Monday, March 20, 2006

Three Years and a Day

Yesterday was the three-year anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. I'm somewhat ashamed to say I didn't think about it much, as I was busy freezing my ass off in the rain and sleet (!) watching my son play in the last soccer tournament of the year. I wore my brother's boonie hat all day, one he had in Baghdad, staff sergeant's stripes sewn on the front, but I didn't think much about the war.

When it started I was in day two of convalescing at home from a severe concussion sustained on the soccer field thanks to the forearm of a 20-year-old Air Force punkass, so I guess there was some circuitousness to it after all. I don't remember much about that week other than watching the war on CNN and obsessively working jigsaw puzzles, both hour after hour without coming up for air. The jigsaw puzzle thing was, I think, my brain's way of re-wiring vital connections. I've always been very visual, with a near-photographic memory, and it seems like the pattern recognition skills have been sharper since The Incident, probably due to 8+ hours of puzzles a day, even as words still completely vanish from my brain mid-sentence. The war coverage came through a haze, the fog in my brain making the spectre of live coverage from imbedded reporters under fire even more surreal. The 82nd Airborne parachuting into Baghdad through night vision goggles. The 1st Cavalry charging through the desert. Explosions. The statue coming down. The Iraqi Information Minister. Was Jessica Lynch in there somewhere, or did that come later?

Three years and hundreds of thousands of ruined lives later and even the diehard conservatives are beginning to question why. But a sizeable chunk of the population still doesn't get it. I live a couple of blocks from a recruiting office, so I drove past the competing anti- and pro-war rallies on Sunday. Each group had people I would like to throttle. Anti-war? Yes, yes I am. But to the anti-war guy holding the sign saying "Support brave Iraqis defending their homes," I would like to say, fuckyouverymuch, but planting roadside bombs ain't ever brave. Standing in your doorway with an AK-47 is brave. Of course, it's also suicidal when done in the faces of jittery, angry paratroopers. But "support" people who plant IEDs that kill American soldiers and Iraqi civilians with impunity, regardless of mission or motivation? Sorry, pal. Can't sign on to that. And on the other side of Speedway, to the guy holding the sign saying "Osama loves leftists": I think you have the wrong war. The invasion of Afghanistan? I'm all over it. But it's doomed to failure because resources were pulled away from the difficult hide-and-seek with Osama to the assured "slam-dunk" of Iraq and its promises of flags and flowers at our feet. Besides, given our penchant for rolling around naked with people we're not married to, as well as for not being Muslim, I doubt Osama has much affection for us either.

I think we took some measure of national pride, in the first couple of years, that we weren't acting like it was Vietnam, instead applauding the returning soldiers and marines when we saw them coming through the airport, giving them parades and welcome home rallies. We need to get out, now, while we can still do those things, before the cumulative deteriorating conditions and morale and conflicting mission statements inevitably breed more atrocities than can be brushed aside as isolated incidents, before the mounting civilian death toll from errant missles and bad intelligence makes us start blaming the triggerman equally with the brass issuing the orders.

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