Posts Tagged ‘responsibility’

Mistakes Were Made — Again

The last U.S. troops have been pulled from Iraq. To all the folks who served in that country, thank you. I’ll never know what you went through, but I’m certain it wasn’t pretty. I hope you’ve at least made it home safely. And to those who’ve lost a spouse, a family member, or a friend in that country, I am truly sorry, and very much appreciate the sacrifice you’ve made. So thank you, all of you.

Instead of saying “thank you”, however, I really should be saying “I’m sorry”. It certainly seems much more appropriate, and much more honest. What I really should do is paraphrase terrorism expert Richard Clarke’s famous opening statement to the 9/11 Commission: your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and the people of these United States – all of us – failed you, too. It was a terrible, terrible mistake to invade Iraq. It was off-purpose, off-policy, off-mission and incredibly stupid, and should never have been done in the first place.

I wonder what you, the Iraq veterans, think when you hear or read comments like this.  It probably pisses you off something fierce. You went halfway around the world to some Godforsaken country, fought a ruddy complicated insurgency, avoiding exploding garbage cans and roadside trash all the while, and hopefully made it back home in one piece, all to hear jerks like me say stuff like “it was all a mistake”. But I can’t say anything else about it. It was a mistake, a huge mistake, and a mistake that didn’t need to be made.

Now, I could write paragraph after paragraph about the manipulated intelligence, the fabricated link between Saddam Hussein & al Qaeda, and the lack of WMDs. I could write about the theoretical Neocon conspiracy to commit fraud upon the country and the world for their own political (or perhaps financial or perhaps retributional) gain. I could discuss at great length all the strategic and tactical blunders that occurred: dropping the ball in Afghanistan; letting bin Laden go; not providing adequate body armor; poor Humvee design; aggravating international relations; trusting the advice of an ex-pat Iraqi playboy. But all of these things have been talked about ad infinitum, and by people far more knowledgeable. I will say that all of these things, put together, are enough to convince me that we owe you all a tremendous apology for all we’ve put you through.

From the viewpoint of an amateur historian, here’s the real reason why we owe you an apology: it seems we all forgot what “war” really meant. Which was completely idiotic, we’ve been in enough wars that we should definitely have known better. But in the days leading up to the invasion, I heard almost no one in power talk about war in realistic terms. No one talked about the inevitability of American casualties. No one talked about the inevitable impact on families. No one talked about the certainty some veterans would suffer disabilities, brain damage, or PTSD. No one talked about the inevitability of massive civilian casualties, and the immense amount of guilt good soldiers have when they kill civilians. No one talked about friendly fire, prisoner abuse, and other ugly facets of war that I will not speak of here, but all of these things are (and here’s that word again) inevitable in wartime. We basically forgot history and repeated it, which is sacrilege to a historian (even an amateur like me), and man am I sorry for that.

I do want to be clear on one thing: I have no illusions that we live in some “cuddly, fluffy” world where there is no real evil and war is pointless and we should all plant daisies in our gun barrels. No, not at all. War has been and will continue to be necessary in certain situations. But before you go you have to weigh the reasons for the war (including the accuracy of the intelligence), the benefits of the victory, the risk of a defeat, versus the damage it will cause, and THEN make a decision whether war is necessary. With all the unreliable intel and shady connections (not to mention MUCH bigger fish to fry, namely al Qaeda & the Taliban), there is no way that such an analysis, done sanely, would result in “yes, let’s invade Iraq”. But a sane analysis was not done, so we invaded, and the entire country owes you an apology for that.

So why am I the one apologizing? I didn’t sign any declaration of war. I’m just some schmuck with a homemade soapbox. Well, it’s simple: I am a citizen of this country, which happens to be a democracy. According to the law of the land, I have a say in government equal to every other citizen. I am 1/300-millionth responsible for everything that happens in this country. And every other American citizen is equally responsible, and they also need to be accountable for the nation’s failings.

We all like to sit on our fat asses in our Lazy-Boy recliners and piss-and-moan about the government. But you know what? The sh*t that happens here, like the fatally flawed invasion of Iraq, is our fault. We’ve allowed this to happen to our country, through our sloth and our focus on rash consumerism and our willingness to vote for people “we’d like to have a beer with” rather than paying attention, voting soundly, and fighting for what’s right. We can all whine and cry that “we’re all powerless” but you know what? We are powerless because we allow ourselves to be powerless. All we want is Monday Night Football and Wal-Mart and 3-D movies and Starbucks. We don’t want to be involved, we don’t want to take a stand, we don’t want to take our country back. Even with this recent wave of activism from both ends of the political spectrum, how many people are actually involved in movements like the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street? 1%? I seriously doubt there are 3 million people actively involved in these or other movements intent (rightly or wrongly) on fixing our country. The real 99% just doesn’t give a damn.

Well, I don’t give a damn if they don’t care. If someone’s a citizen of this country, then they are 1/300-millionth responsible for it anyway. And the least they can do for you, the Iraq war veteran, is walk up to you and, as sincerely as they possibly can, say “I’m sorry”.


UPDATE: another good post on this topic: http://themoderatevoice.com/132701/gratitude-wont-pay-the-bill-for-returning-iraq-afghan-war-veterans/

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