I recently had the privilege to participate in a retrospective symposium marking the 20th anniversary of the American war in Iraq. Hosted by Columbus State University and the National Infantry Museum, the conference brought to the newly renamed Fort Moore, Georgia a diverse assembly of panelists. As a historian and veteran, I had the chance to present alongside a currently serving U.S. Army officer, an Iraqi interpreter, veterans of America’s armed forces, a Gold Star spouse (and veteran herself), regional scholars from Iraq and the Iraqi diaspora, cultural anthropologists, military historians, and even a former Army vice chief of staff.
Despite this variety of experiences and opinions, two distinct yet incongruent narratives emerged. Most, if not all, veterans of “Iraqi Freedom” told an inward-facing story focusing on tactical and operational “lessons” largely devoid of political context. Meanwhile, Iraqi scholars and civilians shared a vastly different tale of political and social upheaval that concentrated far more on the costs of war than on the supposed benefits of U.S. interventionism. If these two narratives are allowed to harden in the years to come, historians will never be able to fully make sense of one of the most momentous and tragic wars of the early 21st century. Instead, the challenge remains in reconciling them in order to understand what happened in Iraq during and after the 2003 invasion.
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