Iraq: The Here, The Now and The Afterwards
As turning points go, last week was a humdinger. There was the sight of all the rats — congressfolk and commentators alike — jumping from the sinking ship that is the Bush administration’s Iraq war policy, the pleas from the president and his enablers to stay the course drowned out by the clamor for the lifeboats.
With the ship taking on major water and the lifeboats filling up, it seems appropriate to take stock of where we’ve been, where we are and, most importantly, where we’re going.
The White House doesn’t even do a good job of lying anymore, which makes good news about the Iraq war nearly impossible to come by.
Still, I suppose I have been like a lot of people because I grasp at straws: A week without a major suicide bombing in Baghdad. A downtick in U.S. casualties. Tribal chiefs in Anbar still turning against Al Qaeda. Praise the Lord! But soon the ammunition gets passed, the calm is shattered and I’m reminded that the Mess in Mesopotamia is not the political circle jerk that the mainstream media focuses on.
It is a war and wars are about death.
In Dispatches, one of the great books to come out of the Vietnam experience, Michael Herr ponders the disconnect created by an officialdom and media complicitous in evading that signal truth.
Anyone who spent any time in Vietnam and didn’t have their head up their ass will tell you that there was an hallucinatory quality about the experience. Judging by Paul Rieckhoff‘s great and gut-wrenching Chasing Ghosts and other street-level accounts, Iraq is much the same.
Very much unlike the two world wars and very much like Vietnam in that the rationales for being at war in a country that neither threatened nor invaded the U.S. have kept changing. (This is known in the vernacular as “mission creep.”) It is not difficult to understand why a Marine gunner at Khe Sanh in 1967 or an Army civil affairs officer in Amadiyah Province in 2007 would wonder what the f*ck they’re doing there.
The lines between real and surreal became so blurred in Vietnam that war correspondent Herr’s non-fiction sometimes is indistinguishable from Tim O’Brien‘s fiction. (And that is a compliment to both writers.)
O’Brien, whose Waiting For Cacciato sits atop the pantheon of Vietnam novels, was a grunt, while Herr wrote a series of articles for Esquire magazine on the real Vietnam War that became Dispatches. (Rieckhoff, meanwhile, led a light infantry platoon in the Adamiyah district of Baghdad.)
Herr wrote the closing lines of Dispatches in the early 1970s, but as happens when the grievous misjudgments of earlier conflicts are repeated by another clique of arrogant leaders years later, his message is even more pertinent today.
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