I wrote a short piece for the Guardian as part of a “key bloggers look back on Iraq” idea. The prompt was “How did the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq affect you?” How has it changed your life?” I had 200-300 words to do it.
The question reminds me of people asking me “How was it?” upon hearing I had deployed, often in the most casual setting. Instantly, I have to come up with an elevator pitch summing up the totality of my experience. I don’t mind it, actually. I’d be curious to know, too. But what a strange question!
With only 200-300 words, I decided to try writing something a little more poetic for impact. I like that they anglicized it for a UK audience (color becomes colour, center becomes centre, etc.).
Ten years ago I invaded and occupied Iraq.
Whether I like it or not, it defines who I am. I cannot escape it.
It is the thrill of being on a road heading north as part of the grim machine, looking out at an endless convention of military hardware. Tanks, artillery, helicopters, trucks, gathered together under darkness for the end of the world.
It is the playing and replaying of scenes in my head forever. Things I could have done better and things I cannot believe I did. Glory and shame tangled together, unsolvable for eternity.
It is a row of bright ribbons I wear on my chest. Colours and stars, neatly arranged to tell a sterilized version of an awful story.
It is a heap of benefits for being there. Available and accessible with the right combination of patience, perseverance and connections.
It is the dark looks in the classroom from fellow students who were in grade school when I was in Baghdad. It is today’s lesson in hubris and failure to be dissected and discussed in an hour before grabbing lunch.
It is being called the hero and the villain simultaneously, and wondering.
It is the handshake at a party and a too-sincere ‘thank you’ from a patriotic citizen before moving on to more pressing concerns.
It is the forever-wondering of what could have been and what will be. For me, for my peers, and for Iraq.
It was the centre of the world, my world, until it was no longer interesting.
Above all, it is the terrible knowledge that Iraq is inescapable. Terrible, not because it is inescapable. Terrible because I like that I cannot get away.