War No More: 10 Years Later, What to Think?

Arlington West at Santa Monica Beach. | Photo: Kevin Dooley/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The American invasion of Iraq is ten years old this week. Startling that ten years have passed so quickly, even more startling that the Iran/Afghanistan military anti-terrorist adventure is still going on, the longest such adventure in American history. We've spent three trillion-plus dollars, incurred the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives of fighters and civilians in three different countries. And to what end, exactly? It's painful that punditocracy revisiting the origins of this war this past week had no clear answer, but more than that, ten years later they seem resigned to the lack of an answer. The prevailing attitude seems to be that the Iraq War was unfortunate (at least we can all agree on that), not immoral. A bad choice, but not a character-destroying one -- like buying shoes that turn out not to fit, and after wearing them a while, you end up throwing them away and eating the cost. If only we could.

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The most disturbing trend that started with the post 9/11 march to war and still continues is the persistent gap between what many Americans want and what our elected officials do. A vast majority of the American public opposed going to war; we went anyway. A similar majority is pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, pro-government spending on things like Social Security and education, and so on. Yet our elected officials, a dangerous mix of emboldened Tea Party ideologues and pathologically timid Democrats, have over the last decade tilted in the other direction and now we have a federal government that hardly works at all.

Virtually all Americans hate the gridlock in Washington but very few seem to have the slightest idea as to what to do about it. It's like we're all spectators haplessly watching our collective house burn; we are distressed, maybe even distraught, but we're resigned to our misfortune. The most we can do is hope it will pass. Let the bums fight it out amongst themselves, and we'll busy ourselves with emails and Facebook and whatnot. Another development of the last decade is the exponential growth of digital communication and social media, a theoretically people-empowering development that seems to have increased distractions at exactly the same rate as it's increased the availability of information. On most days the net empowerment gain is questionable.

No wonder that it's difficult today that the run-up to the Iraq War produced massive, record-breaking demonstrations in cities around the country. I participated in one here in Hollywood, and the feeling of surging in the streets with thousands of concerned citizens was downright exhilarating. Nor was the protest just about war, it was about everything from sub-par public education to battling climate change. Many people have said that's been the opposition's downfall, that it wants too many things and can't coalesce around one -- or two. But that's a marketing critique. The fact is that many things are still wrong -- and many of the problems are interrelated -- and we should and must voice them all at once. What choice do we have? If there's one thing the digital revolution has taught us, with its apps and mobile devices that boast ever-higher numbers of features every year, it is multitasking.

About the Author

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in L.A., with an eye toward the city's African American community, appear weekly on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.
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