Bits and Pieces

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Big Picture

I remember the first day of bombing in Iraq. Well, the first night, I suppose. It seems so long ago now. I was still studying for my degree, and I guess I'd stayed up all night to work on my dissertation. I watched grainy images on CNN until the sun rose and my eyes grew too heavy. God, so much has happened since then. My little brother (who'll always be a little 12 year old hanging a fishing rod over his shoulder in my mind) got engaged. My friends all grew up and got careers. Policemen, solicitors and teachers. Young professionals. Hell, my best friend is expecting his first child, Thomas, on Christmas Eve. All this since the first bombs dropped. What else will happen before the last soldier leaves?

At times I wonder what we've achieved. I've never been one to use the word quagmire, but how long will we have to go on before we can get our guys home? If we were offered the chance to go back 2 years and never go in I wonder how many takers there'd be. I honestly don't know what my answer would be. One the one hand you have over 1000 coalition troops - young men and women with families - parents who'll never again see their children; kids who'll never know their dad beyond a creased photo and tales of bravery. Every day something new for the media to blow all out of proportion. And then thousands of Iraqis. Fathers who went out one day and never came home, mothers caught in gunfire while searching for somewhere safe for their children. All those lives traded for a shot at democracy. Traded for a shot at an uncertain, ill-defined future.

On the other hand we could bring them all back to life. Shane Kielion could meet his son. All those hostages would still have their heads. But you have Saddam in power - who knows for how long. Lets not pretend we'd have the threat of attack from Baghdad hanging over our heads, but he wasn't a nice guy. You have sanctions. Starving families. Uday and Qusay in their flash cars living by their own private law. All sorts of backhand deals diverting money away from Iraqis and into the pockets of thugs. Little hope. A certain future, and not a pretty one.

As I said, I'm not sure which option I would pick. We don't have the luxury of knowing the future, and I'm glad I'll never have to choose.

So what effect will this have on on my generation, the 20-somethings who will one day soon be calling the shots? I guess that depends on what happens from here on in. We're a little over a month away from our second Christmas in Baghdad, with elections hoped for in the New Year. Will it be a bloody Christmas? Will Iraq be ready for democracy? What about Fallujah? I'd bet against it, and I'm among the more optimistic of my demographic.

For my generation this was our first taste as adults of war. We were about 10 during the first Gulf War. My only memories of that war were the daily prayers for our soldiers in school. Since then we've had no major wars. Eastern Europe was a war-torn mess during the 90s, but nobody my age understood what was going on. I'd bet that feeling wasn't exclusive to teenagers, either. Afghanistan was relatively clean cut. It didn't feel like a war.

I guess the reason Iraq feels so real for us young guys is that it's the first war in which we have friends fighting, the first war in which there are military casualties 5 years our junior. Before now war has been nothing to do with us. Worried about the effects of the collapse of Yugoslavia on the price of timber? Ask my dad. We had Pogs.

And this is the experience that will stay with us throughout our lives - as we run for office; as we vote; as we fight. We've come of age in a world seemingly more dangerous than at any time in the last 50 years. Communism never flew aircraft into skyscrapers. The cold war never came to boil, despite the constant fear of war.

And that's why the next few months is so important. It's not just a question of whether Iraq can become a democratic state. As huge as it may seem, that's just the small picture. The big picture is how this will shape our opinions, determine our grand vision of the future, and in turn decide how we will run the world after all these old guys hang up their hats. Will my generation withdraw behind our borders, afraid to engage a threat, or will we have the courage to go out and try to make the world a safer place?
powered by web hosting provider