You are part of an unbroken line of heroes spanning two centuries — from the colonists who overthrew an empire, to your grandparents and parents who faced down fascism and communism, to you — men and women who fought for the same principles in Fallujah and Kandahar, and delivered justice to those who attacked us on 9/11.
The most important lesson that we can take from you is not about military strategy –- it’s a lesson about our national character. Because of you, we are ending these wars in a way that will make America stronger and the world more secure.
— President Barack Obama, Address to Troops at Fort Bragg, December 14, 2011
The lies of war are forgotten as easily and readily as the wrappings of Christmas or the resolutions of a new year. Like a child still in diapers, the lessons of war must be learned again and again until finally they are taken to heart.
The lies of the war in Iraq are so easily buried that six out of seven Republican candidates for president of the United States have publicly pledged to go to war in Iran based on the identical unsubstantiated claims that led us to war in Iraq. The lessons of that ill-fated war, the largest strategic blunder since Vietnam, are so readily put behind us that even before that colossal disaster officially ended, six of seven Republican candidates pledged his and her allegiance to the same neoconservative brain trust that guided us into the snake pit. And the White House is not far behind.
Those of us who remember the war in Vietnam and the years we committed to ending it will find the bipartisan rationalizations of the Iraq War all too familiar and profoundly disturbing.
The lie that drove the Vietnam War was the Domino Theory: If we lose one nation to the red menace of communism, then we will lose them all. On that basis, three generations of western powers (Britain, France and America) chose a little country on the doorstep of China as their playground of war.
It required over three million lives to prove that a child’s game was not a legitimate basis for a foreign policy. It only made sense because it fit on a bumper sticker and because our leaders were dominated by military minds in search of power, glory and the spoils of empire.
The great postwar lie of Vietnam was that we lost the war because we were never fully committed. The politicians in Washington held our generals back. Between 1965 and 1968 we dropped over a million tons of missiles, bombs and rockets on North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia but we were never fully committed. We sprayed 12 million gallons of the deadly chemical defoliant Agent Orange over wide swaths of Southeast Asia but we were not fully committed. At the height of the war in 1968 we deployed over half a million soldiers, including the first conscripts since the Korean War, but we were not fully committed.
Short of nuclear bombs, we were as committed to that unjustifiable war as any nation could have been yet the lies of war survive. The lies of war take on mythological characteristics and believing them becomes a ritual of patriotism.
Little wonder we commit the same strategic mistakes, the same errors in judgment, the same acts of criminal inhumanity, the same ultimately desperate and self-destroying measures over and over again.
In the wake of Vietnam, America’s leaders were confined to small-scale interventions until George Herbert Walker Bush, former Director of the CIA, conspired to wage war in Iraq. Though the Gulf War was short-lived, its military success inspired President Bush to announce: “The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula.”
Forever was not a long time as his eldest son was to initiate two wars that brought the specter of Vietnam back into focus. One was the ongoing ten-year war in Afghanistan and the other was a return to his father’s war in Iraq.
Few will recall the lies of the father but the lies of the son are too fresh to be so soon forgotten. They include not only the infamous weapons of mass destruction but also the later claim that virtually all the world believed the lie. For the record, we lost our appeal before the United Nations Security Council to justify military action on the basis of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. The International Atomic Energy Agency thoroughly debunked our claims and the measure was withdrawn when it became clear that the Council would vote overwhelmingly against our cause for war.
Members of the Bush administration falsely claimed that Saddam Hussein was a party to the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. They falsely claimed that Iraq harbored and worked with Al Qaeda operatives. These claims were so clearly and demonstrably false that even President Bush was forced ultimately to disavow them.
The lies of war had served their purpose. Once the first bombs lit up the Baghdad skyline, supporting the war became a matter of patriotism.
The next lie was that our actions had nothing to do with Iraqi oil and everything to do with establishing democracy in the Arab world. That lie was exposed when our first action was to protect the oil fields. Well before an Iraqi government could be established we contracted Iraqi oil to the highest corporate bidders. Mission accomplished.
The lies of war are really not that difficult to detect. It only requires an open mind, an appetite for facts, and a willingness to think.
The lies of the Iraq War will survive unless those of us who witnessed them, from the soldiers who sacrificed to the citizens who supported and opposed them, unless each of us vows to accept the truth and pass that horrid account forward to future generations.
We can be grateful that a president elected largely on the promise of ending the Iraq War has officially done so, though we remain mindful that thousands of American-hired mercenaries remain behind to guard the largest diplomatic embassy on earth.
We understand at our stage of development that a president cannot apologize for the harm done in the name of our nation.
We understand the wisdom of separating the war from the warrior.
We know the president cannot inform our soldiers that they were fighting the wrong war for the wrong reasons.
But when the president announces that we have created an opportunity for the Iraqis to thrive and prosper as a democratic nation, he is not only being disingenuous; he is perpetuating the lies of war. When the president declares that our fight in Iraq was for Iraqi freedom and international justice, he is paving the way for another unjust war in America’s future. He is attempting to bury the specter of Vietnam.
Leaving Afghanistan for another day, we should all agree that the Iraq War was wrong from its inception. It was never about democracy. It was never about justice. It was always about oil and strategic advantage.
Wrong is wrong.