essays and articles by david g allen

"Why I Joined": A Soldier’s Story In His Own Words


Christopher Hitchens, writing in the November 2007 issue of Vanity Fair, tells us a heart-rending story about the death of Lt. Mark Daily in Iraq. Hitchens, the liberal who pressed for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein more loudly than any conservative dared to do, was confronted with the consequences of his unequivocal call for regime change when he learned that Lt. Daily took his words to heart and considered them as reason enough to oust Saddam and his Baathist thugs.

"And so we watch with detached curiosity, from dry land, to see whether the Iraqis will sink or swim. For shame."
-- Christopher Hitchens

Posted by Lt. Mark Daily at


Christopher Hitchens is my favorite writer of this age.  His wordsmithing alone qualifies him for that praise.  But what sets him apart from other commentators is his bravery (not bravado) in advancing his views and positions.  Lt. Daily evidently admired Mr. Hitchens as well -- well enough to quote him, and more importantly, to believe in his message.

And so it happened then that when Mr. Hitchens learned of Mark Daily's fate, he felt the pain and anguish of perhaps being partly responsible for this young soldier's death. It is one thing to advocate war from within the safe confines of a typewriter carriage.  But to know that a soldier took the typed page and made it part of his battle creed has to be haunting.

Lt. Daily was killed by a cowardly weapon -- the land mine. In the Iraq war, however, we do not hear the term "land mine" mentioned. In the newspeak of terror war, we refer to these bombs as IEDs -- improvised explosive devices.

Thankfully, IUD was already in use or our soldiers would have to be on the lookout for improvised underground devices.

At his page, Lt. Daily wrote a passionate essay titled "Why I Joined."  He also was kind enough to summarize his reasons for joining the army and going to Iraq by telling his readers to watch the movie "Schindler's List" followed by "Saving Private Ryan."

The young lieutenant was not a hero in the traditional sense of the word, but I would describe him as heroic -- a more fitting word, perhaps.

Oskar Schindler was not a hero, but he was heroic.  Capt. John H. Miller was not a hero, but he was heroic.  And so on.

Lt. Daily went off to fight a war for a noble reason -- that of ridding an oppressed people of their dictator.  He did not go off to war to loot and plunder.  And that is a major difference in the pursuit of warfare that differentiates the American soldier from the hordes of masquerading butchers and thieves who permeate the history books.

Mr. Hitchens article, "A Death in the Family," recounts his meeting Lt. Daily's family.  He wasn't sure at the outset whether he should even make the attempt to contact them.  And if he did so, he had no idea of how to phrase his greeting.

There was no established protocol to guide his introducing himself to this family in mourning.  Nor did Emily Post's provisos lend any advice specific to the situation.  But he felt strongly that, given the circumstance, he needed to make the effort even if the Dailys rejected his condolences out of hand.

We are fortunate that Mr. Hitchens persevered.  The story that he wrote is the final chapter that every soldier's family lives through when bidding adieu to a beloved son or daughter who was killed in combat.

"A Death in the Family" comes to a close on a windswept Oregon beach, the locale where Mark Daily wished his ashes be strewn.  Mr. Hitchens joined the Daily family there for the ceremony, and he read a fitting passage about the death of a soldier from Shakespeare's "Macbeth".

This is all I want to tell you about Mark Daily in this column.  His words are the words you should be reading.  For regardless of your opinion of war, you should avail yourself to hear the soldier's opinion.  You will find it interesting.

Lt. Mark Daily at

"A Death in the Family" can be found at   or


David G. Allen served as a tank platoon leader in the 2nd Armored Division.

"'Why I Joined': A Soldier's Story In His Own Words" originally appeared in the December 20, 2007 issue of the West Virginia State Journal.




Copyright 1990-2007  David G. Allen