Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Armistice Day 11/11/23

(Click on the comic strip for a larger view.)

In 1959, Pogo creator Walt Kelly wrote:

The eleventh day of the eleventh month has always seemed to me to be special. Even if the reason for it fell apart as the years went on, it was a symbol of something close to the high part of the heart. Perhaps a life that stretches through two or three wars takes its first war rather seriously, but I still think we should have kept the name "Armistice Day." Its implications were a little more profound, a little more hopeful.

You said it, brother.

Thanks to all who have served or are serving, on this Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day.

This post is mostly a repeat I run every year, since I find it hard to top Kelly. My new piece for this year is "The Iraq War in 2023."

Back in 2009, I wrote a series of six related posts for Armistice Day (and as part of an ongoing series on war). The starred posts are the most important, but the list is:

"Élan in The Guns of August"

"Demonizing of the Enemy"

"The War Poetry of Wilfred Owen"

***"Giddy Minds and Foreign Quarrels"

"The Little Mother"

***"War and the Denial of Loss"

The most significant other entries in the series are:

"How to Hear a True War Story" (2007)

"Day of Shame" (2008)

"The Poetry of War" (2008)

"Armistice Day 2008" (featuring the war poetry of Siegfried Sassoon).

"They Could Not Look Me in the Eye Again" (2011)

"The Dogs of War" (2013)

"The Courage to Make Others Suffer" (2015)

"The Battle of the Somme" (2017)

"The Graveyard of Democracy" (2021)

I generally update these posts later with links to appropriate pieces for 11/11 by other folks as I find them. If you've written one, feel free to link it in a comment. Thanks.

The Iraq War in 2023

The 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War was earlier this year in March, so the war seems like a fitting subject for this Armistice Day or Remembrance Day or Veterans Day. My 10th anniversary Iraq War post, "The Dogs of War," was pretty comprehensive and there's not much I'd add to it, especially if we include my other posts on Iraq, the war series and torture. It's worth looking at some old and more recent pieces.

I recently rewatched two of the best documentaries on the subject, both from 2007. No End in Sight meticulously explores why the U.S. occupation of Iraq went so badly, all the more powerful because most of the interview subjects who chronicle the debacle were conservatives and Republicans serving the Bush administration. Taxi to the Dark Side, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, is an excellent and chilling primer on the Bush administration's torture regime.

PBS' Frontline did a number of excellent episodes on the Iraq War and the Bush Administration, including a few good piece on torture. This list rounds up many of the best episodes, and this topic page has almost everything related to Iraq.

James Fallows, who wrote numerous excellent articles on Iraq before and during the war, wrote yet another fine piece this March, "The Iraq War and Modern Memory." He also links some other retrospectives, and some of his past, key pieces on Iraq. Alternatively, you can also read some of his best contemporaneous articles in the book compilation, Blind Into Baghdad.

Via Fallows, Responsible Statecraft hosted a symposium asking the question, aside from Bush and Cheney, who is at fault for the Iraq War? Some of the choices are silly – and presumably the question also includes Rumsfeld by default, otherwise he'd be the obvious next choice – but a number of respondents make good picks that news junkies from the era probably know but the general public likely doesn't.

Driftglass and Blue Gal had a good podcast episode in their "No Fair Remembering Stuff" series back in March, "Iraq War and Remembrance." This year, they also featured Charlie Pierce's 2014 epic condemnation of Bill Kristol for being a war ghoul.

