Ten Years Later, and How Iraq Can Change a Generation's Trajectory

Abu_Ghraib_39.jpg
This is how Washington searched for WMDs, and how it lost a generation.
Every day after baseball practice, my Dad picked me up. Still clad in my dirt-stained pants, still too young to have a full appreciation for deodorant, I would toss my bookbags and gear in the back of our Volvo and jump in the front seat with him. He'd ask how practice was, and I'd tell him about the double play Alex and I turned, about the two singles I hit in the scrimmage. It was fun, I'd say. He'd nod, and he'd drive, and as we'd round the final sublets before swinging onto the freeway, I'd turn to him and ask if today was the day the US had found Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

It was 2003. I was a freshman in high school. This was our routine, my father and I. I'd drop sweat across the infield, bunch my baseball socks into the lowest and smelliest confines of my bag, and, early in the ride back, ask my father if we'd yet discovered Iraq's stores of anthrax and smallpox and ricin. I would ask my dad, days upon weeks upon an eventual season, whether or not the hunt was over. Whether we'd found the reason we were there.

"Anything today?"

"Nope."

There wasn't anything excitable in my voice; I wasn't looking for anything sensational, for anything approaching bloodlust. I could care less about the shock of awe. I was just looking for a fact. A single reality. A fact that predicated an invasion, 10 years ago today, that produced the viscera of war that Afghanistan hadn't yet seen, and that brought new vocabulary -- Fallujah; IEDs; Mission Accomplished -- to a generation whose childhood had been nothing but permanent play.

For all of its horror, Vietnam wasn't founded on a lie. Nor WWII. Nor, even, the Spanish-American War -- though don't tell any of those who still remember the Maine. Those wars, mismanaged though they may have been, were at least founded upon some basic principle, on some humanistic, American belief. They may have turned hollow and reprehensible, but their initial shot -- that first border crossed -- came with some better thing pushing it.

Iraq didn't. The Iraq War forced an entire generation of adolescent Americans to throw their throats behind their leaders, and to find an early and repeated sense of a distinctly lingering pain: of the feeling of being lied to. For almost every American under the age of 28, their earliest geopolitical interaction was based on a farce. It was founded on arrogance, and condescension, and, eventually, torture. What should have continued growing as the most patriotic generation since those under Pearl Harbor -- and, trust me, you've no idea how much I listened to Toby Keith's "Angry American" as an early teen -- saw everything it had pushed for collapse upon itself. This lie made a generation sick of entanglement, and cynical toward an entire party. This lie corrupted our faith in what America ever stood for.

But that would come later -- after the hundreds of thousands -- the hundreds of thousands -- left dead as a result of America's invasion. That would come when the lie eventually settled. This time a decade ago, though, I was walking across a patch of outfield, a low western moon hanging over my high school's pines. I knew the invasion had begun -- I knew, unlike anything we'd truly seen in Afghanistan, that my nation was at war. That we were destroying Iraq for one reason.

I hopped in the front seat, and my dad began the drive home.

"Have they found the WMDs yet?"

"Not yet, no."

Not yet.

No.

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11 comments
txchris36id
txchris36id

I find it interesting that you've determined the belief in Saddam's WMDs was a lie. What firsthand, relevant experience or knowledge do you have that leads you to this conclusion? Do you believe all the other countries whose intelligence services thought Saddam had WMDs were also lying? It's likely that after Saddam got rid of his WMDs (such as the poison gas he used on Kurds), he wanted his enemies to believe he still had them.

It's likely that people in our government wanted to believe he had them, and bought into a seemingly obvious ruse. An intelligence failure of that magnitude is indefensible, especially when it leads to the tragedies we soldiers, our families and the Iraqis experienced. But it's not the same as going to war over a lie.

I understand that you personally think the entire Iraq War was based on a lie. If your essay had been written as your personal view, I wouldn't have such an issue with it. But assigning your beliefs to everyone in your age group is more than just grandiose, it's factually wrong. In the military, I interact daily with many 28 and unders who haven't lost "our faith in what America ever stood for." Maybe you should interact with some of them too.

evan7257
evan7257

Gulf of Tonkin wasn't a lie?

