Five Years in Iraq: One Idiot's Selfish Opinion

Smarter men than I have opined on this issue in higher terms and more eloquent speech, but here's one guy's thoughts on this, the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war.I'm a Republican, but more than that, a Conservative. I voted for George Bush...proudly...twice. This fall I'll almost definitely (who am I kidding? I'll definitely) vote for John McCain. I'm anti-abortion, anti-tax, anti regulation, pro-business, pro-defense and pro-death penalty. I believe strongly in the right to bear arms, and while I believe in a right to privacy, I don't see what that has to do with a woman's right to choose. I'm not a crazy right-winger, but I would never be confused with a tree-huggin'-hippie.

I also just realized that I'm anti-war. Or at least anti-this one.

Today (or maybe yesterday by the time you're reading this) marks the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War. I vividly remember sitting in class discussing the reasons and rationalizations for the action Bush took in Iraq. Ironically, it wasn't my Political Science class that was discussing it, but my Theatre class. In the Poli Sci class I would have been in the majority (my college was pretty conservative, except for the faculty) but in the Theatre building, I all but stood alone. The rest of the students railed about how we were losing sight of the real objective (Osama Bin Laden's capture) and taking an unwarranted action on a (currently) harmless nation. I regurgitated the pro-war mantra of "Fighting them there, so we don't have to fight them here". At least I was being honest. I really did feel that way at the time.

Even after finding out that Hussein might not have had any secret stash of weapons and had probably not collaborated with Al Qaeda at all, I still thought, "Well, the world's better off with him gone. It was still a good idea." And I honestly believed it. As troop deaths mounted and public sentiment rolled the other way, I held firm. "We've got to give the Iraqi people a chance at self-government. We can't let this become a staging ground for another Al Qaeda attack." I really believed that too.

There's another day I remember pretty vividly. I was visiting campus right after Ella and I got married. I was working nights at the radio station in town and was goofing off during the day with my college buddies. As we sat in the grass in front of the Theatre building, my best friend, Richard, told me about his plan to go into the Army and why it was the exact right thing to do.

I'm just short of a flag-waiver. I'm intensely proud of my country and those that defend it. I get teary-eyed during a good rendition of The Star Spangled Banner or Ray Charles' version of America the Beautiful. When I see men and women in uniform I tend to say thank you (I do the same thing now in New Orleans when I see Guardsmen). My point is I'm all for military service. I'm a little soft and pudgy (and too picky an eater) to sign up myself, but I do believe in public service for all Americans (one of my favorite parts of Bush' original platform). So it was a little hypocritical that I (the conservative) was trying to talk Richard (the free-spirited independent) out of serving his country. But that's exactly what I did. It didn't work. Richard had really thought it through, and his mind was made up. So I went from a nay-sayer to a cheerleader pretty quickly. I was so proud of my friend that I talked to any one who would listen about his service (even before he gave it).

I'm still proud of Richard. What he's done is greater than anything I've ever contributed to my country, or probably ever will. But in the past three or four months as we've found our way up to this fifth anniversary of the conflict that has put my friend in harm's way half-way 'round the world, I've begun to really think about what we're doing.

Dr. Jo Richardson, a Poli-Sci professor at Louisiana Tech University, always said that we have to judge the worthiness of a conflict by examining our Vital National Interest. If it is of such vital importance to the survival of our nation that we can justify the loss of American lives, then it is a worthy conflict. If we can't, we end up with Vietnam. I should say, that to Dr. Jo, pretty much everything in American Politics boiled down to Vietnam, but that's not really the point.

The point is I've been thinking about our Vital National Interests. What is worth the loss of American lives? Historically speaking, the American Revolution was obviously worth the loss of life we sustained. The men who died on those battlefields were ensuring their (and their descendants) ability to make a life for themselves free of the rule of others. The Civil War was worthy two-fold, to preserve the Union created by the Revolutionary War and to end the question of slavery for all time. WWII was fought to rid the world of two terrible regimes (although we left one pretty bad one lying around). But what about Iraq? What are we fighting for now?

I know that spreading Democracy is a valid goal. It is a worthwhile cause. It is even (in a roundabout way) in our National interest, in that Democracies tend to war with each other less. But is it worth the loss of American lives? That question used to be easier to answer. The soldier that I say "Thank you," to as he or she is standing in line at a restaurant is not my friend. They have my admiration and appreciation, but their life is not intertwined with mine (at least not anymore than any other American's). But Richard's is. He and I have spent many hours discussing life, our hopes, dreams and ambitions. We share an adventurous spirit, and a generous soul. I can think of few people I'd rather spend an evening talking and laughing with. I admire him not just as a soldier, but as a man, so much so that I named my son after him. I may be iffy on whether or not this war in Iraq is worth the loss of "American lives" but I can say without a doubt that it is not worth Richard's life.

As the headline suggests, this is just one idiot's opinion, but I would wager that there are millions all over the nation that have a "Richard" in their lives. They are proud of their "Richard's" willingness to serve, his (or her) determination to give of themselves to the greater good. They also probably weigh the goals of this war and the possible successes (and I still do believe that we are succeeding) and think to themselves, "It's just not worth it." Once, I would have argued that they weren't seeing the big picture, but then I met a soldier.