardless, many of them still show up to school no matter what kind of stuff is happening and many of them still volunteer for the Iraqi Army in droves after everything that has happened. Countless numbers of young Iraqi males are heading to their local recruiting stations to serve and better their country. They work hand and hand with US Troops who are willing to contribute to a prosperous Iraq. What happens when the average US Soldier, Sailor, Airmen, or Marine comes home?

He sees the very people he is supposed to protect completely fall apart at the slightest inconvenience. He looks on as the majority of American youth become frozen with confusion at the slightest problems. They compensate by taking on unrealistic views of their place in the world and they become clowns of fashion.

I literally watched a male American teenage drool on himself the other day. He was actually drooling on himself. Iraqi and Afghani children are learning survival tactics, and American kids won’t let go of their video game controllers, probably because the drool has glued their hands to it. They have misplaced hate for the people that brought them into this country and as a result, they learn to retreat into whatever sub-culture is “in” so they can find fellow Americans who hate their place in life too.

It’s this self-loathing and hatred for their incomparably comfortable existence that threatens our current growth both financially and culturally. I’m not saying we’re doomed. I’m not saying that we can’t turn our pity-party around. I do have a suggestion though. Next time your little Johnny or Suzie tells you “It’s not fair,” take all of their stuff out of their rooms, put them on the street with it, and tell them they can’t come back inside until they’ve sold it all to a foreigner. This isn’t a laughing matter. You should really do that.

You better be careful America, that’s all I’m saying. Those little dirt faced kids in that country you don’t give a shit about (unless you’ve been there) are putting something big together. I’m talking Wal-Mart big. I’m talking, “Merhaba, welcome to Haji-Mart” big.