AN AMERICAN SOLDIER’S DEFIANCE
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The setting was Baghdad, Iraq, at the start of the ‘surge’ and the climax of the bloody civil war the U.S. invasion had unleashed. Just twenty-three years old and only eighteen months out of the academy, my clique of officers had already decided the war was a mess, shouldn’t have been fought, and couldn’t be won.
Me and Keith, though, were undoubtedly the most radical. We both just hated how our colonel would hijack the memorial ceremonies held for dead troopers, including three of my own, and use the occasion of his inescapable speech to encourage we mourners to use the latest death as a reason to ‘rededicate ourselves to the mission and the people of Iraq.’ The whole thing was as repulsive as it was repetitive.
So it was that after a particularly depressing ceremony, perhaps our squadron’s tenth or so, that we hatched our little defiant scheme. If (or when) one of us was killed, the other promised, and this was a time and place where promises are sacred, to object, stand up, and announce to the colonel and the crowd that we’d listen to no such bullshit at this particular ceremony, not this time.
Luckily it never came to that. We both survived, Keith left the army soon after, and I toiled along until something snapped and I chose the road of public dissent.
I got to thinking on that when I read a story this week which was disturbing, refreshing, and sickening all at the same time. A major opinion poll’s results were released which demonstrated that fully two-thirds of post 9/11 veterans think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ‘weren’t worth fighting’.
‘That’s a remarkable, and distressing, statistic and one that should give America’s president, legislators, media, and people as a whole, serious pause. Not that it will, mind you, but it should. It’s doubtful that US military combat vets, who are more rural, southern, and conservative than the population at large, have ever so incontrovertibly turned on the war, at least since the very end of Vietnam.
On one level I felt a sense of vindication for my long-time anti-war stances when I read about the study, in the Military Times no less. Within minutes I was sad, inconsolably and completely melancholy. Because if, as a majority of my fellow veterans believes the Iraq and Afghan wars weren’t worth the sacrifice, then consider the unsettling implications. It would mean that the US flushed nearly $5.9 trillion in hard-earned taxpayer cash down the toilet.
It means that 7,000 American soldiers and upwards of 244,000 foreign civilians needn’t have lost their precious lives. Hundreds of thousands more might not have been injured or maimed. 21 million people wouldn’t have become refugees. The world, so to speak, could’ve been a safer, better place.
Those ever-so-logical conclusions should dismay even the most apathetic American. They should make us all rather sad, but, more importantly, should inform future decisions about the use of military force, the role of America in the world, and just how much foreign policy power to turn over to presidents.
Because if we, collectively, don’t learn from our country’s eighteen-year tragic saga then this republic is, without exaggeration, finished, once and for all.
So consider this a plea to Congress, to the corporate media, and to all of you: when even traditionally more conservative and martial military veterans raise the anti-war alarm, listen! Object! Refuse to fight the next ill-advised and unethical war. Remember: to do so demonstrates brotherhood and love; love of each other and love of country.
CREDIT: Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Like this story? Share it with a friend.
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