Friday, July 18, 2008


Lots of democrats/liberals were in favor of the Iraq war when it started -- Howard Dean ran for the democratic primary as the antiwar candidate and people responded to him as if his ideas about the war were unserious, fringey, even perverse.

But now it's five years later and we find ourselves persuaded by all the IEDs and the sectarian violence that the war was a mistake. More recently its been quieter and you can feel the national media starting to wonder whether it should shift back to "pro-war".

What this says to me is that the only one which journalists (or perhaps I should say editors and television news producers and execs) seem comfortable using as a basis for judging the validity of the war seems to be the frequency of explosions and massacres. If stuff is getting blown up a lot and there is documentary evidence of slaughter, we tell ourselves, we can safely assert that it's going badly. If not, we owe the architects of this war some respect.

This is crazy. Even if the suicide bombings, the sectarian violence, and the IEDs never again resurfaced -- and they will, all of them, before and after we are gone -- the story of this war has already inflicted itself on the people of Iraq and the people of the United States. We will not escape that history.

The knowledge of those who died -- whether gained through abstraction or experience -- the wounded citizens, the dead soldiers, the destroyed infrastructure, the emotional trauma that the violence and the prospect of violence will have inflicted on the citizens of that country and ours -- these phenomena affect everyone and they affect everyone lastingly and acutely.

We have lost 4000 soldiers by violence in Iraq. Many more have been physically wounded. Some large percentage of all the soldiers will experience post traumatic stress disorder.

That's a clinical name for a collection of experiences and memories that to my mind to some extent defines the meaning of this catastrophe. It was stressful. It was traumatic. And the effects will linger -- in ways we are completely unaware of -- long after the last shot has been fired. We will never escape the history of this war.

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