That’s what changed me – and this blog. That’s what changed America. And that’s why Obama is president.
When I look back on the stumbling, reversed, jagged path I found myself taking with you over the past decade, it is the war that looms largest. It showed me the callowness of neoconservative certainty – a certainty I drank as solace in the lost shadow of the two towers, the falling of which propelled this blog into a very public space. It showed me the wisdom of a deeper conservatism that should have recognized the utopianism of the Iraq folly from the get-go. It showed me the depth of human evil in the dark recesses of al Qaeda and Zarqawi and now ISIS. And it showed me that merely dramatically opposing this evil is not enough to stop it – and may even unwittingly embolden and strengthen it.
It robbed me of illusions – the first being that the United States never tortures prisoners.
It denied me any intellectual safe haven, as my delusions fell from my eyes in slow motion.
It revealed an ugly side to me, in the aftermath of 9/11, that I now see with revulsion and embarrassment.
It shook me out of moral complacency and shallow absolutes.
Maybe every generation has to learn some of these lessons anew – and I should hasten to add that the war has not left me a pacifist. I still believe in the necessity of military force in confronting evil in the world that threatens us. I am merely far, far more convinced than I used to be about war’s capacity to make things worse, its propensity to upend the precious legacy of security and gradual change from which all true progress is made. Tens of thousands of human beings died in Iraq because many of us forgot that. Many more still will be. You can treat that as an abstraction – but the new media made so much of it so much more immediate, and revealed such vistas of pain and grief and brutality that abstractions were overwhelmed with reality.
And yet we move on. Accounts of the war that obscure that complex reality are emerging again. And we will be tempted to walk briskly by what the war did to the meaning of America, in its relations with the world. Which is why, in this last week of Dishing, I was glad to see an early cut of Michael Ware’s new documentary about the war as he experienced it – on both sides, in real darkness, without any attempt at protecting us from what Michael did not protect himself from. It’s called “Only The Dead.” Look out for it.
It’s only by confronting this past fully, by not flinching from it, or air-brushing it that we will emerge again into what Churchill called broad sunlit uplands. The light is still crepuscular. I just want to believe it is the light of dawn and not of dusk, and that this global struggle can lead somehow to something better, truer and more humane.
(Photo: Seen through splintered bullet-proof glass, US soldiers from 2-12 Infantry Battalion examine their damaged Humvee after an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonated on the vehicle, following a patrol in the predominantly Sunni al-Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad 19 March 2007. On the fourth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq US soldiers still faced daily attacks on the streets of the war-torn capital. By David Furst/AFP/Getty Images.)