CounterPunch - March 19, 2021

‘You sit in your room, and you talk to the wall
You’re feeling small but still have a ball
And you can’t explain what’s anyway in vain
And you paint your face and dress in black
Wear your shades and still can’t express
The way you feel about a lousy fill
And you dance until the morning
All by yourself
And somehow you know
You’re not alone
And you dance until the morning
All by yourself
And somehow you know
You’re not alone’

— ‘You’re Not Alone,’ Amon Düül II

Eighteen years ago, I was perched on my bunk in a makeshift squad bay, awaiting final orders to cross the border from Kuwait to Iraq. Fellow marines wrote letters to their sweethearts, checked their gear for the thousandth time, jerked off in the bathroom, or nervously smoked cigarettes. Others joked about fucking Iraqi women and who would kill the most Iraqis. You know, all American boys, fighting the good fight, with God on our side, as Dylan once sang. After several months of boot camp and infantry training, it was time to rock n’ roll. Finally, the war had arrived.

Back home, a halfwit loser and draft dodger who, eager to compensate for his father’s political failures and yearning for his own, serenaded Americans with a trite speech that marked the beginning of the most destructive and consequential war of the 21st century. At the time, few understood the catastrophic gravity of Bush’s decision, both for the United States and the rest of the world, though to be fair, many antiwar activists did.

At the time, the Bush administration had spent several months lying to the American public about Iraq’s supposed connections to the attacks of 9/11. Dick Cheney argued that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were good pals, but the relationship never existed in reality. They argued that Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), but those too didn’t exist. Phantoms haunted Bush and his Cold War-era neoconservative comrades, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. And they turned those ghosts into fear — the ammunition needed to remake the world in their vision, or so they thought.

Before long, morale sank in our platoon. Weeks turned into months, and months turned into many more. What was supposed to be a repeat of the 1991 Gulf War quickly morphed into a violent counterinsurgency campaign, the likes of which U.S. troops hadn’t experienced since their failed attempt to defeat anti-imperialists in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Car bombs and IEDs replaced punji sticks and highly-coordinated mobile attacks and ambushes. Men in white pajamas replaced the men in black pajamas.

In the U.S., people remained disorganized after several decades of neoconservative and neoliberal political victories, particularly the destruction of organized labor. The left, barely alive, mounted antiwar rallies and protests but never developed much of a vision beyond large mobilizations. And even if it would have, the social and political infrastructure to carry out such a concept didn’t exist.

That said, I give tremendous credit to those who spoke out at the time. Young people might not remember, and older folks might choose to forget, but protesting the war in the years following 9/11 took some courage. People who spoke out about the war were called traitors and terrorist sympathizers by rightwing media personalities, conservative activists, and mainstream Republicans. To oppose the war was to hate veterans and the flag. At least that was the line at the time. ...
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