On April 10, 2003, after a seemingly painless rout in Iraq, Baghdad fell to the coalition forces led by the United States.
Back then, I was an antiwar activist who held firm against a seeming opinion cascade that appeared, in the United States, like mass "consensus" about the necessity of invading Iraq. In spring 2003, Gallup found that 64% of Americans supported invading Iraq.
It was scary to go against the grain. I remember being called in to speak with my supervisor in the World Civilization program, who noted that two Republican students were offended by my comments about the war in class. I was warned not to go against them.
There were experts from various international organizations with fancy acronyms, plus Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress providing us with copious testimonials about the horrible nature of Saddam Hussein. There were rumblings in France against the US invasion, but "c'est la vie," said the American crowds, even the Democrats -- the French will be who they are, and the Americans will lead the way.
Colin Powell, always one to deploy his charm and patina of objectivity, mused that the French and the Americans were like wife and husband, and we'd always bicker but never divorce.
Everything in the United States, all the bipartisan rationales and universalist reasoning, seemed so pat and airtight. We had the images, the emotional narratives, the experts, the family members who had lost people in 9/11, the numbers that seemed so specific that we couldn't imagine they were simply made up (who would pick such a specific figure for the numbers of vials of tear gas?), and of course the faces of all those soldiers -- the ones in whose name we were arguing -- lining up for the camera to say they were willing to fight, they were offended that any would impugn their mission, and they needed us to rally behind the war and give our approval.
Politicians in both parties came forward to assure us that they had studies done, and technology with "surgical" precision, and enough studies to prove that everything would fare well. Thinktanks, savants, talking heads, news columnists with serious head shots next to them -- all were on the same page, and increasingly, the one third of Americans on a different page couldn't get a public hearing.
Everyone said it was inevitable that we'd invade Iraq, that anyone who said otherwise was crazy, or un-American and heartless to soldiers, or anti-Semitic, since through syllogisms anyone who was not for toppling Saddam Hussein must share Hussein's views of Israel.
The nation was divided and deeply agonized after the issue of invading Iraq, but you wouldn't necessarily know how deeply divided they were. Perhaps in faculty lounges such concerns percolated, but most professors, like scholars of all ages, were too afraid of losing their sinecures and preferred not to tempt the fate as Ward Churchill did. They kept their mouth shut and waited for a chance to say "I told you so" later on. Battered by propaganda, intimidated by the appeals to authority, guilted by the personal narratives abundant in the press, and skeptical of the antiwar protestors' legitimacy (who wanted to be associated with such crazies?), the nation finally closed its eyes and said, "let it happen."
And so it happened. We invaded Iraq. All signs pointed to a walk in the park: We landed in mid-March, reached Baghdad by April 10, and our mission was accomplished by May.
There was only one problem: We had made a very poor decision. The weapons of mass destruction never materialized; I am not convinced that they didn't exist, but the problem is that people promised us that we would find them to vindicate all our sacrifices, and in fact we never found them. So we made a huge error and lost much of our credibility, but more importantly, we had decided things and possibly made things worse than they would have been, had we simply slowed down and given the whole affair more thought.
Then it turns out that the Iraqi National Congress wasn't representative of what all Iraqis wanted. It turns out that many of the things that the street protesters in France and Germany were saying were legitimate concerns: We might not be better than Saddam Hussein because we might end up facing the same instability and having to resort to the same absolutisms. GITMO, renditions, Abu Ghraib, waterboarding -- the incidents and meltdowns started racking up, and it became harder and harder to hide the fact that we had loosed a monster beyond our control, no matter our good intentions.
We learned, the hard way, that many soldiers who went on TV to say they wanted America to support the war were under duress, as were many of the experts who presented studies and statistics that turned out to be phantoms literally invented from nothing to suit a specific rhetorical cascade.
"If you break it, it's yours," was the saying from an American military leader. The decision to invade Iraq was not something that earned a mulligan. We were responsible for the lives of children orphaned by our bombs or by the bombs of people set loose by our intervention. We had to explain to the families of the thousands of fallen troops, and the others who vanished by suicide after coming home, why this was happening when everyone, including upwards of 70% of the American people, had deemed the invasion of Iraq sensible and right.
The human being is capable of enormous short-sightedness. It is stunning how easily people fail to learn from past decision-making errors. Hence we see ten years later, another rush to "consensus" with all the same propagandistic overreach and decisional folly -- this time, in the mad dash to redefine marriage and redefine children as something that gay people have a right to buy, to make themselves happy. That latter part about children being a proprietary right is being obscured by the sentimentality of stories about loving gay couples and testimonials from Zach Wahls, much as the sticking point of whether our volunteer army could truly pull off the democratization of Iraq was obscured by the sentimentality of stories from the Iraqi National Congress and testimonials from patriotic soldiers eager to be parachuted into the war.
Once again, we have a plethora of polls telling us that Americans all want same-sex marriage. The nagging doubts so many of us feel -- can we really give a go-ahead to millions of gay couples to buy children through surrogacy contracts, sperm banks, and commercialized adoption? -- are being shamed into the shadows. To speak such things is to be "un-American," as Piers Morgan called Ryan Anderson; it is to be harmful emotionally to the children being raised by same-sex couples now, just as it was harmful emotionally to soldiers in 2003 to discuss how the war might afflict them.
This time it is the Democrats walking in lockstep like a legion of zombies, parroting talking points about gay love and bringing up promiscuous parallels to desegregation or emancipation, while the scary reality of gay couples buying babies in Asia and children of same-sex couples being blocked from knowing half their ancestry is sidestepped, ignored, papered over, talked around, and ultimately masked by platitudes, experts, statistics, and the flood of propaganda.
In 2003, we had political scientists, linguists, atomic energy experts, all lining up on the major news networks to tell us how obvious it was -- who could doubt it? -- that invading Iraq was a good idea. And there was Colin Powell, waving a vial of anthrax, and the specific numbers in the press about how many vials there were.
In 2013, we have the aura of a new bipartisanship, Rob Portman's tales of his gay son, and Justice Kennedy alluding to "40,000 children of same-sex couples" all clamoring to have their parents married. Who wants to be called un-American, anti-gay, or stupid? It is so easy to surrender to the onslaught, let the Republicans cave, scurry away from the Democrats' firing line ... Let it happen. Let the law go into effect. Let the 40,000 children of same-sex couples become two million children without fathers or without mothers, let the global market for buying babies blossom, let children become a commodity for sale ..... Let go, stop fighting it. Let it happen. Look at the photos of Zach Wahls, see the op-eds in the Huffington Post, bow to the American pediatricians who say this is all normal (they have PhDs, by the way), and finally, let go of your ways. The polls are against you. Public opinion is against you. Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck are against you.
Surrender. Let it happen.
That's what happened in 2003. In 2013?