Ten years ago, President George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq. The nearly nine-year conflict killed several hundred thousand people, mostly civilians, including almost 4,500 U.S. soldiers.
The war ended with America getting booted from the country after the Obama Administration failed to negotiate a status of forces agreement. Many still believe Iraq is at a lull between civil wars, and that Shiite cleric/warlord Muqtada al Sadr, Iran or Syria could fast destabilize the country.
At a cost of 1 trillion tax dollars, and an endgame of stalemate at best, it’s hard to pinpoint what America can say it has won from this war.
When will we confront this colossal folly? A war of questionable legality launched under false pretenses that killed multitudes of innocents and hurt America’s standing in the world deserves a formal investigation. Britain conducted an Iraq war inquiry. After 9/11, Congress issued a report on what went wrong. Truth commissions operate in post-conflict societies around the world, from Rwanda to Guatemala. But there is little outcry over this dark chapter in American history.
A flurry of media commemorations has ranged from the whimsical—“Would Twitter Have Stopped the Iraq War?”—to the thoughtful, such as Paul Krugman’s Monday New York Times column, which lamented “the illusion of consensus. To this day, pundits who got it wrong excuse themselves on the grounds that ‘everyone’ thought that there was a solid case for war.”
Unlike at 9/11’s 10th anniversary, many media outlets are light on Iraq reflection. The New Yorker and New York Magazine made no mention of the milestone in this week’s issues. Even The New York Times kept its coverage off the front page.
Unsurprisingly, our tenure ended badly after just a few months. We wound up getting people killed, almost getting killed ourselves and coming home disillusioned by government and country alike.
“One of the more offensive legacies of the Iraq war is that the loudest voices, on the left and right, that called for invasion are still given large public forums,” says Jeff Neumann, a friend and journalist based in Lebanon. “Whether it’s ‘Axis of Evil’ speechwriter David Frum and his rebirth as the ‘likable’ conservative, or ex-New York Times editor Bill Keller, one of the self-styled ‘liberal hawks’ who today writes a column in the paper about being a rich man with a conscience, or whatever he does.”
Media people who were pro-war may now want to forget the war they helped start. As Krugman pointed out, the media wants us to believe everyone was pro-war in 2003.
Neumann and I were anti-war back then; yet we still cared about our nation’s military, of which 1.5 million members served in Iraq. We cared so much that all we wanted to do was go to Iraq. We considered enlisting in the Marines, but realized we didn’t want to fight a war we didn’t believe in. We remained obsessed with the war.
Talking to young people at bars, restaurants and social gatherings over the weekend, few realized the Iraq anniversary was upon us. Fewer seemed to care. Many in the generation that came up in the past decade seem not to have realized they grew up during wartime.
HBO’s Girls is often discussed as though it’s a generation-defining encapsulation of the millennial Zeitgeist. On Monday night, cable news channels were debating that show’s sex scenes, not Iraq’s anniversary.
When the war started in 2003, I was 24, the same age as the girls on Girls. Like them, my friends also colonized North Brooklyn—Bushwick lofts, Greenpoint basements, futuristic high-rise condos with cement floors and matte chrome microwaves. My boys didn’t “have narrow prospects, not much ambition, very little drive or determination, and terrible boyfriends,” as the Times describes Girls this week.
We were ambitious, determined, like most other transplanted Brooklyn kids back then. Our focus was less on the culture and ourselves than foreign affairs. 9/11 was still fresh. The city and country were in shock. The moment felt much larger than the individual.
I lived with Neumann back then. Instead of hanging around Brooklyn in self-despair, we found our way to Iraq, where, in early 2004, we worked for the “Coalition,” a/k/a the U.S.-led military occupation. Unsurprisingly, our tenure ended badly after just a few months. We wound up getting people killed, almost getting killed ourselves and coming home disillusioned by government and country alike.
We also hated ourselves for being so dumb, thinking we could gain something from seeing war. What shocked us most upon returning home is how little people cared about the Iraq war dead. Somehow Iraq had desensitized people.
The catalogue of perverse violence certainly is numbing. As the civil war developed, dozens of cities came under siege. Every day, car bombs, suicide attacks, small arms battles, air strikes, assassinations, the ubiquitous IEDs.
Looking back a decade later, Americans should feel collective guilt. I sure do.
I imagine being young today, a druggy elf at the Electric Daisy Carnival or an artisanal folk music dude retro-rocking Mumford and Sons, or something like that. It’s not all that different, is it? Kids today may not have jobs, but they still care about politics and human rights. At least some of them do.
“Girls sucks! It is not an accurate display of our generation,” says Jonathan Krohn, an 18-year-old left-wing political writer and NYU freshman who I met when he was a 14-year-old conservative pundit, the little boy on Fox NEWS. Now he’s like a cross between Keith Richards, Frodo Baggins and international investigative reporter Jon Lee Anderson if they played semi-pro Tetris and were on perma-spazz mode.
Last week, Krohn was in D.C. covering the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), writing and reporting for The Atlantic during the day, chasing young female bloggers and Republicans at night. Krohn may not be the average kid (he published his first book at 14), but he is a great example of what kids today could be doing, and what many already are doing.
After hearing of his afterhours CPAC skirt chasing, I suggested he write a sex column, like an even nerdier Hannah from Girls.
“I’m a political writer, Ray!” he protested.
Krohn is moving this spring to Iraqi Kurdistan on a fellowship. “I meet a lot of people online who like real things. We’re not all wannabe memoirists.”
Kids like Krohn, who came up in a politically inflamed era, are one positive legacy of the Iraq war.
Consider Obama’s 2008 campaign. Youth involvement in mainstream politics hit an all-time high. So when searching for the Zeitgeist, maybe nerdy New York girls aren’t who really matter. Maybe other, better nerds in D.C. are the true voices of the generation.
Compared to a decade ago, D.C. is a youthful boomtown, a preferred destination for the Ph.D. set.
Maybe these young Americans will be the ones to push for an Iraq reckoning, who will insist that the government itself tell the story behind the lies that led us to war.
These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.
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