Ten years ago today was the start of the US-led invasion of Iraq. I think if you’re reading this you probably agree in retrospect with Jim Fallows, one of the more prominent anti-invasion writers back in 2002, that the war would turn out to be false on its merits and ruinous, deadly and costly far beyond what was sold to the country and the world by our leaders. The saddest part of Fallows’ look back at Iraq over the past week has to be his conviction that we will not, in fact, learn anything from what happened, because of our leaders’ extraordinary avoidance of really seeing what went wrong and applying those lessons to current crises. But you didn’t need me to tell you that. Let me try to look back through my own very narrow lens.
For the 18 months between 9/11 and the start of the war, I was a high-functioning total mess. I was grieving for my brother while also trying to do my part as a new husband and father. Hating W and his minions, I still didn’t have it in me to be anti-war in any meaningful way. I was still inside the innermost concentric circle of my post-9/11 world, and couldn’t foresee (who did?) just how painful the rash misconduct of the war would be as an additional load on my conscience and the country’s, even though I had basically no personal impact from the war itself.
About a month after 9/11, these “NO MORE VICTIMS ANYWHERE” bumper stickers appeared all over Cambridge, and on quite a few cars too. It was part of a Green Party/Socialist Party/antiwar campaign. This one is right near my T stop and has survived the intervening years. At the time, I found this sentiment infuriating. I felt my own loss to be commandeered for the benefit of a basically anti-American political agenda that had no stake in seeking justice for my brother’s killers. While I didn’t feel any more at home with the American flag lapel-pin-wearing crowd, I felt a certain patriotic kinship there. Right after 9/11 I got an email from a former professor who tried to express, through the confusion of the time, her sympathy for me and my brother while also grappling with what she was certain was America’s imperialistic self-implication in everything that led up to the attacks. That was the place I felt the “no more victims” campaign was coming from, and I needed to go the opposite way. I’m not defending this self-centered perspective, just remembering it.
Well, guess what? The Statement of the Socialist Party Convention of October 12, 2001, which I have only read for the first time today, was 90% right in its perspective on the coming wars, and all the elite Washington figures calling for a preventive war were at best 90% wrong. “Recent events in New York and Washington used as an opportunity to further militarize U.S. society?” Check. “In our efforts to gain greater security in the future, it is essential that we defend our civil liberties.” Boy, I think about that every time I strip down for the TSA line.
And this whole following paragraph, especially the part about our arsenal and our ignoramus president and his cabal not preventing these attacks, rings very true:
The corporate controlled media has deliberately whipped up war hysteria. Dissident voices are marginalized, while the mass media present an endless series of commentators shrilly repeating the call for vengeance. We need an alternative media that can open the political discourse to those who challenge the established powers and call for peace not war. The recent tragedy has provided the administration and Congress with a further rationale to greatly increase military spending. Our security as Americans will not be secured by even more missiles and fighter planes. The United States already spends far more on arms than any other country. The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington were not prevented by our immense arsenal of weapons. We need to institute an immediate cut of 50% in the military budget, and we need to use the hundreds of billions of dollars thus saved for vital domestic social services and for humanitarian aid to those in less developed countries.
And it goes on, at some length, to describe how the turn towards war purposefully avoided grappling with issues of growing inequality and corporate domination, which of course built towards the Great Recession.
I never would have read this all the way through 12 years ago. But it’s precisely my lack of cultural identification with the people who were saying it–and being TOTALLY F#$%ING CORRECT–that kept me from realizing that I was far more in line, long-term, with my superficially “antagonistic” Socialist brothers and sisters than my superficially “supportive/competent” flag-waving xenophobic government and media. I cut myself some slack, but wish I had recovered more of a critical perspective and ability to speak out against the rush to war.
What have I learned?
- Try to listen outside my comfort zone.
- Don’t believe that any military action can be contained or can be as cheaply achieved as our leaders say it can be–even by drone, even by Obama.
- Keep writing. I may be writing about birthday cakes and mundane stuff, but I need to build up my chops to be a better advocate of the causes that matter.