Where war led us…10 years later

Protest, March 22, 2003. Photo: Jonathan Ehrich (Mal Cubed)

On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Ba’athist Iraq. Dale Hobson filed this blog entry a few days later.

Nations fight wars for a range of reasons: to protect against invasion, to secure resources, to retaliate, to advance ideology.

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq, I was reminded by SUNY Potsdam historian George Gonos that wars also generate resistance.

Every war I know about has included those who patriotically, idealistically or pragmatically supported their nation’s decision to fight

There are also those who just as patriotically, just as idealistically and just as pragmatically opposed that same decision.

In the aftermath of war, history books–as well as popular culture and media–are likely to neglect the stories and impact of those who oppose wars.

Curiously, when popular support of a war wanes, as it did for the Iraq war, there is virtually no public conversation with those who resisted the tide. There is no effort to perhaps learn, to delve into the hearts and minds of those who, after all, may have been right.

Here’s a part of what George wrote to us:

In the latter part of 2002 and early 2003 I was one of many people here in the North Country that threw a part of our lives, as completely as we could, into the effort to try to stop the war from starting. Remarkably, opposition to the war came together in literally every town, here in our usually sleepy region, and across the country. Worldwide, tens of millions of people demonstrated against this war before it began, to try to stop it from happening, a historically unprecedented development. (The front page of The New York Times recording the worldwide demonstrations one Sunday is still chilling to look at)…

It is incredible that NPR ignores all this, and all of us, in its coverage, and NCPR should not do the same. I find it impossible to fathom why NPR cannot seem to find even one person to interview from among the tens of millions of people who unequivocally opposed the war and fought against it from happening, who knew both that the war was unnecessary, and that it would be disastrous for our country.

Yesterday, I ran into a young man in the corridor of the building we work in. His brother is a career soldier, currently serving his fifth tour of duty overseas–the third tour in Afghanistan, two earlier tours in Iraq. He said to me, more in gesture than words, that his brother “does not understand” why we’re there…why we’ve ever been there.

When we abandon diplomacy for combat, we owe it to ourselves, to those we send to fight our battles, and to those we will fight against to be sure we know why we are fighting and what we hope to achieve.

Ten years later I ask each of you: what were we fighting for and did we achieve it?

And whatever we achieved, was it worth it? If you spent time in the military in Iraq, do you think it was worth it? Maybe it was not what you hoped for but perhaps there is some positive outcome you can hold in your heart and mind…and share with us.

Patrol in Iraq, September 2007. Photo: US Army.

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12 Responses to “Where war led us…10 years later”

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  1. Lucy Martin says:

    A little more than ten years ago, then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien made a difficult decision: Canada would not participate in the Iraq War.

    The Canadian press has recently had a number of articles with a self-congratulatory tone of “phew! dodged that bullet” . Here’s an op-ed from the Ottawa Citizen that called Chrétien’s decision wise and courageous.

    But Canada did sign up for the Afghanistan War and shed much blood there across ten long years. (Canada ended combat operations in Afghanistan in 2011.)

    What was fought for and what was achieved?

    Ellen’s questions are worth examining in the case of both conflicts.

  2. tootightmike says:

    What was accomplished? Well, Dick Cheney’s friends all made money on the deal, and our nations taxpayers will bear the trillions in costs for a long, long time. At the same time, our infrastructure has crumbled, and we can’t afford to run our schools, but apparently that’s the fault of the evil public sector and teachers unions or some other bull.
    For a while it was fashionable for Republicans to posit the question, “Are you better off now than bla, bla, bla” . I notice that they’re not saying that anymore. Too many wounded warriors, I think. Too many missing at the table.
    Apparently, there is no one at fault, right? Apparently, it’s OK to start a war with a lie, and to kill for trumped up reasons, and to allow the whole affair to run on and on unchecked until the costs outstrip our abilities and even our imagination. No one went to jail, no one indited on war crimes charges, no one even asked to give back the excess.
    What was accomplished? The creation of another generation who will view everything they’re told with scepticism. What’s that worth?

