Ten years ago this week the Iraq War began. I confess I didn't realize the anniversary was upon us until prompted by a mention in the news.
After all, the war technically "ended" in December 2011, with little hubbub and no parades, victory or otherwise. As if it hadn't happened at all. Which makes sense really, because looking back it still seems like a long, terrible, hazy dream.
On my end, the unprompted reminder of the tenth anniversary prompted a flood of surreal memories of my time "covering" the war and the run-up to it, here from my safe stateside seat in Savannah.
I remember a column I wrote when George W. Bush was first elected. I warned — and I paraphrase, because that particular masterpiece is lost in the internet ether — that one of the first things Bush would do was begin a war in the Middle East.
Of course we were attacked first on Sept. 11, 2001. But as we all know now, Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11.
No. No it didn't.
I remember watching horrified as my prediction came true in the inexorable slow-motion style of Greek tragedy, except without the catharsis. Remember: no parade.
The war may have ended with a whimper, but the beginning was downright operatic. It involved bogus "evidence" presented by bemedalled figures who'd soon regret how they sullied their decorations; insincere appeals to a U.N. which the Bush administration barely recognized; and over-the-top B-movie bad guys like the unctuous Paul Wolfowitz, the Dr. Strangelove-esque Donald Rumsfeld, and the real-life Bond villain himself, Dick Cheney.
And the media. Oh god, the media.
Aside from the disgust at seeing my country so clearly embark on so clearly a disastrous path, I also remember the existential horror of working in a profession which seemed to have lost any sense of ethical mooring or basic human perspective.
Hardly the same as facing IEDs or RPGs or AK-47s, eh? True. But it was a paradigm shift of its own, however bloodless.
I remember the night the first missiles landed, and the breathless repetition on cable news of the Pentagon catch phrase "Shock and Awe." It sounds like — and was intended to sound like — sportscaster's shorthand, perhaps a new football offense.
Let's be clear about what Shock and Awe was, and what was done in your name: Shock and Awe meant annihilating entire city blocks full of sleeping people. That's all it ever meant, and that's what we saw happen in real-time that spring evening in 2003.
Stop and think about it: Whole city blocks wiped out. Because Saddam Hussein supposedly got some uranium from Africa.
Stop and bloody well think about it.
I remember interviewing Sgt. Kevin Benderman of Fort Stewart's 3rd Infantry Division. Benderman had already done one tour in Iraq with the 4th ID, but simply refused to go back with his new unit, instead claiming the title of Conscientious Objector.
You may not know what a Vulcan is, but Benderman and I talked about Vulcans that afternoon in Hinesville. A Vulcan is a super-high speed Gatling gun, several barrels spinning so fast you can't see them. Mounted on a C-130 aircraft or on a ground vehicle, a Vulcan fires a nearly solid stream of high-velocity shells at the target, each tipped with depleted uranium.
Uranium for uranium, I guess.
My chilling conversation with Benderman included this recollection from him:
I turned on CNN one day and they were like, 'And here we see the smart bomb, going down the AC shaft into this part of the building, where it will then make a ninety-degree right turn and target this office.' But right down the street from that same building... was where we bulldozed the bodies of Iraqis we hit with the Vulcans. We just bulldozed them all into a mass grave and covered them up, hundreds of them.
I remember covering the G-8 summit in 2004. Most of it was on remote Sea Island, Ga., but the final day included a press conference by President Bush at the Trade Center on Hutchinson Island.
Savannah was in police-state lockdown because of the threat of protesters, aka "anarchists!" But it soon became apparent that the media would vastly outnumber the protesters, and what few protesters did show up were almost laughably tame.
I was at the press conference, but wasn't one of the few "preapproved" to ask piercing, penetrating questions. The prominent anchor of a Savannah TV station was one of the chosen interrogators, however.
He opted to use his time addressing the leader of the free world — who'd just lied the country into a bloody war in which thousands on both sides would die, thousands more would be horrifically maimed, and the United States would abdicate any claim to global moral authority — to inform the president how happy Savannah was to host him, and how he hoped the president enjoyed his time here with us friendly folk.
Needless to say, Bush knocked that slow hanging curveball out of the park.
Afterwards, I overheard the local anchor say — and again I paraphrase, but not by much — "Hell, what am I supposed to ask him? He's the president."
Candidly, I'm not sure what I'd have asked either. I doubt that "Dude, seriously? What the f#$%?!" would have been any more productive.
A lot has changed since then. No one plays CDs anymore. My business is now more about hustling page views than hawking print papers. I no longer fear for my job because I won't follow a party line.
The Iraq War helped elect a president whose middle name is Hussein. You'd think that's gotta mean something.
We finally found Bin Laden. But instead of blowing up the entire city he was in — a la 2003's Shock and Awe — a few guys went into his house and shot him.
I guess that's called progress, and I guess we'll take it.
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