We Owe It to Iraq War Vets To Stay Out of Another War
State of the Union: Our leader’s dogmatic commitment to liberal democracy sent thousands of our sons to die in far away lands. No more.
The twentieth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq will be upon us next week. Don’t worry, The American Conservative has plans to remind the establishment we were right all along. Certainly, we enjoy, thoroughly, seeing our work over the last twenty years vindicated—readers of TAC know this magazine started as conservative opposition to the Iraq War. But with that vindication comes a pang of reality: we’ve been proven right because our political leaders were wrong.
Our leader’s dogmatic commitment to liberal democracy sent thousands of our sons to die in far away deserts. TAC writers were called “unpatriotic conservatives,” but we kept life and limb. The suffering wasn’t just taking place overseas, however; the American Empire’s overextension in the name of liberal democracy facilitated, or at the very least expedited, what President Donald Trump would later call “American carnage” here at home.
On Wednesday, the New York Times published a short documentary titled “Iraq Veterans, 20 Years Later.” The film was accompanied with a haunting subtitle, a quote from one of the veterans interviewed: “‘I Don’t Know How to Explain the War to Myself.’” The documentary, just over seventeen minutes long, is worth watching in full. Michael Tucker, one of the filmmakers, started following the men of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, also known as the Gunners, shortly after the invasion of Iraq. Almost 20 years later, Tucker and Petra Epperlein caught up with the Gunners.
In 2003, most of the Gunners were just kids “who desperately wanted the world to understand the war through their eyes,” Tucker writes.
The first line of dialogue in the documentary: “We all talk about how, when we’re going to go home, how proud we’re going to be combat vets. I mean, how many people can say they’re combat veterans?” Says a young soldier named Michael Commisso. “19 years old, I fought in a war. It’s awesome. Nothing can beat that. That’s the coolest thing in the world, you know? It’ll be fun to look back on. Just waiting to get to that point where I can look back on it.” Like many young men, 9/11 propelled Commisso to join the Army. “I just felt it. I just had to do it,” an older Commisso later reflects. These young men, if you can even call them men, believed in the mission.
But the Gunners’ experience in Iraq, losing three of their fellow Gunners to an I.E.D. in late 2003, and the broader failings of U.S. foreign policy had mugged them of reality. “The veterans,” Tucker writes, continue to “grapple with a past that still reverberates powerfully through their lives.”
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Another Gunner, Army veteran Stuart Wilf, says with a wry sense of humor, “maybe George Bush should fund my f*****g guitar business. He owes me a beer, at least.” Maybe Bush would even agree to paint him. I think Wilf would rather have the beer.
“Sometimes I remember, ‘oh, that’s right. I went to Iraq,’” Wilf says with a chuckle. “Now that I have a kid, sometimes I find myself thinking, ‘is he going to end up going to some war that ends up not doing any good for the world and receive a bunch of s****y care afterwards?’”
TAC would gladly buy Wilf and the Gunners a beer, though it might not be feasible. But at the very least, we owe it to Commisso, Wilf, and the Iraq veterans like them to keep their sons out of another pointless war.