  3. Tony Goodwin says:

    We managed to remove Saddam Hussein and replace him with a fragile democracy. Unfortunately that cost 5,000 lives and thousands more with life-changing injuries plus about a trillion dollars. Turns out, Saddam wasn’t much of a threat, and Hans Blix and his weapons inspectors were in the process of proving that when we went to war. Their freedom to look everywhere for weapons was, I believe, a direct result of the massing of 100,000 troops on the Iraq border. So we definitely had the option of not invading, lifting the UN sanctions, and then diminishing Saddam with some clever propaganda. Saddam portrayed himself as a strong, tough defender of Arab peoples, but we could have showed him to be a coward who crumpled in the face of force. I think almost any military strategist would say the best use of military power is to so frighten the enemy that he gives up without having to fire a single shot.
    Once the UN sanctions were lifted, we could have sent technicians to help get their oil flowing again and then further diminished Saddam by pointing out how the Iraqi people had suffered. In the Muslim world, a man’s first responsibility is to provide for his family. He can take more than one wife as long as he can provide for her and any of her children. As the “father” of the nation of Iraq, it wouldn’t have been hard to show that he had failed to provide for his family while lavishing luxury on himself. I doubt he would have been able to remain in power once he had been shown to be who he really was.
    To me, that was the bloodless victory that was within our grasp but was never realized.

  4. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    My feelings are that the Iraq war was the biggest foreign policy blunder since Vietnam. Some have suggested it may even prove to be the biggest in our entire history.

  5. Tony Goodwin says:

    I agree with If… except I would say it is the single biggest blunder in our entire history. It took four administrations over the course of 15 years to get us mired in Vietnam. The Bush administration did the same in about 15 months.

  6. Ellen Rocco says:

    All,
    Here’s where I get discouraged: do we ever learn from past blunders? Even for those who wholeheartedly supported the Vietnam War aren’t there lessons that could have been learned, and applied, in the more recent Iraq War? It seems to me that every ten to fifteen years we are embroiled in some kind of serious military action–as if it takes that long for our collective memory to fade and allow us to be swept away again by the “fog of war.” With a speeded up culture and a society that has a kind of pervasive attention deficit disorder, how do we make sure to remember…and learn? Or is this totally unrealistic in the face of human history, punctuated constantly with wars across our planet?

    At a minimum, if we are not being directly attacked, should we be more judicious in our decision-making about making war?

    Before all else, I am a mother of a son. My heart breaks every time I hear about another death–on either side. Life is precious, regardless of religion and nationality.

  7. Laura Rediehs says:

    There is so much in our culture and our education that glorifies war and violence. We are trained to think that these are the only ways to “do something” when we feel outraged. But, in truth, the methods of nonviolent action can be highly effective. There is a rich history of nonviolent resolution of conflicts that we tend not to study. When I teach Peace Studies classes, my students are amazed, and always ask, “why have we never studied this before? Why are we not required to study nonviolence?”

    I have long been puzzled by this myself. The more I have studied and taught about nonviolence, the more convinced I am that we have the capacity to address our problems much more effectively and efficiently with nonviolent methods. So, why do we not teach this, and employ what has been learned? Reluctantly, I reach the conclusion that those who benefit financially from war are the ones who capitalize on fear and push militaristic responses. After all, it can be highly profitable to make big huge expensive devices that are destroyed upon use and constantly need replacing! Abolishing war would financially disadvantage those who currently profit from war.

    This is just one of many examples of how we have let economic considerations trump ethics in our decision-making. We need to turn this around.

  8. Ellen Rocco says:

    Laura,
    Back in the ’80s, I helped organize a festival on the SLU campus designed to bring together artists of the Vietnam War era–specifically, artists who had fought in Vietnam and those who had actively opposed the war. In a catalogue/booklet we put together, I asked what you are asking now: why don’t we teach about Dr. King or Gandhi or any of the other great peace makers as enthusiastically as we teach about the generals and John Waynes of history? Who are the role models for the young?

  9. Laura Rediehs says:

    Ellen,

    That sounds like a great event! Two SLU librarians have told me that there are wonderful resources on local peace activism, and I am hoping to find peace studies students who might be interested in doing a research project on this local history. I really like your question about getting people to think more critically about who their role models are, and should be.

