Remembering the home front as we launched the Iraq War 20 years ago
This is brilliantly stated, both sobering and wise. What you're stating here about the, shall we say, "romance of intentionality" here is what I clumsily wrote about my own flawed thinking, circa 2004-2005, but so much more succinct and correct than I ever managed, I think. Bravo.
In theory I opposed the Iraq war in 2003. But my "opposition" amounted to tsk-tsk'ing the pro-war crowd, some of whom were quite insufferable. My tsk-tsking was silent and mostly to myself, unless I was around friends I knew to be antiwar. I sometimes think of a woman I saw on a bus in my (on balance very pro-war city) a few weeks after the invasion. She actually sported an antiwar button. I remember thinking how brave she was to do so and also thinking how I wasn't brave enough to so publicly declare my views.
I went to a couple of antiwar demonstrations after the invasion started (not, like other people, before the invasion, when protesting might possibly have had some effect). I didn't pay enough attention to the news to have anything like an informed opinion about the war. I kind of assumed Iraq had wmd's, but I didn't even then buy the supposed link some pro-war activists made between Hussein and 9/11.
My reasons for opposing were probably more "war is bad and therefore this war is bad." The premise is good and the conclusion follows, but it was weak tea.
So I was right, but largely for the wrong reasons.
From my (very casual, very anecdotal) observation, the antiwar position had its own "cheering for shock and awe" element. I remember a sense that the more people who died, especially American soldiers, the more that fact justified my view. There was almost a hope for death of others because that would show how horrible the war was. That was definitely not everyone on the antiwar side. It wasn't even a majority. In fact, it's possible it was such a minute part of the antiwar position that I'm projecting my own views onto it. But I remember sometimes having that feeling (that the worse the war, the better) and choosing to indulge it. I was wrong.
Don't get me wrong. I believe the war was a mistake and wrong. Some good probably came out of it, in the way that some good comes out of most bad things. But the death and destruction it wrought more than counterbalances the good, in my opinion.
I supported the invasion of Iraq. It is the most consequential political position I've ever held, not because my support made any difference in the Amazonian flow of history, but because, as a result of it, I discovered how expedient my beliefs were, how unmoored my actual thinking was from anything like genuine reason, how deep my capacity for rationalization was, how shallow my own conservatism was, how shallow, in fact, I was.
I am still, essentially, conservative. But the discovery that I could so easily disregard the supposedly foundational orientation of my entire world view shattered my confidence in what I naively believed to be my "principles". Before the Iraq War I treated the feeling of righteous conviction as a strength, something to be nursed and cultivated. Since the Iraq War I have always and will always view indignant ethical certainty as the unambiguous marker for moral vanity and self-deception.
Noah's remembrance testifies to the massive realignment this horrible war inflicted on the American psyche, different in type but comparable in depth to the trauma of the war in Vietnam. Our nation is still playing out the effects of those upheavals. Thank you for looking squarely at it in this fine essay.
As yes, the cheering, and the smell of napalm in the morning.
The war in Ukraine needs to end now. Good, smart people - people who know & understand history need to step-up and help the belligerents come to a sudden stop, back-off and talk honestly with one another; keeping in mind the needless brutal death around them. Let the Chinese & maybe Israel and India intercede, if no one else comes forward.
No one involved in or around the war has clean hands. The Russians should not have attacked, but right now they are like the dog that caught the car.
Ukraine needs to swear off NATO forever and just rebuild with as little corruption as possible. We all need to think about all of the damage that has been done to fathers, mothers, families & communities, and ask if it was really worth it, this goes double for Russians who have killed their cousins over politics. The US and Europe need to forget about self-interest for a while.
At first I said help the brave Ukrainians more! - now I say let’s help both parties stop.
I’ll be honest, I am always surprised when I meet someone who supported the invasion who is quite intelligent and introspective. Sure I met many folks who didn’t read the news paper or books who thought Iraq the sequel was a good idea. I am not saying that the outcome was obvious. It was never a forgone conclusion and in fact if the people managing the country after our unilateral declaration of victory had been smarter, more humble, and had better motives history could have been much different.
But take yourself back. Iraq had surrendered. They had completely capitulated to inspectors on the day the tanks rolled. In fact, you may recall, the UN inspectors had to evacuate ahead of the invasion. If you had read the WSJ to say nothing of Mother Jones you could have known that.
And with that, any pretext for war had evaporated. Perhaps you felt that the true reason was a connection between he 911 attack and Iraq? Again, by the time of the invasion this was not credible to anyone willing to read a decent newspaper.
I commented you for being introspective now, but I call bullshit on your internal deliberations. You felt the way you did because not feeling that way would have put your position at the pinnacle of your society at risk, perhaps?
This was frustrating to read. 300,000 souls were lost as a result of that stupid horrible war. Most of them civilians. If you want to understand why you didn’t see things the way the majority of Europeans did, may I recommend you read The Gathering Storm? Your friend was right. What we did had parallels to Naziism and they were not hard to see at the time.