The war in Iraq is officially over, with our last convoys crossing the border yesterday morning. One of our brigade’s convoys was the second-to-last out of Iraq; the honor of the final convoy naturally fell to the active duty troops of the 1st Cavalry Division, who as America’s First Team needed to be last out.
It was a jovial atmosphere in the TOC today for the morning SCUB, and we proceeded according to our usual routine of the last five months. The intel guy started the brief with the weather, as he has every day, saying, “The weather in Iraq for today…” The colonel cut him off abruptly with, “Wait. Do we give a fuck about the weather in Iraq anymore?” Everyone laughed, and he answered his own question with “no,” and the intel guy carried on without missing a beat. For my part, I stated that I’d no longer be briefing the cryptic pile of numbers known as the “convoy equipment status”…unless, of course, the colonel wanted to see it. He said no thanks, and away we went. Finally, the colonel said that now that the war was over, we’d have to refocus on our new priorities. After a pause, he then said, “So I guess I’ll figure that out in a couple of days and let you know.” Cue staff laughter.
His statement was a joke, but it rang true for me. With the closing of the gate at “K-Crossing,” my motivation to work deflated with amazing rapidity. As long as there was a war on, I could continue my menial office tasks as long as I thought that somewhere there was a soldier at the pointy end of the brigade who might be positively affected by the staff I was supporting. But with that motivation gone (the so-called “people-will-die” excuse, as in, “people will die if I can’t print this PowerPoint slide on both sides of the page!”), I looked around at my brown universe and thought, “now what?” Today I felt an incredible urge to just leave, buy a plane ticket home (only $1200!), borrow a car and leave it at Kuwait International. Good war everyone, let’s pack it up!
In all of the media coverage about the end of the war, what has bothered me the most is the constant focus on the dead. How many American military personnel were killed, how many Iraqis were killed, look at these grieving widows (but only the good-looking ones, as rather shamelessly featured on CNN’s “Heroes” program)… I’m not trying to denigrate the soldiers, Marines, airmen, and sailors who paid the ultimate price in the Iraq war, or the suffering of their families; rather, it’s the constant harping, the almost voyeuristic exploitation, the hammering of the point that the only thing that happened for the last eight years was death. There was even an article in the Washington Post chronicling the final US death in Iraq, which had to throw in the execrable John Kerry quote about the Vietnam War: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Even at the last, people are trying to turn Iraq into Vietnam, since all attempts thus far have failed.
All of this coverage makes it hard to remember that, functionally speaking, we won the war in Iraq. So why doesn’t it look like victory? What of the bravery, dedication, and success of the American (and few allies’) military in the face of a brutal and cunning insurgency? Instead, the media and commentators are busy shaping the cultural narrative, painting the war as an expensive failure, a Vietnam redux fought by poor kids duped into joining the military and leaving a trail of weeping families in their wake, ripe for exploitation by “sensitive” and “hard-hitting” journalists.
The whole thing makes me vaguely sick. Why fight for a nation that sees you as nothing but a pathetic victim, a sad charity case like a kid with cancer or a lost puppy? We don’t want sympathy, and we don’t want tears – we want appreciation, and pride, and respect. Not just pride in serving, but pride in victory, in defeating the enemy, in doing the job that the nation asks of us: to fight and win the nation’s wars.