18 June 2014

Revisiting Iraq on the Blogs—and the Big Screen TV

The evolving situation in Iraq—often featuring words such as "collapse" and "implosion"—has generated a lot of commentary from veterans on-line and in print, ranging from "I told you so" to "Is this what my buddies died for?"

These are valid questions. And I'm glad we're belatedly engaging them as a country.

After all, war is what you make of it. Some people take it personally. Some people take it politically. I'd argue that the conversation is more important than individual conclusions. In the remainder of this post, I've taken the liberty of excerpting and linking to a few notable, and sometimes contradictory, opinions.

Who says the blogosphere is dead?

Meanwhile, I've personally found myself watching a lot of Iraq War-themed dramas and documentaries. First, my Kickstarter copy of "Year at Danger," which will be released later this fall. (You can pre-order it here.) And "Gunner Palace" (2005), "Brothers at War" (2009), and the 2008 HBO mini-series "Generation Kill." None of these explain the current mess in Iraq, mind you, but they sure as heck seem to foreshadow it.

In "Operation Iraqi Sh--storm," artist and Marine Maximilian Uriarte writes:
I’ve seen a lot of Iraq veterans express remorse over their lost brethren in the country, given the current state of affairs. Many of them feel like it was all for naught at this point. Some might see this as being selfish, caring more about our own than the country we were fighting for. This is not the case. This emotional response is the result of genuinely caring about the state of affairs in the country. We want Iraq to succeed because it gives us closure. Knowing that Iraq is better than it was is the only thing that we have.

It was the bad war. It was the war that no one wants to take credit for. It’s the war everyone tries to forget.

Yet myself and thousands of others were there, and we can’t forget.
In "Mosul's Civilization and Its Discontents," former M-2 "Bradley" platoon leader Michael Carson writes:
We’d come to civilize the cradle of civilization. To us, it looked like a backward dump.

Because, you see, the joke is, civilization had nothing to do with Mosul. Civilization was a strip mall in Wisconsin. Mosul, logically, had no civilization, for if they knew how to act civilized, we wouldn’t have been there at all. Civilized cities don’t have wars in them. This assumption, by and large, was a fair one, justified by our particular experience. Civilized cities don’t need to be stabilized. They don’t need American soldiers training former prisoners how to fire rifles. They don’t need curfews. They don’t need a big rich country like ours to help them.

Civilized countries have their act together.

I doubted many things my superiors told me, but I believed this: someone had to get Mosul back on its feet, put it on the path to civilization.

So we set to work. [...]
In "Iraq veterans: Learn to stop worrying about ISIS and love life at home," blogger Alex Horton writes:
[M]any of my fellow veterans have missed an important point: this war was always about Iraqis, not American troops. Since the 2003 invasion, violence along sectarian fault lines threatened the stability of the nation as US troops fought, and died, to create strategic and diplomatic space for a stable government. We could only triage on the ground—it was up to the government in Baghdad to create permanent solutions. And Nouri al-Maliki's brutal sectarian policies ruptured US gains since the moment we began leaving in earnest.

Iraq veterans should not beat themselves up by attaching their ideas of sacrifice–of worth to a nation–to that broken government we left behind. We did what was asked of us. We held up our end of the bargain. Maliki did not [...]
In "My wars are ending," Alaska Air National Guardsman Matthew Komatsu leverages current events into an exercise of memory, involving specific sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. I like the personal scale of its expressed solution:
Oh, the places we have gone. Each place complete, its own story. The lives we took, gained, saved and lost along the way; the boredom, terror and exhilaration; and the journey home to a placeless destination: all part and parcel of a narrative with no true end. Focusing on the memories eliminates the gray and brings the truth of experience into the foreground. The wars become a question of what we did, or did not do; whether we did too much or too little.

Former Army officer and think-tanker John Nagl, who co-wrote 2005's "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam," wrote a shoot-from-the-hip reaction to Iraq titled "This is not what my friends fought and died for."

For a dose of righteous indignation and counter-battery fire, check out blogger and retired warrant officer Jim Wright's "Absolutely Nothing."

For a nuanced interpretation of the multiple layers of war present in Iraq—and America's inability to fight on all those fronts—read blogger and author Peter Van Buren's "Why American Can Never Win in Iraq." (Van Buren wrote 2011's "We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People." I continue to argue that his memoir, written about Iraq, may be one of the best books I've ever read about Afghanistan.)

Finally, for a news article in which talking heads and usual suspects attempt to apply lessons from Iraq to Afghanistan, read "Iraq army’s collapse may hold lessons for the future."

Grains of salt not included.

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