A reader writes:
Thanks for posting Ta-Nehisi’s statement “they were all wrong”. That post and the subsequent one from Dreher revealed something to me. I was at the protests they talk about in NY and another in DC. Such reductionism makes me sad, that reasonable voices remember those protests only for its wacky elements when the anti-war movement was both larger and more reasonable than either of these two recall. It’s the equivalent of saying that all the Tea Partiers are racist because of the handful that shout and wave ridiculous signs. Sure, loud radicals exist, but the media didn’t tune out the whole Tea Party just because of a few wacky looking chanters.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the anti-war protesters. I attended the protest in DC in March 2003. I remember being told there were 100,000 people, and while that’s likely an over-estimate, it was still the largest anti-war protest since the Vietnam War. It was on the weekend but wasn’t covered in the WaPo until the following Wednesday, and it wasn’t covered in the NYT at all. It wasn’t just that “every ‘sensible’ and ‘serious’ person,” as TNC put it, were wrong, but there was no public airing of the reasonable sentiment that the anti-war people were trying to express. We were all radicals, dismissed for the 0.01% carrying “Free Mumia” signs.
A participant at another rally that year:
In January of 2003 I marched on Washington along with several hundred thousand others, all of us already convinced that initiating a war of choice against Iraq was the wrong thing to do. What struck me most about that crowd was how normal, how middle-America most of the people looked. There we some drum-circlers, to be sure, but the vast majority of the people there looked like anyone’s cousins, siblings, grandparents. So when TNC reminds us that “the radicals with their drum circles and their wild hair were right”, I would remind him that many, many “sensible” and “serious” Americans were right, too. We just weren’t listened to.
Contrary to what Dreher says about those of us against the invasion of Iraq, I never carried a sign equating Bush with Hitler, I was never hysterical, and I was never impossible to talk with UNTIL I was called a treasonous bitch who hated, or at the very least, failed to support, our troops.
No, I was sick to my stomach because I knew what the result would be. And, all I could say was that because I did support our troops, I did not support an invasion of Iraq. I simply could not accept our men and women getting blown up on a pretext of WMD.
Several more excellent emails below:
What always amazed me about the run-up to the Iraq War was the context in which it was discussed. The question was always, “What if they have WMDs?” in which case the inevitable answer would be, “We have to go in.” At no point did I hear any pundit or advisor or government official or anyone anywhere say, “The question isnt’ whether or not they have them. They do. The question is, Does that mean attacking is the best option?”
Frankly, I, like everyone else, assumed Saddam had them, but at no point did that ever make me assume that he was likely to use them. And I don’t think myself particularly astute. Nor was I emotionally detached. I lived in New York during 9-11 and I remember that day vividly. But none of that ever made me conclude that it was likely that he would use those weapons. Thus, I thought the way Bush was allowed to frame the debate around does he/does he not have them enabled him to rush to war with fewer detractors. I’m not saying he wouldn’t have gone to war. I’m just saying the way he framed the debate made it easier.
The Iraq War still confounds me. In the run-up to the war, I was 17. We invaded one month before my 18th birthday. And yet I knew, 100%, that it was the wrong thing to do to invade Iraq. How could I be right and so many adults be wrong?
It wasn’t a question of knowledge. I had access to much less information than those who were in power. It was a question of values. As much as I was castigated at this time for this view, I believe strongly that military force should only be used when absolutely necessary to defend oneself. I also believed strongly in deference to international authority, not American unilateralism. I knew there were no weapons of mass destruction, because the U.N. inspectors said there were none, and it was the height of arrogance to denounce their conclusions and insist there were WMD anyway.
At the time, I was a pretty lone voice against the war, except for my dad and my 11th grade history teacher. It’s strange to me that public opinion came around to my view, but only after the war took longer than anticipated. No one seemed to consider that invading a country that hadn’t done anything was inherently wrong AND ALSO anti-Christian. I’m a devout Orthodox Christian, and what I hated most about the Bush years was how the Christian message of love and forgiveness was co-opted into something ugly.