  10. Ken Hall says:

    I was drafted by “my friends and neighbors” in Feb64 and chose to join the USAF rather than enter the US Army. At the time I had drunk the kool-aid and when sent to Da Nang as a weapons mechanic, working on the first of the Century series fighter bombers (F-100), in April/May65 I initially believed the hype that we were there to ensure freedom for the South Vietnamese. Within a few weeks I realized the “truth”; we were sent there to kill Vietnamese at an unbelievable rate. The aircraft I hung bombs, napalm, CBUs, missiles, ., ., upon were bombing villages in South Viet Nam; the clincher for my conversion came when we were hanging leaflet bombs which we were informed were to warn the “good” Vietnamese (not the Viet Cong) to get out of their villages because we “the good guys” were going to raze the village the next day. If that type of policy makes sense to anyone I am eager to discuss it with you. Subsequent to razing the villages all dead Vietnamese were then counted as VIET CONG, babies, children, old men and women and young women and men; same question and offer applies to this sentence as well.

    I was a bit long in the tooth to be tagged to help kill Iraqis the second time around; however, I would be astounded to learn that what we did in Iraq and Afghanistan was significantly different from what we did in Viet Nam and I would expect that many American military personnel came to a similar conclusion about these wars as I did about Viet Nam. Unknown or perhaps refused to be acknowledge by most Americans is the horrific rate at which we decimated the Vietnamese, the Iraqis and likely the Afghans, 100 to 200 to one or more. Let me make clear what I am saying is that for every American killed 100-200 of our so called enemies were killed. How many of you think about that? How many of you think that’s OK because they deserve it?

    A recent book by a young man named Nick Turse “Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam” reviewed here – http://www.alternet.org/world/dont-look-away-we-must-confront-horrific-industrial-violence-american-military-capable?akid=10193.249686.NmNmDu&rd=1&src=newsletter810408&t=17&paging=off – came out of his graduate research about PTSD. His conclusions dove tail with mine in that the My Lai massacre was not the “isolated” incident the US military claimed but one of multitudes of such incidents which resulted from military SOP (standard operating procedures). Likewise I would imagine the “isolated” incidents of civilians murdered in Iraq and Afghanistan are in reality multitudinous. His conclusion that PTSD is likely more a result of the barbaric treatment foisted upon our “enemies” by military personnel as it is of what they suffered is not likely to sit well with the American psyche.

    At risk of being accused of beating a downed horse I will contend, again, that the real reasons the US military is maintained at it’s unbelievable funding levels is because it is the most viable mechanism with which the obscenely wealthy can continue to increase their measly 93% of the total US wealth, ad nauseum, by convincing “patriotic” citizens that “those are bad” people “over there” and we, the US, must punish them. I contend that as bad as POTUS Nixon was the absolute worst decision he ever made was to rescind the US military draft thereby vastly reducing the numbers of people with a conscience from the military ranks and vastly reducing the total numbers of Americans exposed to the military mindset.

    Why do we go to war? Pure and simple greed at the top of the economic pile and to be fair although the US is currently the “big dog” militarily we are only one in a long line of spaceship Earth’s vicious countries wherein the obscenely wealthy increased their fortunes via WAR. As long as the obscene mal-distribution of the Earth’s resource wealth is tacitly tolerated I foresee no permanent end to WAR because there is far far too much money to be made in it.

  11. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Ken,

    Thanks for the above post. Very enlightening and informative. Also, I fear your last paragraph is all too true.

  12. dave says:

    “Here’s where I get discouraged: do we ever learn from past blunders?”

    Yes. We do.

    Just not all of us.

    George Bush Sr. also fought a war in Iraq. That was military action that followed a very specific set of strategic principles, principles developed in response to what happened in Vietnam, by people who experienced what happened in Vietnam.

    Those strategic principles were known as the Weinberger Doctrine. Later, they were known as the Powell Doctrine… when he applied them to Iraq 1.

    So, yes. We do learn. We have learned. And we have shown we can apply those learnings.

    The problem is that we elected a guy who apparently skipped school the day these lessons were taught.