Monday, August 30, 2010

Leaving Iraq

In 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, I sat in an East Coast hotel room watching the Academy Awards telecast. As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences presented Michael Moore with an Oscar for Bowling for Columbine, he took the stage and delivered the most impassioned speech against the invasion I had heard up until that point. The next morning as I continued my tour of this nation's monuments and historic sites, I thought about my classmates and what waging two wars would mean for my generation. Last week as I watched the last American combat brigade cross the border out of Iraq and into Kuwait, I was once again reminded of the immense cost of war in Iraq that fell to my generation.

A young soldier leaving Iraq last week was asked by NBC News about his service as his brigade made its way into Kuwait. He had served a tour in Iraq and a tour in Afghanistan, had volunteered for service after 9/11 and felt it was his duty to serve in Afghanistan. He didn't elaborate on his views about Iraq, but I suspect he felt Iraq was the right thing when it was tied, wrongly so, to 9/11. This young soldier was no older than I am.

The spring of 2003 was a stormy time in my young life, with plenty of unpleasant memories attached, yet the things I remember most about March of 2003 center on the war in Iraq.

President Bush's prime time address regarding the invasion was watched in the home of the Marine I was dating, alongside his veteran father and with his active-duty Army brother in our thoughts. That evening we thought of our generation immediately, but what we didn't know then was how long the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would go on, threatening to cost our younger brothers' generations as much as the wars would eventually cost our own. When President Bush addressed the nation that evening, my younger brother was far from my thoughts as I worried for my classmates and those closest to me who already had pledged their service to the United States military.

Seven years later, our brothers are signing up with the Selective Service.

Tuesday night when President Obama addresses this nation, we can be sure to hear of the role the United States will continue to play in the safety and sovereignty of Iraq. Though U.S. combat operations will have ended, a long road lies ahead of the Iraqi people with the support of its American ally. Though this time line was arranged by his predecessor, President Obama will be expected to speak to his administration's continued efforts in the region.

When the deficit hawks of today were the war hawks of yesterday, it is hard not to remember the cost of the last seven years and the two that preceded them in Afghanistan. And yet, while people are screaming at each other on the streets of New York City over where a community center should or shouldn't be built, we forget that fear and a great deal of hatred for the Muslim world led us blindly into Iraq. We too easily forget the cost of blind following and too frequently mistake demagoguery for leadership.

I thank God that in the past seven years I have not lost a single classmate or close friend to a war we never should have been waging. I thank God that seven years after we invaded Iraq we are ending combat operations there. I thank God that my younger brother will not have to fight in what Michael Moore called a "fictitious war" before the rest of us knew it was, in fact, fictitious. I thank God for this because I know that the sister of Capt. Alan Rowe, USMC, can't.


N. Speth said...

I want to respond to this and examine my ill-founded support for the war back then, and how those of us who were fooled by the claims of gathering threats ought to be furious with those who made those claims. However, that will take me some time to write, and I don't have time today. I work and I have grad school classes tonight. I think tomorrow I'll post something substantial as a comment.


Tara A. Rowe said...

Looking forward to it, Nick.

N. Speth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
N. Speth said...

Cut part of it off. Here's the link to the whole thing via google docs.