My brother did one tour in the land of the two rivers. He came back with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and a brain injury, all in the name of ... nothing.
The experience ruined his life. My brother, and thousands like him, may be your neighbor. Please, no fireworks or sudden movements. Remember, these people gave up not-waking-up-in-cold-sweats for your freedom.
That being said, I was pleasantly surprised to see a large contingent of U.S. forces leaving Iraq in the dead of an August night. It was a bad idea to go there in the first place, and the bad excuses for the bad idea changed frequently—weapons of mass destruction, then democracy, then Saddam = bad.
As a result of our most recent campaign for the furtherance of meaningless violence, thousands upon thousands of people have been killed. I make no distinction between dead soldiers and dead civilians. They all end up in the same place: the ground.
Civilians of all ages die as a result of wars happening next to, or on top of, them. But the vast majority of soldiers who die are young men, men who will never know the joy of buying a car, drinking legally or purchasing their very first handgun—all cornerstones of the American way of life.
But the vast majority of soldiers who die are young men, men who will never know the joy of buying a car, drinking legally or purchasing their very first handgun—all cornerstones of the American way of life.
The news made a show out of the fallen. I remember the lists of dead soldiers accompanied by patriotic graphics and titles that suggested they died for something noble. This is a cop out. The American media largely went along with this dubious war and glorified the deaths of thousands of American soldiers. They didn’t die protecting our freedom; they died so George W. Bush and his neocon cronies could feel tough.
The headline “Dead 19-Year-Olds” was pitched at at least one network meeting but was written off as too much of a downer. People don’t like to be bummed out in between pharmaceutical commercials. (Side effects of watching Operation Iraqi Freedom coverage may include nausea, depression, headaches and the feeling that you are somehow culpable, regardless of your “I support the troops” bumper sticker.)
After more than seven years, enough time to beat nearly two Hitlers, the United States is beginning to draw down its troop presence. But we’re not done yet. We need to have our Fall of Saigon moment.
This war had its iconic occasion, staged to make war look cool, patriotic, right. For its “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” shot (which itself was totally staged and fake), the Iraq War got President George W. Bush landing on an aircraft carrier, a several-hundred-thousand-dollar “Mission Accomplished” banner and oddly dressed sailors behind him. (The war would continue for seven more years after victory was declared.)
Then the real iconography began: exploding roadside bombs, which, it should be noted, the U.S. showed the future al Qaeda how to make in the 1980s while they were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. If video clips of flipping Humvees weren’t iconographic enough, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, beheaded a contractor. It really captured the horrifying senselessness of the entire affair.
Zarqawi, also a maker of self-aggrandizing video clips like Dubya, was himself dispatched, along with his wife and baby, by not one but two 500-pound bombs. He was a jerk, but his family didn’t deserve to die. All of the other women and children the U.S. killed with 500-pound bombs didn’t deserve it, either. We call it “collateral damage,” smile and move on.
Maybe we learned our lesson (but we probably didn’t). It’s on to the next one. Iran, Pakistan, China. Those troops can just go east from Iraq, stop in Afghanistan for gas and coffee. They can mingle with those other U.S. soldiers that are still in Afghanistan.
See, we have a problem with getting into fights on other people’s turf, turf that has seen decades of fighting before we even arrive. The Vietnamese beat the French, then us. Afghanistan has been in a perpetual state of war for more than 30 years.
I fear that five or 10 or 20 years from now, we will decide we have to liberate the people of wherever with bombs and violence delivered with a smile. By that time, hopefully, the pieces of Iraq will have congealed into a functioning state, or, more likely, an Islamic regime that hates the United States and has a lot of oil (See: the history of Iran).
So here we are, another notch on our bedpost, and a strange, burning, itchy sensation in our collective pants.