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

I don't agree that there was any humanistic motive for Vietnam. We certainly weren't supporting democracy. We went in and propped up an unelected dictator, using the Gulf of Tonkin Incident as a bogus casus belli.

What troubles me most about the Global War On Terror is how it has changed young people to support the use of torture. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/04/12/red-cross-study-finds-60-percent-of-young-people-support-torture.html Today's 18 year olds were just 6 years old when the Towers fell, and I shudder to think what kind of adults that will create.

casey.michel
casey.michel

@txchris36id A "belief" cannot be a lie. A factual claim, however, can be. As Curveball noted while questioned:

"The fact is we went to war in Iraq on a lie. And that lie was your lie[?]" 

"Yes."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/9936180/Iraq-anniversary-war-intelligence-was-a-lie-BBC-Panorama-documentary-to-say.html

Now, if you believe the initial impetus for war -- rather than rear-guard and secondary mission shifts -- was something else, please, share. As it stands, a lie founded the basis for the consequent driving rational. That is to say, it was founded on a lie. 

And, as you must have missed, I've not assigned my beliefs to "everyone in [my] age group." Likewise, it can thusly not be factually wrong. But just to confirm: According to Pew, Millennials are the least "patriotic" age-based demographic in America, and have fallen steepest over the past decade. Perhaps you should interact with some of them too.

casey.michel
casey.michel

@evan7257 Eh, was moving along the let's-have-democracy-for-all line, rather than initial false flaggery. Liberation theology(!) came to Iraq, rather, only after it was apparent the weapons weren't buried under Tikrit, Fallujah, et al. (I certainly won't argue that Vietnam's impetus was inarguable, though.)

johnnybench
johnnybench topcommenter

@Kylejack At least Vietnam had the whole "domino theory" supporting it, misguided as it was.  Though, I guess that's not a whole lot different than the neocon justification for the second Iraq war regardless of the WMDs. 

txchris36id
txchris36id

@casey.michel @txchris36id Thanks for the link to that article, it illustrates the intelligence failure that led to the war. Curveball wasn't the President or member of his administration, he was an Iraqi source who lied to us. Our intelligence services and everyone else involved should justifiably be criticized for buying that lie. But that's not the same as saying our government intentionally lied to start a war.

Maybe I misunderstood you. Does your anguish come from the fact that an Iraqi source lied to us, and we believed it? Doesn't sound like that to me. Sounds like your "lingering pain of being lied to" doesn't have anything to do with Curveball. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but your essay seems to suggest our own government intentionally lied to us in order to invade Iraq.

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

@casey.michel @evan7257 How was propping up dictator Diem anything to do with democracy? If anything, democracy for Iraq was used as an actual alternate cause for invasion by Cheney, Wolfowitz, etc.

txchris36id
txchris36id

@casey.michel @txchris36id Intelligence isn't quite the black and white game you seem to think it is. There will ALWAYS be conflicting reports. There will always be judgement calls about what reporting carries more weight. There will always be sources who lie for personal gain or to exact revenge against an enemy. Determining the actual truth from intelligence reporting isn't easy.

txchris36id
txchris36id

@casey.michel @txchris36id Reports that Hussein had WMDs could be weighed against his documented use of them in the past, and therefore given more credence than they should have received. Wikipedia lists 15 incidents where Iraq used chemical weapons, two of which were over a months-long period. It also says that as late as 1995 the Iraqi government admitted it had produced 30,000 liters of biological agents, but claimed to have destroyed them.

Perhaps for you, with no direct involvement or experience in the war or the buildup to it, it's crystal clear that there was nothing to worry about. For others, it wasn't quite so simple.

casey.michel
casey.michel

@txchris36id See especially Nos. 2, 3 and 9, despite the latter's coming following the initial invasion: http://www.alternet.org/story/16274/ten_appalling_lies_we_were_told_about_iraq If you'd like to rebut any, please go ahead.

Indeed, many of the remaining fall under the patina of "intelligence says..." and "have learned that..." Fortunately, lies of omission still fall under the rubric of lying. The Bush Administration, as I'm sure you'll agree, willfully remained blinkered to -- or willingly ignored -- both truth and question as to the status of Iraq's capabilities. So, yes, you've read correctly: "[O]ur own government intentionally lied to us in order to invade Iraq."

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