The March to War and Back
by Michele Catalano
The march to war began, unsurprisingly, on September 11, 2001. On that day I was still a liberal, still a life-long pacifist and idealist who believed the world could one day live in harmony with no threat of war and no weapons at our side. Ideologically, I was who I always was: pro-choice, supporter of gay rights, voter of Democrats and third party candidates, and an atheist who felt religion had no place in politics.
I kept most of that ideology intact after 9/11. But there was a part of me — an angry, vitriolic, vengeful part of me — that decided a war was just what we needed.
And so my march to warmongering began. As the shouts of “WMDs!” were heard from the White House, I echoed those shouts to family, to friends and to the readers of my blog.
I wanted to believe. Even though I knew Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, my intellectual honesty was put on hold while I let my emotions and ensuing irrationality overtake me. I played along as the administration connected the dots between Saddam’s internal terrorism and the attack on the United States.
We must root out terrorism, I told myself. We must instill democracy worldwide, I believed. We must tell the world we will not stand for any more threats or attacks.
I watched and listened and saw and heard what my mind needed to see and hear. Of course Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Of course they had everything necessary to make weapons of war. Of course they wanted to kill us. They hate America. They hate our freedom. Just as Al-Qaeda hated us. And look what they did. We must be preemptive. Strike them before they strike us. Topple their leader; turn them into a mini-America in the aftermath.
I stared at the smoldering remains of the towers. I studied the programs from the memorial services I attended as if there were messages from the dead in them somewhere beseeching us to seek revenge on whatever enemy we could find. I rationalized. I wanted to believe.
And so, I did.
There were many others like me. People who had liberal ideals. People who were anti-war. We all watched and listened and read. We looked to our leader like a cult figure as if he would somehow lead us to salvation in the form of peace of mind by ensuring we would never experience this again.
That’s what we wanted to hear. That’s the fight we wanted to join. We looked for others who would join our fight – even if that fight was only waged from our couches and chairs – and we found them. We gathered; we formed what felt like a clique, but was more like a cult.
We were the warbloggers.
We might as well have been wearing war paint while we sat at our computers typing out our feelings of rage and anger. Oh, we were an angry bunch. We were full of vitriol. Worse, we were righteous.
In the days leading up to the war, our thunderous cries of righteousness could be heard across the Internet. We waved flags, cloaked ourselves in patriotism that was nothing more than nationalism, fed off each other’s emotions and charged into war with nothing more than our words and need for vengeance.
I believed. I believed because we wanted to, needed to. I believed because there was a hole in the ground where part of New York used to be. I believed because my grief needed to be something other than sadness. Anger was better than despair. Cries for war were better than tears of sadness.
I aligned myself with the warbloggers and we dutifully spit out the party line as we fell for the lie of WMDs in Iraq. Perhaps if blogging hadn’t been invented yet it would have been different. Maybe if there was no internet we would have all quietly seethed, gone through the stages of grief and moved on without latching on to the idea of war in Iraq as a means of quenching our thirst for blood. But we had each other. We created a feeding frenzy and we feasted for months on each other’s war cries.
When the war began on March 19, 2003, we celebrated. We celebrated a war. Of course, we were of the belief that it would be a brief war — quick, almost painless. Minimal casualties. In and out. Take Saddam down, topple the regime, restore freedom to the galaxy. That’s what we were told. That’s what the Bill of Goods said.
We blogged minute-by-minute updates. We blogged the shock and awe. We posted screenshots like you would of some video game.
The war in Iraq carried us through the year and into an election. And as it carried me on that wave, I found myself in the weird position of campaigning for a Republican president.
I was voting for George Bush.
I cast my first vote in 1980 and had never voted Republican. But here I was, wrapping myself in an American flag, cheering on a war and pushing to give Bush another term.
When Bush won the election and I sat back and waited. I waited for Saddam to be handed to us. I waited for the WMDs. I waited for the war to end. I waited for George Bush to deliver closure, democracy and Saddam’s head on a platter. Oh, and the end of Al-Qaeda.
We all waited. We waited to be vindicated.
Slowly, ever so slowly, as each day of the war passed with no yellowcake or WMDs to be found, we grew frustrated.
Where were the weapons? Where was the quick end? Why was Saddam still alive? What were we in this for?
As the war dragged on with no end in sight, not only did I start questioning the war, I questioned my role in it. My blog reached over 10,000 people each day. What was I telling those 10,000 people? War is good. War is necessary. War will bring peace.
