The scariest aspect of the American invasion of Iraq, 10 years ago today, was the ease with which it was sold to the American people.
My generation grew up believing aggression was evil. In our school books—and in the war games we played as kids—the “aggressor” was the bad guy. Call this, if you will, a too basic way to look at war. It is, however, the way we were taught. Hitler invaded Poland. Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor. North Korea invaded South Korea. Waging of aggressive war was the crime, in history and in the judgments following world war.
I saw this one, the war in Iraq, coming. From the first days after 9/11 there were those in the Bush administration who saw this as their opportunity. They were helped by war hawks on the outside. The Washington Post op-ed page, the Weekly Standard, The New Republic were open billboards for the relentless push toward war. The establishment media joined in, offering uncritical coverage of the administration line.
This is not a good statement about the press. I’d like to believe that my generation, especially, those who grew to maturity in the horror and dishonesty of Vietnam, would have spoken loudly against the war hawks. Few, mostly on the left, did; fewer from the middle, still fewer from the right.
It was worse than that in those months of late 2001, 2002 and early 2003.
To oppose the war when there was time—worse yet, to question its motivation—was to cause trouble for yourself. Even when a whole new vocabulary: W.M.D; “homeland,” “regime change,” “freedom fries,” “coalition of the willing”…it was being infiltrated into our national dialogue, the mainstream media was useless. Even when the culture of the country itself—country music was drafted into service with twisting appeals to vengeance for 9/11—”Remember how you felt?” The media were indistinguishable from the cheerleaders.
No wonder Cheney is arrogant to this day. No wonder Bush is effectively clueless. No wonder the war hawks are shameless. All of them, together, got away with it.
It was the people of silence: the newspaper editors, and network executives, the most respected columnists—who know what they did and did not do—who are wrestling now, not with the history of the American invasion of Iraq—we’re all doing that—but their own history in doing nothing to ask the hard questions: persisting again and again that that hardest question of all—Why?—be answered in principle and in a language consistent with our American traditions? No.