While America’s war in Afghanistan rages on, our more bloody campaign of two fewer years in Iraq comes to a quiet close. The same war that held the country’s fascination at times, inspired countless books, films, documentaries, and even TV shows, caused the deaths of thousands of American soldiers, tens of thousands of Iraqi and other foreign insurgents, and tens (maybe even hundreds) of thousands of Iraqi civilians concluded last week with the last of American combat troops receiving their orders to leave. And although fifty thousand troops will remain and others are still technically in the process of leaving, the war that is America’s third longest behind only Vietnam and Afghanistan is officially over, and according to President Obama, “it is time to turn the page”.
In the seven years since President George W. Bush declared war on Iraq, America has debated internally and internationally of the merits of this invasion from its first day till this very moment. From the alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction, the claims of Al Qaeda ties to Saddam Hussein, the heinous images of Abu Gharib, and the picketing by parents and other activists at The White House, Pentagon and George Bush’s ranch to the cheering of Saddam’s ousting, the first elections of a new, fledgling democracy, the significant reduction of violence, and the joyous returns of America’s brave servicemen and women, Iraq has been the match of America’s rancorous fire for longer than any other topic in recent history. But now it has ended.
In the fall of 2003, at the start of the war, I was less than a year out of college and starting my career as a teacher. My brother had started his basic training the summer before and was now at Officer Candidate School and one of my best friends from college was on the verge of leaving for basic at Fort Benning, Georgia. The full weight of this war and its unknown toll collapsed on me very forcefully and unexpectedly. One moment I was caught up in the excitement and start of my new life and the next I was forced to contemplate the horror and potential loss of loved one’s lives. As time wore on and my brother and close friend proudly served multiple tours in Iraq, I learned second hand the grotesque realities of war, the power and expertise of our military, the brutal sadness of soldiers losing their comrades and friends, and the joy of their safe returns home. In seven years, I have come as close to this war as anyone can without ever stepping foot in Iraq but now my connection to this place is severed and life has moved on.
I still don’t know what to make of this war. I don’t know if our efforts were futile, tragic, or historic. I don’t know if Iraq will create an identity of its own and become a new center of brilliant, meaningful democracy some day or lose itself in the violence within and be overpowered by the totalitarianism on its borders. Regardless of the eventual outcome, neither I nor anyone else can unequivocally declare victory or failure in a country shrouded in such uncertainty, but fortunately for us, we no longer have to worry since the war is finished and we now have more pressing worries at hand.
As Iraq begins to write a new chapter in its tumultuous history, America ‘turns the page’ as well to a vague and bleak future. Yet even as these two countries’ stories diverge, it is imperative of each to remember the tales and experiences of sacrifice, death, friendship, devastation, redemption, despair, and hope that we shared for seven years. And even though we are told it is time to move on, I personally vow to always keep this story close by, regardless of its supposed conclusion, and promise to continue to follow Iraq’s present and future ordeals and hope America never forgets that country’s connection to our own.