Did I actually believe any of that or had I bought in because I needed to satisfy my post 9/11 rage? Would my rage die with Saddam?
I began asking myself these questions as the war raged on. The number of dead — both civilian and soldiers — mounted. With each new body count, with each report of roadside bombs and another day gone by without finding WMDs or Saddam, my support for the war waned. Here I was beseeching my readers to join me in my warmongering and suddenly I didn’t want to be part of it anymore.
Soon I developed buyer’s remorse over my vote for Bush. And I had sickening moments of clarity, the kind of clarity that comes only with hindsight.
There were no WMDs.
This was no “quick” war.
We were sending our troops to their death.
For lies. For made up stories. For oil.
All those protesters I made fun of? All those hippies with their “No blood for oil” placards I laughed at?
They were right.
They were right.
Blood for oil.
I took a good look at the administration I helped vote into office.
In 2004 I was a one issue voter. War. That was it.
Now the issues I ignored in order to give my support to the war on terror were coming back to haunt me. Social Security. Bankruptcy. The insistence of the far right that they now had some kind of religious mandate and we needed to revert back to our Christian roots and morals. All for the sake of Iraq.
At the time, I knew all about the good things in Iraq. I knew about the schools and the hospitals and elections. But more and more, I was thinking: at what price? Every time another soldier died, another bomb went off, another hopeful Iraqi policeman as murdered, another hostage was taken and another day loomed on the horizon with no end in sight, I thought: at what price?
I wasn’t ready to go stand on some street corner and protest the war. But my support waned. I saw no clear exit strategy. I saw more of our men and women dying, more innocent Iraqis killed. Every day, first thing in the morning, I’d look through the morning news. The stories were always the same. Car bomb. Roadside bomb. Soldier killed. Stories of death and the dead. There used to be much more good news interspersed with those reports. But my hope for seeing the good work dissipated.
On my blog I wrote about my growing sense of hopelessness and my warblogger friends responded with much of the vitriol and rage that they, we, had become known for. I was deserting them. I was a traitor. I had no idea what I was talking about. They sent me links, lectured me on why Iraq would turn out okay, why the spread of democracy will come about, why Syria and Iran and North Korea would all fall eventually.
Those potential accomplishments might have been enough if Iraq was my only gripe with the Bush administration. But it was not.
And it was my own damned fault. What did I think would happen down the road as a one issue voter? I didn't think far enough ahead, I guess, to see how those other issues — with me as gay rights supporting, fiscally conservative atheist — would affect me later on. That once the smoke from the war on terror cleared, so to speak, I would have to deal with the fact that I voted for an administration that stood for a lot of things I am against.
Not that I would have voted for Kerry. Just because I was experiencing regret didn’t mean I was going to go running back to the left. I abandoned them with what I thought then was good reason. Yet, here I was years later, returning to where I was right around September 11, 2001 — standing firmly in the middle, getting a little flogging from both sides.
I spent years on the left side of the line and discovered I didn't like it there. And after a few years on the right side of the line I realized I hated it there. I thought the "big tent” of the Republican Party would be home. It turns out it was just a temporary shelter, given to me by the party who knew damn well that I was only as good as my support for the war on terror.
There were others out there like me. I talked to them at work. I talked to them in the school parking lot while we waited for our kids. I talked to them over email or instant message, people from across the country who felt that twinge of regret. What we all had in common is this: we felt used. We felt taken advantage of. We felt manipulated. And we were admitting we were wrong.
At what price?
It’s a question I ask myself all the time.
When I decided to support the war and when I voted, I did so with the best interest of my family in mind. I honestly believed I was making the right choice. I believed in the war on terror. I believed in the war in Iraq. I believed that the other issues weren’t as important.
Obviously, the war would have gone on with or without my support. But I have to think that if you took the whole of us, all of us who supported marching into Iraq in the beginning and turned our backs on the war later, and gave us honesty in the beginning (Hey, we don’t know if there are WMDs there; we just want to kill Saddam and take control of the country for a bit, kind of try to secure the region) the mood in America would have been a bit different and such grand support would not have been there.
Maybe it would have been different. Maybe not.
Ten years later I look back at the war and I see the casualties, the ongoing struggle to have something resembling democracy in Iraq, the failure of both the war on terror and the war to eliminate Al-Qaeda.
Ten years of war.
At what price.
It’s 2013 and those two years of warmongering still haunt me.
I wonder if any of it haunts George Bush.