By Jeff Rosenzweig
The history students of the future will someday turn their
attention to the Iraq War. Squinting at transcripts, perusing
thousands of op-eds, reviewing ancient video footage and listening
to countless hours of audio, our future historians will learn
that the America of the early 21st century was a confused
and confusing country. What conclusions will they draw? Will
future historians see the Iraq War as a watershed moment of
American heroism in a fight against ineffable evil? Will the
heroes of the conflict be recognizable in the thickets of
Though the honor roll of Iraq War heroes is ultimately for
history to name, we can already posit some of the probable
Consider, first, Senator Robert Byrd (D – West Virginia).
Speaking on the floor of the Senate on March 19, 2003, he
stated, "The case this Administration tries to make to
justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified
documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince
the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason.
This is a war of choice."
On May 21, in the same august forum, he said, "When
it comes to shedding American blood - when it comes to wreaking
havoc on civilians, on innocent men, women, and children,
callous dissembling is not acceptable. Nothing is worth that
kind of lie - not oil, not revenge, not reelection, not somebody's
grand pipedream of a democratic domino theory".
And on June 5, the Senator noted, "Saddam Hussein is
missing. Osama bin Laden is missing. Iraq's weapons of mass
destruction are missing. And the President's mild claims that
we are 'on the look' do not comfort me. There ought to be
an army of UN inspectors combing the countryside in Iraq or
searching for evidence of disbursement of these weapons right
now. Why are we waiting? Is there fear of the unknown? Or
fear of the truth?"
On April 2, 2003, presidential candidate Congressman Dennis
Kucinich (D – Ohio) demanded on the House floor, "Stop this
war now. It is wrong. It is illegal. It is unjust and it will
come to no good for this country. Stop this war now. Show
our wisdom and our humanity, to be able to stop it, to bring
back the United Nations into the process. Rescue this moment.
Rescue this nation from a war that is wrong, that is unjust,
that is immoral. Stop this war now."
Quoted by Associated Press reporter Christopher Graff on
April 13, 2003, Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean
told a Manhattan gathering, "I didn't support the president
in Iraq and I am not ashamed… We are not obligated to support
the president's policy because this is not Iraq. This is the
United States of America and dissent is patriotic."
Our future historians will discover that some of the heroes
of the Iraq War took the occasion to address broader issues,
issues at the heart of Americans' sense of self.
Speaking to Elizabeth DiNovella of The Progressive
on May 2, 2003, the activist, actress and comedian Janeane
Garofalo said, "I've always been alarmed by some of the
things that the mainstream media does and by what the government
does, no matter who's in office, but the broken heart is new."
Asked whether her antiwar stance was brave, Ms. Garofalo asked
rhetorically, "What's brave about it? There's nothing
brave in saying, 'Hey, I don't think this is right.' There's
nothing brave about saying, 'I feel we are not functioning
under a true democracy, I feel like we are being manipulated.'
That's not brave, that's common sense."
Critic and writer Roger Ebert commented to Progressive Radio's
Matthew Rothschild on March 30, 2003, "I begin to feel
like I was in the last generation of Americans who took a
civics class. I begin to feel like most Americans don't understand
the First Amendment, don't understand the idea of freedom
of speech, and don't understand that it's the responsibility
of the citizen to speak out."
Addressing the National Press Club in Washington on April
15, 2003, actor/director Tim Robbins summed up America this
way: "…we have seen our democracy compromised by fear
and hatred. Basic inalienable rights, due process, the sanctity
of the home have been quickly compromised in a climate of
fear. A unified American public has grown bitterly divided,
and a world population that had profound sympathy and support
for us has grown contemptuous and distrustful, viewing us
as we once viewed the Soviet Union, as a rogue state".
Teacher and writer Jill Nelson wrote on MSNBC.com on May
3, 2003 that she feared the United States government more
than she feared terrorists. Her sorrow and anger palpable,
she wrote, "Today, I live in an America that makes my
stomach hurt and fills me with terror. A nation run by greedy,
frightened, violent bullies. It is time to take our country
back before it is too late."