I live in Philadelphia. During the period leading up to the Iraq War, our local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, was owned by The McClatchy Company. We had a whole separate narrative of the war build-up. Thanks to McClatchy, we knew that the Judith Miller et al. line from the New York Times was wrong, that there was no threat from WMDs, that the war was a huge mistake. Reading both papers each day, the Inquirer and the Times, was an out-of -body experience because the reporting was 180 degrees different. From Wikipedia:
In 2008, McClatchy’s bureau chief in Washington, D.C., John Walcott, was the first recipient of the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence, awarded by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism. In accepting the award, Walcott commented on McClatchy’s reporting during the period preceding the Iraq War:
Why, in a nutshell, was our reporting different from so much other reporting? One important reason was that we sought out the dissidents, and we listened to them, instead of serving as stenographers to high-ranking [Bush administration] officials and Iraqi exiles.
At the time, there were many incredibly well-reasoned voices that were simply drowned out by the drumbeats of war. For example, a group of 33 of the country’s leading international relation scholars all paid for a full page op-ed out of their own pocket to make the simple case that the war was a mistake. And perhaps we should all take time to remember how prophetic Barack Obama’s words on the topic were at the time. And by now, I think it’s pretty clear that President Obama is hardly a radical.
The decision to invade Iraq shouldn’t be remembered as a debate between the experts and the radicals. It was just the case that many of those in favor of war wanted to characterize the opposition as radicals, regardless of the truth.
Thank you for your recent series on the build up to the Iraq War, 10 years on. I lived in NYC from 1995 to 2006. Those of us who lived and worked in the city remember the horrors of 9/11, the way it profoundly affected every aspect of life in the city. Like a lot of young people in NYC, I moved the from middle America, and also remember the strange solemnity with which outsiders would ask me about 9/11. I didn’t work in the WTC, and wasn’t a first responder. I just dealt with the aftermath – a few scary things I actually saw that day, but more importantly, the real fear in the city then. Anthrax, the plane crash in the Rockaways, armed soldiers in the subways and streets, the terror scares and the terror drills.
We in NYC felt that we were a target, and we were because of the real and symbolic importance of the city. But in 2002 and early 2003, in the buildup to the Iraq War, I was furious that we were a target illuminated and made bigger by a cynical push for war – that the invasion was inevitable, that the US participation in international diplomacy was a ruse because we were steamrolling all opposition. Middle America was told in part that this was a revenge war for 9/11, and why should the GOP care about blowback attacks on New York – we didn’t vote for Bush anyhow.
The justification for war seemed transparently ridiculous, WMD and 9/11 were deliberately conflated, and the GOP and media sycophants were calling for some sort of patriotic national unity, hardening back to Kate Smith and WW2. I was furious at this unjustifiable war, based on unproven assertions and obvious propaganda, which was somehow tied to what we went through in NYC? No thank you.
So I protested, like many hundreds of thousands of my fellow New Yorkers. We were derided as fellow travelers, anti-Semites. ANSWER, a group I knew nothing about nor cared nothing for, were held up as proof that we were fools and suckers. The rage I felt at the Bush administration – and their Democratic Party enablers – was inextinguishable.
My anger now still burns. The war was evil and stupid, yet there are plenty of powerful people who somehow seen to want to justify it still. My own post 9/11 fears, shared by many of us, were probably unwarranted. Nothing significant happened in NYC, partly through good intelligence and international cooperation, partly through luck, and partly, tragically, through softer targets elsewhere in the world. The things I didn’t foresee were so much worse: the devastation of Iraq from the insurgency, the loss of life and limb of so many American troops. Protesting that war was the morally right thing for me to do, even if it was just to show the rest of America that here were some New Yorkers who didn’t want the US to fight that war for their sakes.
(Top left photo: Thousands of demonstrators gather near the Washington Monument before marching to the White House on March 15, 2003 in Washington, DC. A large anti-war demonstration organized by International ANSWER was held in protest of the possible war with Iraq. By Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images. Top right photo: A protester holds aloft a placard picturing a shirtless British Prime Minister Tony Blair (R) wrapped in a US flag in the arms of US President George Bush, 21 January 2003, during a protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London to lobby MP against a possible US and British-led war in Iraq. By Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)