Ten Years Later, and How Iraq Can Change a Generation's Trajectory
Every day after baseball practice, my Dad picked me up. Still clad in my dirt-stained pants, still too young to have a full appreciation for deodorant, I would toss my bookbags and gear in the back of our Volvo and jump in the front seat with him. He’d ask how practice was, and I’d tell him about the double play Alex and I turned, about the two singles I hit in the scrimmage. It was fun, I’d say. He’d nod, and he’d drive, and as we’d round the final sublets before swinging onto the freeway, I’d turn to him and ask if today was the day the US had found Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.
It was 2003. I was a freshman in high school. This was our routine, my father and I. I’d drop sweat across the infield, bunch my baseball socks into the lowest and smelliest confines of my bag, and, early in the ride back, ask my father if we’d yet discovered Iraq’s stores of anthrax and smallpox and ricin. I would ask my dad, days upon weeks upon an eventual season, whether or not the hunt was over. Whether we’d found the reason we were there.
There wasn’t anything excitable in my voice; I wasn’t looking for anything sensational, for anything approaching bloodlust. I could care less about the shock of awe. I was just looking for a fact. A single reality. A fact that predicated an invasion, 10 years ago today, that produced the viscera of war that Afghanistan hadn’t yet seen, and that brought new vocabulary — Fallujah; IEDs; Mission Accomplished — to a generation whose childhood had been nothing but permanent play.
For all of its horror, Vietnam wasn’t founded on a lie. Nor WWII. Nor, even, the Spanish-American War — though don’t tell any of those who still remember the Maine. Those wars, mismanaged though they may have been, were at least founded upon some basic principle, on some humanistic, American belief. They may have turned hollow and reprehensible, but their initial shot — that first border crossed — came with some better thing pushing it.
Iraq didn’t. The Iraq War forced an entire generation of adolescent Americans to throw their throats behind their leaders, and to find an early and repeated sense of a distinctly lingering pain: of the feeling of being lied to. For almost every American under the age of 28, their earliest geopolitical interaction was based on a farce. It was founded on arrogance, and condescension, and, eventually, torture. What should have continued growing as the most patriotic generation since those under Pearl Harbor — and, trust me, you’ve no idea how much I listened to Toby Keith’s “Angry American” as an early teen — saw everything it had pushed for collapse upon itself. This lie made a generation sick of entanglement, and cynical toward an entire party. This lie corrupted our faith in what America ever stood for.
But that would come later — after the hundreds of thousands — the hundreds of thousands — left dead as a result of America’s invasion. That would come when the lie eventually settled. This time a decade ago, though, I was walking across a patch of outfield, a low western moon hanging over my high school’s pines. I knew the invasion had begun — I knew, unlike anything we’d truly seen in Afghanistan, that my nation was at war. That we were destroying Iraq for one reason.
I hopped in the front seat, and my dad began the drive home.
“Have they found the WMDs yet?”
“Not yet, no.”