Written By: Shannon P. Meehan, IVMF Communications Specialist
I recently read film director Michael Moore’s New Year’s Resolution, in which he declares to not say, “I support the troops” anymore. Moore, an avid objector to the Iraq War, explains that he no longer supports them because, “we know our military leaders do things that have nothing to do with defending our lives,” and questions “why would anyone sign up for this rogue organization?”
Essentially, Moore believes motives for the Iraq War were evil, borne of greed and deceit. So naturally, everyone presently willing to engage in it – say, by joining the military – conspires in that evil. And he has no sympathy for them.
While I respect Moore’s views on the Iraq War, I do not believe one can simply paint all of those who supported the war effort through military service to be as “evil” as he perceives those that started the war to be. I believe that the framing of this war as being sparked by criminal greed has led to the belief that everyone involved in it is a zealot who blindly follows the orders of an oil-thirsty government that has no regard for others. This is as erroneous as categorizing everyone opposing the war as unpatriotic people whom have forsaken their country.
What Moore fails to realize is that not all that has happened “between the lines” of this war can be painted with the same broad stroke as “bad” or “good,” “evil” or “righteous.” Just as those opposing, supporting or even fighting in the war cannot simply be categorized as unpatriotic traitors or duty-bound beasts.
A combat-injured veteran of the war, I feel that whatever brought me to Iraq-a righteous or evil motive-I cannot say. I have too many memories to sort through and make sense of. Maybe at some point I will find a way to understand it all and will better know what to say. For now, what I can say is that the role my soldiers played during our 15-month deployment was far from evil. Ours was a role of compassion; of rebuilding.
As a leader of soldiers and commander of cities in Iraq, I worked to gain the trust and confidence of the Iraqi people. My soldiers and I did this by showing genuine compassion. We demonstrated that we were not simply there to destroy the enemy, and all who opposed us, and return home. We sincerely cared about the people. We worked hard not only to protect them, but also to improve the quality of their lives by initiating projects to build schools, to improve water-filtration systems and roadways, to expand their hospitals and medical care.
I felt I was living out my vocation in life, protecting and aiding others in a way I had never dreamed of. Whether I was pulling a man from a car trunk moments from being executed by a rival tribe or conducting a medical clinic for one of my towns, we were making a great difference in our area.
This is not to say that our entire experience was like this. The Diyala Province, particularly the city of Baqubah, was extremely volatile. It was chaotic; building infrastructures in the name of progress, destroying buildings in pursuit of enemy forces. I remember once securing a project for a new school in a town that days earlier we had engaged in a heavy battle, destroying over 30 enemy insurgents and the buildings they inhabited.
I too played a part in what those opposed to the war would see as the fruit of its “evil,” inadvertently killing innocent civilians in a mortar strike that I had called in during a chaotic battle. An incident in which children, as young and as innocent as my own, were killed. An incident that filled me with guilt, that nearly drove me to suicide.
So, perhaps Moore is right in saying, “All individuals must answer for their actions.” Perhaps someday I will answer for mine, both the “good” and the “bad.” My soldiers accomplished far more “good” in saving lives and rebuilding cities as the condition of Diyala vastly improved leading up to our departure.
Whether this serves as a microcosm for the war as a whole, I do not know. But what I do believe is that one is not inherently “evil” or undeserving of support simply by partaking in the Iraq War — even if its cause is seen as evil. It is not that black and white. It is very gray, and it is very different for every person that served in it. I only know what my soldiers were able to accomplish, and I am, as well as the Iraqis in our towns were, grateful for the service these troops provided.
This op-ed originally appeared in The Huffington Post on Jan. 4, 2013