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My Thoughts On The Invasion of Iraq Twenty Years Later

Wathiq Khuzaie. Getty Images.

This morning I woke up and checked twitter like I typically do. Usually, I'll see some sports news, a couple of podcast clips, or someone railing against a political position. Today was different. Today my timeline was filled with pictures, videos, and stories of the invasion of Iraq that happened twenty years ago today. 

For a vast majority of the American population, we waited and watched for the invasion. Most of us hoped for it. We had heard, seen, and read about the atrocities that the Iraq regime was doing to their own people. There were reports of chemical weapons, human rights violations, and the development or procurement of weapons of mass destruction that were either in use or were close to being complete for the purpose of use against their own people. Saddam was the ring leader of it all. His face was nearly -if not more - hated by all Americans than Osama Bin Laden. When his statue came down, people all across the globe cheered. The citizens in the streets cheered. I cheered. I cheered from the comfort of my college cafeteria.

A few month later, I signed my contract to enter the Marine Corps. I was a pastor at the time but I lacked real-world experience. Several people in the congregation that I was working with had war experiences ranging from all of the wars you think of. World War II, Korea, Vietnam. I thought to myself that I needed some type of actual experience to be able to relate to those brave men. As stupid as that was, it is what I did. I sought out that experience.

I had no wool over my eyes. When I enlisted, I knew that I would be going to Iraq at least one time and I could not wait. 

After initial training, I went to Okinawa, Japan. I checked in to the unit and was brought up to speed about how to use Military Working Dogs for the purpose of IED detection. I obviously knew what I was training for but I had no idea what I was training for. I used to equate training for war as being the same as practicing football. If you run drills every day, eventually you want to play in the game. 

Two years after I had been on Okinawa, I had a few of my work buddies over to my apartment to have some hard ciders. The whole squad was having a great time just chilling together. A few hours later, my boss got a call on his cell phone. He stepped outside with a blank look on his face. Sergeant Adam Cann was dead. 

Sergeant Adam L. Cann, 23, of Davie, Florida was the first K-9 handler killed in action since the Vietnam conflict. His death sent shockwaves through the Marines I knew and trained with. For some reason, these deployments seemed like one great big adventure because I was a moron. Now, I'm sure that some people didn't feel that way and they felt the enormity of war, I didn't know people like that but I'm sure they were there, too. If they were, they were as quiet as the mice at the church I left. 

So, we trained, trained, and trained some more. We went to classes conducted by EOD technicians to teach us about the newest ways Iraqi insurgents were targeting us. We found about the types of IEDs that were shaped in a way that shot ball bearings, nuts, and bolts through the bottoms of our vehicles. The images we saw - even from afar - were horrifying. We saw the ripped bodies, the goo that became of the bodies after being eviscerated, and the torn Marine uniforms that lay in the wake of that destruction.  We saw war. It was shocking and maybe for the first time, scary. 

I experienced all that in 2005 and 2006. The Iraqi people had been experiencing that for three years at the time. We still view that as early in the war because it was. 

For a long time, I have stuck my head in the sand about what we did there. I'd say that every troop I knew really thought we were doing some great service to the world. We had secured the liberation of the oppressed, allowed girls to go to school, and were bringing democracy, real democracy to the Iraqi people. That felt great. We were doing something great for humanity and it was going to be something that I would be proud of for the rest of my life.

And it was until it wasn't. 

We often think the same as others in our circles. We gas each other up to further cement our ideologies and intertwine our perspectives with a likeminded dogma that quells any self-doubt or halts any real introspection. Together with the Marines around me, we knew that our efforts would lead to a better life for all Iraqis. We believed that liberation was going to be both immediate and long-lasting. 

And it was until it wasn't. 

The years went by and calls like the one Sergeant McDonald got about Sergeant Cann came more and more frequently. I remember one time - I wish I couldn't- that I was charged with helping put another handler on a helicopter to send him home to his family. His body was lifeless. The shredded remains of my friend were placed into a bag and then put onto the helicopter to be whisked away from a land that wasn't his own. A land that, at the time, had no articulable mission whatsoever. 

By the time the war for me was complete, the number of my own friends killed was high. Too high. But, their losses, we were told, would secure freedom for others. That freedom would make the sacrifices worth it. 

And it was until it wasnt. 

The details about those experiences are far too long for a blog but, like the first decade of the war and like this blog, the mentioning of the death toll for Iraqis wasn't mentioned. At the time, maybe we thought it wasn't mentioned because we were the liberators. I think it's because that liberation was our motivation. 

And it was until it wasn't. 

Reading this morning about the suffering and pain inflicted on millions of humans was still shocking to me. I know the numbers. I know the actions. Hell, I've hosted one of the most listened-to military podcasts in the world for six-plus years. I know the numbers. But, this morning was a stark reminder that those numbers aren't ticks on a chart. They are real people. People who had families, children, friends, enemies, associates, and random interactions with casual passersby. They were real people. They were the people who our mission was supposed to help. Our entire goal was securing their liberty. 

And it was until it wasn't. 

According to a report by the United Nations, the same United Nations where an overwhelming majority voted to invade, the body count is over a million. Some of those estimates include up to two hundred thousand children. I wrote the number out because it is staggering. Two hundred thousand children. Two hundred thousand children. Not only were two hundred thousand children killed, millions more were displaced. Millions more lived in fear every day for the better part of two decades. Millions lived in fear while they walked down the road, while they went to the market, while they farmed their fields, while they went to mosque, while they went to a friend's house, while they celebrated with their families over holiday meals, while they went to the bathroom, while they lived their lives, and perhaps most importantly, while our boots were on the fucking ground. We were told that this was a war worth fighting. 

And it was until it wasnt. 

My entire life has been changed by the war. My perspectives on life, religion, and the pursuit of happiness changed in the dusty sands of Fallujah. Millions didnt get that chance to be introspective. Millions didn't get a chance to ever breathe with true liberty. We were the liberators who brought destruction, mayhem, and unprecedented carnage to the people we were supposed to be protecting from the destruction, mayhem, and unprecedented carnage. In many ways, the liberators denied liberty to millions. 

From the day that George W Bush announced the invasion, I thought the war effort was justified. Twenty years later, we can look at the votes in congress that led to the invasion. Those votes were 268-161. The war effort in Iraq was going to calm the fears of terror in the United States and it was going to change the world by getting rid of a mass murderer of his own people. 

And it did until it didn't.