A few weeks ago, I found a staggering statistic that said that 70% of Iraqi children suffer from psychological traumatic disorders from the war. I was overwhelmed with grief and found myself crying while reading further about the situation there. It’s difficult not to cry at such immense destruction, death, and degradation.
When I posted something on Facebook, it became immediately evident that I wasn’t going to get any constructive dialogue, so I just ignored the thread. But ever since, I’ve tried to really focus my mind on the fact that the government of the United States waged a terror campaign on a small oil-rich country and bombed it back into the stone age. It’s difficult to visualize one million people, yet even harder to visualize one million dead people. And even harder still to visualize one million dead people who were killed simply due to existing in the country in which they were born.
I’ve heard of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but this is ridiculous.
Today I went to get some food at a dönerladen here. When I ordered my food, the man behind the counter detected my ridiculous accent and asked me where I was from. When I replied with America he asked me whether I liked Germany or America better. I responded that they both had their drawbacks and benefits.
“And where are you from?”
For a moment we just stood silently, my smile faded. Finally, I cobbled together a sentence in my terrible Arabic.
“Forgive me, please.”
What else could I say? Of course, the war on Iraq wasn’t my fault per se. After all, I was only twelve when we invaded. I was only eleven when 9/11 occurred. I couldn’t have had less to do with the war effort. Regardless, I am on some level responsible for the things that my government does. I pay taxes (sort of), I put money into the economy, and I continue to travel on my American passport. I’m not a perfectly innocent human being by any stretch of the imagination.
He put his hand on my shoulder and told me that we were friends and brothers and that I had no reason to ask for forgiveness, but we both knew the truth.
The truth is that my life has been the easiest life you can possibly imagine – American white heterosexual male. I came into this world armed to the teeth with the weapons of privilege, as Utah Phillips once said. And the other truth is that simply by virtue of birth, this man with whom I was speaking witnessed his family, friends, and entire community spin into a vortex of death, misery, and chaos.
He relayed stories to me about American soldiers raping and shooting women in his city (which, notably is in Kurdistan). He told me about the countless children who are born with deformities in Iraq due to the chemical weapons used by the Americans and the British. He told me things that made me cry right there in the döner laden.
“When the Americans first came, the poor people handed them red flowers, because they were excited for ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. Within a few weeks the Americans were killing these same poor people. ‘Freedom’ and ‘democracy’ were just lies.”
We discussed Bush and Obama, Saudi Arabia and Israel, America and Afghanistan. Through all of it, he repeated that Iraq will never recover from the invasion. “The nightmare will last forever, because of the war.” Indeed, we will never overcome the nightmare. The nightmare that the Iraqi people live with on a daily basis and the nightmare that the American people have already forgotten.
I’ve never heard a good defense for this war. This past year saw the most people killed since 2007. Where’s the justice for all of these people? We saw Saddam on trial on television for his crimes. When will we see George and Tony in front of the ICC on public trial for their crimes?
More people have been killed since the American invasion than Saddam could’ve even dreamt of. Is that what is implied in the name Operation Iraqi Freedom?
If so, that’s a “freedom” I want no part of.