Mr. Cope's Cave: The Bad War


It’s not so hard to understand: Good people are defined by the good things they do, and that’s true whether or not those good things last, or whether or not those good things were done in the larger context of a bad thing.

But the worse that larger context is, the more unlikely it is that anything good accomplished in that context will last. Nowhere is this more evident than in war, and in no war is it more evident than in a bad war.

Iraq was a bad war. By saying this, I realize I’m whacking a hornets’ nest, but nevertheless, it’s true. The war in Iraq was justified by lies, false motives and the lust for profit—and no matter what good might come from it, that can never change.

It’s also increasingly difficult to name any lasting good that came from it. Yes, it dethroned a tyrant who had viciously oppressed many of his subjects, only to allow the previously-oppressed the opportunity to oppress their oppressors. It dethroned a villain, only to open the door for even more threatening villains to come flooding in and take his place. It dethroned the order of a strongman, only to allow the chaos of weak leadership.

None of this was the fault of the soldiers sent there to fight this bad war. It was, and is, the fault of the liars who sent them. It was the fault of men who either ignored the history of the region—the very nature of the region—or were entirely ignorant of it. It is the fault of men who think that with enough bombs and enough boots on the ground, any reality can be changed and any future shaped to their liking. What’s happening in Iraq right now, and what is likely to happen for decades to come, is their fault, not the soldiers.

Yet it has been reported that Iraq vets are disturbed by the renewed fighting in places they had thought were secure. Places where American soldiers died or were changed forever in the securing. Fallujah. Anbar Province. Iraq itself. Places that accounted for, by the end of it, 3,000 American deaths and 30,000 American casualties. They are asking, rightfully, did those soldiers die in vain? Were those casualties wounded in vain? Was I there in vain?

The answer—Yes. It was in vain. Just as the Viet Nam war was in vain, and every other war we have waged in places we didn’t belong, places we couldn’t possibly have changed except for the worse, places where our involvement was justified by lies and false motives and lust for profit. Places where the best thing we ever did was to pull out.

But good people are defined not only by the good things they do, but by the good things they strive to do. Our soldiers went there, striving to do good, no one doubts that. They might not have permanently secured this town or that province, they might not have changed the nature of an inherently unstable region, they might not have built a sustainable nation. But they secured the good—the noble and honorable—in themselves, each one, soldier by soldier, soul by soul, and that is never in vain. Iraq might no be a better place for their involvement, but America will certainly be.