It is hard for me to separate in my mind the attacks on 9/11/01 with the wars we are currently fighting. Granted, the War in Iraq is not and never was connected to Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and the attacks. We also know now that what the American public was told regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in the hands of Saddam Hussein was fabricated intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq. This isn't me getting partisan, this is me restating the truths we now know about the events of March 2003 in the days prior to the invasion.
Because I struggle to separate 9/11 and Iraq, I am often guilty of lumping two wars into one. The war we fight in Afghanistan is both justified and generally supported by us as well as our allies. A justified war does not equal unanimous support nor peace of mind. Take for instance our involvement in World War II -- we had a justifiable reason, a moral reason even, to enter that war. Did that make it easy? Not in the least. As has been said by those far wiser than me, war is hell. There will always be a cost. We will lose men and women in the name of protecting our freedom. Children will lose mothers and fathers, parents will lose daughters and sons. Lives will be lost, an unspoken sacrifice for the continued existence of democracy. Does that make it right? I've never been certain.
The War in Afghanistan is part of a much larger war, a movement really, to defend humanity from terror. There will always be those who use fear to achieve their goals. There have always been extremists of this caliber. The difference this time is exactly what we used as our justification to invade Afghanistan. Our innocence was taken from us. In the smoke-filled skies of New York City, the breached halls of the Pentagon, and a burnt field in Pennsylvania smoldered the remainder of our innocence. Retaliation was swift and right. Had the invasion of Iraq not taken place less than two years later, it is my belief we would have both captured bin Laden and ended a successful war in Afghanistan.
Why we fight in Iraq is a question I am not prepared to answer in anything resembling a non-partisan manner. What I can say is that with every life that is lost we've more than matched the lives that were lost on 9/11. Nothing about that seems right or fair. And for every life we've lost there, we have taken at least one Iraqi life. For me it is the civilian lives lost that carry the greatest moral burden. The Roman historian Tacitus once said, "they made a desert and called it peace." When I think of the innocent civilians dying in Iraq daily, I think of Tacitus and the times he was writing about. He was writing about the Pax Romana; the victories and peace of the Roman Empire as well as the bloodshed required to get there. It wasn't more than three hundred years later that the Roman Empire would collapse. Can a nation such as ours risk what Rome once did in an effort to achieve peace, prosperity, and protection from those who would harm us?
Obviously my grasps of the wars we currently wage is riddled with examples of the past. It is the curse of historians in political settings to be constantly skeptical, at times even cynical, about war. In the entire history of mankind you would think one could find an example that would persuade a country or leader to avoid a particular war. The flipside is there are probably similar examples that would support invasion.
I have yet to answer your question about why we fight. I don't know why we fight where we fight. I don't know why bringing our ideals and our example of democracy to one nation over another based on faith or resources is morally acceptable. I don't know why so many lives must be lost. All I know with absolute certainty is there is no other country in the world I would rather call home and no other place worthy of such drastic sacrifice.
Ten years later and the issue of the War in Iraq is still as raw to me as it was following the invasion and even five years ago when I penned this letter. At least we've had a president wise and bold enough to end it.