Whatever it was that George W. Bush must have been thinking when he decided to sponsor the invasion of Iraq, at the recent passing of its fifth anniversary, all those thoughts would have long been part of his distant memory. For never perhaps in his most pessimistic estimates would Bush have envisioned that Iraq would turn out the way it has—the killing fields not only of American soldiers, but the burial ground of its economy as well.
As far as casualties go, it is not quite on the scale of America’s previous engagements, such as the Great World War, the Second World War or even the more confined Vietnam conflict just yet. Those campaigns cost the United States whole generations of men and women—killed or wounded, with the latter both in physical and psychological terms. The Iraqi war has so far eluded the high body counts of Vietnam, but the impact it has had on the country cannot be underestimated.
They called Vietnam “a war made for television,” and unlike any other before it. It was responsible for exposing the horrors of armed conflict to the average family in middle America. It coincided, of course, with the rise of television as the medium of choice for news and information, and TV made sure that every twist and turn of that conflict made their way to America’s living rooms every evening, without fail.
The result was a generation of politicized Americans so horrified by the images of war that played out before their eyes, it took the US many years to even consider intervening in other countries’ troubles ever again.
History, however, has a way of glossing over the horrors of the past, especially once the generation that saw those horrors firsthand are no longer as traumatized with the experience. This was especially true with the administration of the current President Bush.
Unlike his father—who was a World War II fighter pilot—and even latter-day political stalwarts like John Kerry and John McCain, Bush did not fight in any conflict America was involved in, preferring instead to serve his country through the relatively safer duties of the Texas Air National Guard. Without demeaning the service, nor the patriotism of those who serve in the Guard, Bush was able to avoid actual conflict, and as a result, was probably less horrified by the prospect of waging war, and its deadly consequences.
He was thus able to rationalize his intentions as being purely motivated by America’s national security interests, and divorce himself from the emotions that the likes of Kerry and McCain would have, by definition, brought into the decision. In a manner of speaking, it was easier for him to send young Americans “in harm’s way,” because he himself had no idea what “in harm’s way” really meant to those soldiers on the ground.
Today, however, his memory vividly aided by the seemingly endless chain of flights ferrying back the dead and wounded from the battlefields of Iraq, George Bush must be one well-informed man indeed—well informed that is on the true horrors of war.
As it is, the scene of grieving widows and orphans must be enough to give any president sleepless nights over the propriety of his actions. But that is just one aspect of the cost of this terrible war—the other dimensions are just as damaging, and perhaps, even more damning for the legacy of this two-term president about to end his turn in power.
More next week.
Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, March 29, 2008