The PBS NewsHour did a few Iraq retrospectives. One piece interviewed some American Iraq War veterans. The most interesting piece interviewed Iraqis. (The PBS site also has an 2021 AP article that ran after Colin Powell's death, "Iraqis still blame Powell for role in Iraq war.") A timeline of the war piece has some use, but because it only starts when the actual war commenced, it omits significant events, including the fact that Saddam Hussein relented and allowed weapons inspectors into Iraq, but the Bush administration invaded anyway (which Bush later lied about and the press rarely challenged). I was disappointed overall by a Iraq War conversation with Paul Wolfowitz, Charles Duelfer and Vali Nasr, because the segment didn't deal at all with the Bush administration lying to the public and Congress to start the war – Wolfowitz is allowed to present going to war as a good faith exercise. He even defends disbanding the Iraqi army without pushback, despite widespread agreement that disbandment was one of the worst, most crippling decisions by the Bush administration about Iraq after invading, causing endless ongoing problems. (No End in Sight covers this in depth.) No one in the Bush administration has even ever acknowledged who actually gave the order (Wolfowitz has been floated as a candidate). Interviewer Amna Nawaz did allow Nasr the last word, though:

It's important to think about the fact that, had this war as Ambassador Wolfowitz suggested, been conducted differently after we entered into Iraq, had we left a different legacy there, the question of the reasons we went in would not loom as large as they do right now.

When we continuously debate reasons why we went in and question the motivations of going in, it's almost we are admitting to the fact that it's better we wouldn't have gone to war, because, if we went to war, we're going to make a mess of it.

And I don't think that's a good legacy for the United States. I think how we conducted the war after we arrived is as important as the reasons why we went in.

The Bush administration lied to the American public and Congress to start a war of choice, which is another way to say an unnecessary war, and thus inherently, deeply immoral. The Bush administration also instituted a torture regime, one of the most disgraceful, shameful actions of the U.S. in living memory. And members of the Bush administration largely got away with it, which is rather discouraging. Likewise, the Bush administration was quite authoritarian, and U.S. conservatives and Republicans have moved even further in that direction since.

I did find at least one hopeful point, though. The Pew Research Center has a superb piece, "A Look Back at How Fear and False Beliefs Bolstered U.S. Public Support for War in Iraq," which chronicles the shifts in public opinion over the years and also recaps the political history of the Iraq War pretty well. (It even links a piece by The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, whose fact-checking can be hit or miss, but wrote a pretty good piece about the claim that the Bush administration lied to start the war, all spurred by former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer claiming that it was a lie to say the Bush team lied.) In the Pew article, the most interesting parts might be these charts:

The Bush team has mostly escaped consequences, certainly legally and professionally, but public opinion definitely turned against the Iraq War and that perspective has persisted. It's telling that, from at least 2015 onward, Donald Trump has lied to conservative and Republican voters, falsely claiming he had always opposed the Iraq War. He was and is pandering, of course, but it's interesting that, even when speaking to the demographic groups most likely to still support the Iraq War, he's thought pretending to oppose the war would play better.

I won't link all of my previous Iraq posts, but besides "The Dogs of War" from 2013, these are probably the most significant:

"Iraq and Vietnam: Selling the Stab-in-the-Back Myth" (8/30/07). (Note that Blogger has oddly resized some images from old posts, but trying to fix them can create other problems.)

If Shakespeare is your thing, you might appreciate "The Knaves of the Bush Administration (3/20/07).

"Day of Shame" (2/5/08) is about Colin Powell's 2003 presentation to the United Nations about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, a collection of falsehoods that was pivotal in selling the war.

I wrote several pieces on the "surge" of American troops in Iraq. "The Surge Is Still Not Working" (3/1/08) summarizes and links some of the others.

"John '100 Years' McCain" (4/9/08) took an in-depth look at remarks then-presidential-candidate John McCain made. His defenders complained he was taken out of context, but a fair assessment with much more context did not make him look much better.

"Giddy Minds and Foreign Quarrels" (11/11/09) was one of the key pieces in a set of interrelated posts for Armistice Day in 2009, and the one most focused on the Iraq War.

"The Graveyard of Democracy" (11/11/21) was mainly about the Afghanistan War, but there's considerable overlap with the Iraq War, of course. The post cites Brown University's "Costs of War" project, which estimates the costs of all U.S. post-9/11 war spending at $8 trillion, which includes future obligations in veterans' care and financial debt for roughly 30 years.

May we remember history accurately, discuss decisions honestly and avoid all unnecessary wars in the future.