I don’t care about the Iraq war.
The 4,188 lost American lives are a sad statistic. As are the over 100,000 estimated — but 30,723 officially — wounded American soldiers. The one million dead Iraqis, a number that surpasses the Rwandan Genocide death toll, is too big a concept for my mind to really grasp. An article I read last year titled “Seventy percent of Iraqi children have trauma-related symptoms” got under my skin some. I think about it every few months.
The war has so far cost $650 billion — $430 million a day — and I will have to pay for it. But that’s in a pretty long time. I was going to put the “Cost of the War in Iraq” counter on my Facebook page, which registers the new total every second. But I ultimately decided I didn’t want people associating my face with immense human tragedy.
I just can’t bring myself to care about the war. I go for a month at a time without it paying even a fleeting visit to my consciousness. I attended an anti-war march on Washington my freshman year. I went because of some wistful hippie longing, which the experience successfully sated. Except for my two companions, everyone on the bus down was an aging baby boomer sporting faded flower-power pins.
This war is invisible. It’s being waged in a country where two-thirds of college-aged kids can’t locate on a map. Images of homecoming flag-draped coffins were carefully censored until a lawsuit in 2003. Consumerist frenzy has also effectively distracted Americans from less pleasant truths.
In our frenetic 24-hour news cycle culture, I’d expect something substantive to cut through this collective blindness. But the only news I see is the occasional headline: “12 Iraqi civilians,” “18 Iraqi civilians,” “14 Iraqi soldiers,” “Four U.S. soldiers in Iraq,” “killed,” “bombed,” “dead.”
I don’t read these articles.
This is the Iraq War narrative I’ve managed to stitch together over five years of semi-attention: Suddam Hussein has WMDs. Operation Iraqi Freedom! The Iraqis love us. Mission Accomplished. Interim government. Violence. Oops, no WMDs. Saddam captured. More violence. Election. Shia wins! Wait … there are two different kinds of Muslims? Really important Shia mosque bombed. Sectarian violence! Quagmire! Kurds. Shia-Sunni war. Intra-Shia war. Kurd-Sunni war. A sort-of civil war. The Iraqis hate us. Al Qaeda’s in Iraq? Surge! Less violence. Iraq has a surplus? The End … but not really.
I don’t think it’s the media’s fault. When Time and Newsweek run cover stories on the Iraq War, their sales plummet. The critically acclaimed FX Iraq War drama, “Over There,” was cancelled after one season. The media don’t inform the American people because the American people don’t want to know.
Though my knowledge of the war is embarrassingly incomplete, one fact is clear. Before going to war, President Bush needed to define America’s role in a post-9/11 era. He needed to ask: What are the obligations of modern, privileged democracies to the rest of the world?
Bush seized this opportunity for a serious analysis of western action. Then he strangled it. I understand America’s oil dependence. I understand Iraq has the world’s second-largest reserves, of which 90 percent are unexplored. After Iraq’s ruler attempted to nationalize the oil reserves in 1953, America assisted in Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party’s coup. U.S. companies also sold chemical weapons to Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war. So I understand that America owes something to the Iraqi people.
None of these economic, moral and legal reasons were offered as a case for war. If they had been, Congress could have studied them and decided: Is it worth it?
The answer would have been no. The militarization the Arab world, the endangerment of Israel and the empowerment of Iran were all foreseeable consequences of America’s preemptive aggression. Bush should have known imperial occupations of Third World countries are so 18th-/19th-/20th-century.
Less predictable is the war that has been waged on the American people. It is a war on American civil liberties. It is a class war through the disproportionate recruitment of poor men to the armed forces. It is a war of neglect on our veterans. (Some experts predict that suicide deaths among Iraq veterans will exceed combat deaths.) It is a war on the American psyche: Our faith in our country’s ability to be a global agent for peace is badly wounded.
Bush said: “You are either with us or against us.” Not for the war or against the war, but with America or against America. The international community, the American people and especially America’s youth have mostly chosen the latter.
Young Americans aren’t out protesting en masse because the rhetoric of the war has made patriotism partisan and dissent un-American. If I’m disempowered to affect the fate of my country, then out of sight, out of mind. In a state of perpetual war, it’s hard to muster the energy. As a young person in America today, in an America at war, my shameful apathy is my battle scar.
Claire Gordon is a junior in Saybrook College