Usually on Memorial Day I go through the list of people serving in the military who died in the previous year in Iraq or Afghanistan, choose someone at random, talk a little about who they were and what happened to them. Generally I think this holiday is misguided, though, in that it focuses on the sacrifices made to the exclusion of why they were made. As important as it is to recognize that the ordinary men and women of the military do what they are ordered to do regardless of whether they want to or think it's a great idea, recent history teaches us that we and the political process in which we participate have an obligation to think a little harder about when we require them to make that sacrifice. Because if you'll recall we didn't think too hard about it the last time it came up, and here we are, 13 years later still fighting wars that were pitched as brief excursions.
This is more important than ever now not because the events are so recent but because as we stand here today they are distant enough in the past to be forgotten. Worse, they are distant enough in the past to be remembered not entirely accurately, with the intervening decade slowly eroding away the details. We remember, but we remember selectively and heavily influenced by 13 years of re-imaginings and re-tellings that cast the events as we want them to be rather than as they were. The narrative of the well-intentioned political and media class acting in good faith – a phrase that has become the modern Nuremburg Defense, "just following orders" – leading us astray because of intelligence that unfortunately and unexpectedly turned out to be false has taken root with a large segment of the population. It is worrying to think of young people who don't recall the events from personal experience being exposed to such an appealing but wholly fictional version of events.
With Jeb Bush apparently being considered seriously for the presidency by some portion or the electorate, Iraq is likely to come up periodically in this election. And the early indications are that we are in for some brazen revisionist history. The "faulty intelligence" trope simply isn't true even if our recollection of the run-up to the wars is distorted as badly as the intelligence in question. Even giving it the benefit of doubt, the faults were a direct result of the ideological and political commitment to generating a specific narrative. To say "Knowing what we know now, I would not have done it" is the most intellectually dishonest of cop-outs, since the passage of time has only confirmed and added more detail to what was already known at the time. Facts will always remain unknown to people who steadfastly refuse to acknowledge them.
And people died because of it. Remember that part of the story today as well.