America and Iraq: The 10 year lesson

The day before yesterday was the 10-year anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s death, and today we reach the decennial of the beginning of the Iraq war (the 2nd one). Time Magazine’s website has an impressive gallery of photojournalists’ own choices of best photos from the war in Iraq: A Decade of War in Iraq: The Images That Moved Them MostLightBox. I’ve always remembered this one (below) taken by Andrew Cutraro, because to me it summarized both how the world was increasingly view the U.S., and how many Americans, I suspect, longed to be viewed: So scary you don’t want to fuck with them. It didn’t work, and still doesn’t. Just like this photo shows: It’s all face paint and battery-operated hutzpah.

A Decade of War in Iraq: The Images That Moved Them MostLightBox - LightBox
Photo by Andrew Cutraro, April 8, 2003. See his story and the whole gallery at Time’s website by clicking the photo.

It’s a war that really hasn’t stopped in spite of what you may hear from the White House. While the U.S. conducted a comprehensive multi-decade hand-wringing over Vietnam, the Iraq war has largely been an event without introspection or remorse. That still only 53% of American recognize the Iraq war as the colossal failure it was is telling. It’s telling the world to look out.

Iran surrounded
How the map looks from Iran’s perspective
I don’t know how many websites I made or managed that included that little counter box, centered above, but for one reason or another, Iraq had to be somewhere occupying brain space from about 1991 on. Iraq was the factory floor of the military-industrial complex from the U.S. backed Iran-Iraq war up until the end of the the last U.S. Iraq war, and the purpose, as far as can be determined, was this.

“Why do traditional societies go to war?” Jared Diamond asked rhetorically in The World Until Yesterday. “We can try to answer this question in different ways. The most straightforward method is not to attempt to interpret people’s claimed or underlying motives, but to simply observe what sorts of benefits victorious societies gain from war.” Lowland tribes of Paupau, New Guinea, aside, this method scales up very nicely (see the image above, at left).

When the first President Bush started the first Iraq war I was a community college student just deciding on journalism and downloading a Freehand map of Iraq from the AP before a lot of people really understood they were already using the internet. When the second President Bush started his war, I’d since moved from the reporting line to the editing line in newspapers, and when the U.S. had made its occupation permanent by calling its base an embassy I’d long since left the news biz and the country. Iraq is America’s history for the last two and a half decades, and what a tiring, tedious and predictable one it was. It was the war of the supposedly digital native generation, and showed that awareness does not equal change. A TV war became an internet war. That’s not a huge shift: It’s still screens. What if people knew everything they needed to about an unjust situation, but couldn’t be bothered to do much anything about it? Screen staring — as a tactic — has yet to show it can produce substantial positive change; That’s what I’ve learned from the Iraq war, 10 years on.