Temporal archeology: Unburying the recent past

(This post was incorporated into the book’s Preface)

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a photo and a saying that came out of the bitter fighting in Ramadi in 2006 & 2007, “America is not at war… America is at the mall“.  I also put up a link on Facebook, and was surprised when quite a few people responded to that.  Apparently, it struck a nerve or two, so this is a follow-on post, a “part 2”. Both will form parts of the book’s Preface, which I’ve been composing piece-by-piece in the last week or so.  You can see that work-in-progress here.  Anyway, here’s the part 2:

Sand dunes2

For all intents and purposes, the accomplishments of the 3/2 Battalion during their 2005 deployment — and the entire Iraq War for that matter — have already been forgotten.  They’ve been covered by windblown dunes, successive layers of blithe forgetfulness that settled over a nation eager to move on.  Which is a tragedy all its own.

The tandem successes of the tribal Awakening and the Bush/Petraeus surge, which were built on foundations laid by 3/2 Marines as described in this book, led to what can only be termed victory in Iraq.

Paradoxically, however, success only accelerated America’s collective amnesia.  By 2009, Marines in the city of Husaybah were drinking chai with locals along Market Street, without body armor, an amazing thing to those who had shoot-outs there in 2005. Meanwhile, news at home was dominated that year by Michael Jackson’s funeral, the latest iPhone release and Obamacare.  Still more cognizance was soon buried as the new administration executed a precipitous, ill-advised withdrawal from Iraq, completed by 2011. Afghanistan was Obama’s “good war”. Iraq was Bush’s bad war, the stepchild rejected by both left and right.

Then, in 2014, came a layer of hot volcanic ash blasting out of the desert and across the entire landscape as the black shroud of ISIS descended.  For veterans who had served in Iraq, especially those who’d been part of the campaigns to pacify Anbar, it was painful to watch enemies they’d once vanquished reconquer large swathes of the country. Each city that fell to the raving killers brought memories of sacrifices made, of friends lost, of blood spilt, all now seemingly in vain.  My own reaction was to psychologically turn away. To put it behind me. I didn’t know how to face what I felt was a massive betrayal that was unfolding as ditches filled with corpses and roads were lined with severed heads. Other veterans I’ve spoken with had similar feelings. It was hard to fathom how America could let the progress we’d made, and yes, the victories we’d won, slip away.

And so multiple strata of forgetfulness settled over Anbar, over Al-Qaim (one of the first areas in Iraq to fall under ISIS rule), and over the battlegrounds where US Marines fought just a few years before. In a way, then, my task has been that of a “temporal archeologist”, carefully brushing back layers of sediment to reveal the truth below. Reaching back now, nearly a decade and a half later, is to uncover what is essentially ancient history in today’s Twitter-fueled hyperworld.

So why does it matter?  (working on this part… more soon… Preface now finished)



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