These heroic words, and many others, will stand in marked
contrast to the shameful words and deeds of the evil-doers
who betrayed their nation and substituted self-interested
cant for selfless patriotism. Just as every war has its heroes,
every war has its villains.
Combing through the archives of the National Review Online,
our future history buffs will discover Ann Coulter, whose
contribution to the national debate in the aftermath of September
11, 2001 consisted of the following prescription for the entire
Arab world: "… invade their countries, kill their leaders
and convert them to Christianity".
They will discover Richard Perle, member and former chair
of the Defense Policy Board, who rhapsodized, "This is total
war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots
of them out there. All this talk about first we are going
to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq... this is entirely
the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of
the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don't
try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total
war... our children will sing great songs about us years from
now." Our history students of tomorrow won't find any
record of children singing songs about Richard Perle, but
thorough researchers will discover Donald Rumsfeld and John
Ashcroft and Paul Wolfowitz and Tom Ridge and Mr. Bush's own
little Rainbow Coalition, Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell.
They'll pore over a document produced by a right-wing cabal
called the Project for a New American Century, which advocated
– a year prior to September 11, 2001 – that the United States
bulk up its military and start to throw its muscle around,
an undertaking that "… is likely to be a long one, absent
some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl
Finally, tomorrow's historians will come to George Walker
Bush, the failed oilman and appointed president. Parsing Mr.
Bush's record of Iraq War prevarication will be the easiest
task our future historians will face. After all, the extant
historical record already testifies to his breezy approach
to facts and his limitless ability to contradict himself.
Two days after the worst attack on American civilians in the
nation's history, he said, "The most important thing is for
us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority
and we will not rest until we find him." By March 13, 2002,
Mr. Bush's thinking had "evolved" to this point:
"I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really
don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."
There will be many such Bush contradictions to reconcile.
Our future historians will learn that the man who once called
himself "a uniter, not a divider" dismissed the
largest anti-war protest in human history as a "focus
group". On March 18, 2003, Mr. Bush claimed, "Intelligence
gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that
the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the
most lethal weapons ever devised." On May 6, after the
draft-dodging Commander-in-Chief had overseen the deaths of
150 Americans and as many as 10,000 Iraqis, he commented,
"I'm not surprised if we begin to uncover the weapons
program of Saddam Hussein - because he had a weapons program."
Months later, our future historians will learn, Mr. Bush's
dutiful minions had discovered two trailers equipped to fill
weather balloons, a few barrels of pesticide, part of a centrifuge
buried for twelve years under a Baghdad rose garden, and some
documents no-one seemed to be in a hurry to decipher.
To really understand the causes of the war, they'll have
to read up on Halliburton, a many-tentacled monster of American
capitalism-run-amuck formerly run by Mr. Bush's second-in-command
Dick Cheney, given an open-ended multi-billion dollar contract
to rebuild the country Mr. Bush had just dismantled.
They'll discover that power, water and humanitarian aid
were slow in coming, and that the newly-liberated Iraqis expressed
their gratitude by killing an average of one American soldier
a day for months. Our future scholars will wonder about the
accuracy of date references in the historical record when
they come to the footage of Mr. Bush trussed up in a flightsuit,
waddling across the deck of an aircraft carrier to declare
"Mission Accomplished", while body bags filled with
dead young Americans were quietly shipped home daily. They'll
learn that families of the US dead were reassured by the Pentagon's
characterization of the casualties as "militarily insignificant".
Here, for now, the historical record ends. There may be
other war heroes to examine, heroes who demanded answers,
who "spoke truth to power", who determined that
the viability of American democracy necessitated the national
pain of investigations, inquiries, commissions, even impeachment
proceedings. The historians of tomorrow will know with certainty
things that we can only anticipate. We must hope they recognize
that this tawdry war, like all wars, was a stage on which
acts of human courage were played.