On Leaving Iraq

I have been here 90 days, teaching English to Iraqi military personnel so that they can work with and be trained by US military personnel. I was against this war, but volunteered to come here for several reasons. First, I felt I needed to see what was going on in person. As a critic of the war, I felt like one of those people who condemned the Harry Potter books as satanic without bothering to read the books themselves.

As a US Army retiree, I felt drawn to this place, to do something, while "my" army was fighting and getting killed. It's a band-of-brothers connection I will always have. I also believed that by actively training Iraqis, I was making it possible for them to build a military that could take over for us, hastening the process of bringing our soldiers home. It has had the added effect of personalizing the war for me. How do I feel now? I don't think it was worth it for me to come here. I don't think it was worth it to fight this war. I think we should get out as soon as possible.

On a personal level, I came here as an English teacher. I love to teach, but only when I feel I'm being productive. This program was set up to fail. We had low-level students who studied 12 days, then went home for 5. In effect, this meant we had to start all over again every 17 days, since the students pretty much forgot all their English during their five-day absence. We had some students for a full day, and they were making measurable progress in spite of this fatal design flaw, but we went from full day to half-day to every other day. I can honestly say that they know more English now than they did when I got here, but probably not enough to justify the expense of the program. Basically, we pretended to teach English and they pretended to learn it. This is a pattern that repeats itself all over Iraq. The army pretends to teach Iraqis how to be soldiers, and they pretend to be soldiers. After all this time, we claim to have one battalion of Iraqis capable of operating independently. Is that enough to make it worthwhile in the terms of lives and dollars we spend? At the national level, we are pretending to help them build a democracy, and they are pretending to build one. This pretense has already been exposed. Now we pretend that we have to stay to avoid a civil war that's already being fought. What a grand farce this would be if it weren't so expensive and so deadly. Maybe we could write a tragicomic musical and call it "Stay the Course."

After three months, I know these men named Mohammed and Saleh and Jaber and Ali and Hussein. They are good men who want nothing more than to have secure jobs and safe, happy families. They live in daily fear for their lives and for their families. They cannot foresee a safe or happy future. Most of them want the US to stay for humanitarian reasons. Iraq is one huge welfare state and they want it to stay that way. It's ironic that the Republican Party, so steadfastly against a welfare state at home, has created an entire welfare nation here. I pray for these men and their families. I pray for their country. But I now believe the best way to achieve a solution here is to get out and let them solve their problems in their own way. The US presence here only prolongs their agony.

At home, I must reconcile with my wife, for I came here against her wishes. I somehow decided that my personal reasons for wanting to be here superseded her desires. That was wrong, too. I should have listened to her. I should have respected her. And I should never have come. Now, like most of the US personnel going home, I have to go back and repair a damaged relationship.

I will go home committed to rejoining the activist organizations trying to get us out of the war. My renewal notice for Veterans for Peace is in my planner. I will try to get their anti-recruiter training, then do my best to discourage young men and women from joining this meaningless fight. I will look for activities organized by Military Families Speak Out and add my voice to theirs. In short, I will do what I should have done before coming here. I must admit to myself that this trip shouldn't have been a requirement in order for me to do that. I will rededicate myself to the peace movement and do my utmost to bring our soldiers home now.