The Iraq war took a notoriously low toll on the vast majority of Americans. All of the sacrifice on this side was borne by enlisted members of the military and their families. This is not to say, however, that Americans with a wisp of consciousness did not have to cope with the news that emanated from the war zone. How should those opposed to a war of choice feel when – day after day, year after year – proof of the folly is reported in the lists of dead soldiers and civilians?
I recall the eve of the invasion, as the countdown to Bush’s ultimatum ticked down on the corner of the screen, Bill Press and Tucker Carlson signed off from their crappy program, Spin Room.
“Well, I hope I’m wrong,” the anti-war Press volunteered gamely after articulating his fears of a prolonged occupation. At 21, I was nowhere near the level of maturity it took for Bill Press to admit that the best outcome would be a quick and decisive exchange of power and return to peace. In the run up to the war, I was tossing and turning in bed, talking to myself, consumed with righteousness. I wanted nothing more in life than to be proven right, war sucks, yet what could be grimmer and more psychologically unsanitary than feeling satisfaction at the protraction or intensification of a war?
No part of me wanted the war’s supporters to be right (especially not that ass-hat Tucker Carlson), just as I didn’t really mind if the surge failed to quell the violence in 2006. Devouring every cable from Baghdad I could, I hoped each setback would not just affect the withdrawal of troops, but a wholesale admission from the hawks that they were acting like racist assholes all along.
When this did not happen in spite of a fruitless search for WMD, Abu Ghraib, and a full-scale civil war, some revelations are in order. First of all, people who were truly for this insane war in the first place were always too far-gone. As for myself, I discovered that if you find yourself cheering against peace, you end up cheering for war, making you worse than the other side.
The war turned a part of me into a bloodthirsty monster. As much as I could just blame the inherent nature of war, it exposed a native coldness within me. I constantly excused myself for being petty, wanting to be right more than I wanted peace, blinding myself to the cost of war as much as my philosophical enemies.
Because this war and occupation were distanced from the American civilian population by design, most people only expressed themselves publically with “End the War” or “Support the Troops.” There were no draft cards to burn for our side and sure-as-hell no one on their side was rushing to enlist. Each American who looks back on the last 9 years should reflect on their personal state of mind when, day after day, we learned of three American soldiers killed by an IUD, 45 Iraqi civilians dead in a suicide bombing, once-integrated neighborhoods deteriorating into civil war, an occupation with no end in sight.
The God in which Christopher Hitchens did not believe may be responsible for the coincidence of his death coinciding with the formal end of the war. In spite of his unlikely support for the invasion, Hitchens’s hatred for Saddam Hussein was his raison de guerre, and his lefty bona fides and rhetorical skill made his iconoclasm eloquent and thought-provoking.
Looking back at the whole conflict, I realize that Hitchens was, in a sense, correct. There was nothing he or I or anyone else could do to stop the war from occurring. One might as well try to identify a positive sequela and hope (or pray, if you like) for a quick end to the violence. Whatever happens, for God’s sake, don’t just hope everything falls to shit or we’re all truly the worse for the war.
Just in time for Christmas.