For many of my generation, the War in Iraq was the catastrophe that catapulted us into political awareness. It has cast a shadow over the entirety of American life for the past eight years, though it seems almost trivial to talk about the impact it's had on the people who didn't go there. 4,468 American troops dead. 150,000 or more Iraqis. Many thousands more wounded. A generation of veterans who feel more detached from the rest of us than any other before them. An effort in Afghanistan that was allowed to deteriorate through neglect, at the cost of who knows how many soldiers and civilians.
Even when the last American soldier crosses the border between Iraq and Kuwait at the end of the year (as my badass cousin will be doing, in fact) we won't be done. We still are under great obligation to people of Iraq to ensure that the sacrifices that brave people from both countries have made aren't in vain. We still need to find a responsible way out of Afghanistan. We still need to find work for the thousands of uniquely qualified people who are nonetheless not getting nearly as much respect as they ought to be, despite how bloody impressive they are.
Still, it gave me a profound sense of relief to hear that news the day after Moumarr Ghatafi was probably executed by the Lybian rebels who captured him. In general, I'm with Cooper on the "not really giving a shit about what happened to that guy" front. But it's had me wondering what happens to the legacy of a nation if the messy business of its inception is captured on video.
I believe that future generations will be embarrassed by the way they treated Ghatafi. When the Redcoats massacred our civilians, we put them on trial, and they were defended by a peerless attorney in John Adams, who later said it was the best thing he'd done for his country. It spoke volumes for the ideals upon which we wished to build a nation. The fact that said ideals were inconsistently applied-- to the tune of innumerable dead and tortured innocents whose only offense was the color of their skin-- is not lost on me. But I believe that there is an enormous benefit to the narrative provided by Adams' example. In Libya, that's a story that they don't get to tell. And with the Ghatafi family now considering filing a war crimes complaint, the narrative suffers even more.
I know that the rebels are products of their environment-- an entire generation living under the thumb of a brutal dictator, with no self-determination -- and that they have none of the understanding of rules of war that comes with military training. But still, I think that future generations of Libyans will be embarrassed by this.
Even if it was crossfire that killed Ghatafi, by parading him around the way they did while he was wounded, they killed him just as surely as if the earlier reports about someone shooting him in the forehead with his own pistol were true.
Don't get me wrong. What Ghatafi experienced was a very small sliver of what he deserved. But this isn't about him. This is about the Libyan people who have to build a nation from scratch now that the war is over. It's about what they're going to have to tell to their kids when they're old enough to understand this. And by that measure, this was an enormous missed opportunity.
All told, we're seeing an end of a war that cost almost 5,000 Americans their lives and will probably wind up costing taxpayers $1.9 trillion dollars, and the end of a war that claimed no American lives and cost taxpayers about a thousand times less. And oh yeah, they actually like us over there now. Sorry neo-cons, it turns out that it was possible to use American military might as a tool to positively impact the world order after all. You guys just suck at it.