"As a senior commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, I lost 80 soldiers," retired three-star general Daniel Bolger writes in today's Times. "As veterans, we tell ourselves it was all worth it." But Bolger points out what we rarely acknowledge on days like today: The stories we tell ourselves, more often than not, are bullshit.
Case in point:
Here's a legend that's going around these days. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and toppled a dictator. We botched the follow-through, and a vicious insurgency erupted. Four years later, we surged in fresh troops, adopted improved counterinsurgency tactics and won the war. And then dithering American politicians squandered the gains. It's a compelling story. But it's just that—a story.
In our zeal to make the stories we like into The Real Way Things Are, a basis for action and policy, we leave "real" reality behind for the simple narratives—about the surge, about the Sons of Iraq (a simple government narrative I had a small part in helping to write), about counterinsurgency, about American know-how and power.
Notwithstanding the title of the first great Iraq War memoir, it may be that there are no true stories, only better ones. As a vet and a journalist, I believe that the best thing for veterans is to keep telling stories—but the best thing for our society is to remember that the real power of a story, whether told by a ground-pounding frontline vet or a critical chronicler or a sycophantic politician, rarely corresponds its truth value. (An important part of Bolger's story, for example, goes unmentioned except in his credit line: He's hawking a book on the Long War titled Why We Lost.)
Which are the short stories, the tall tales, the mangled narratives, about America's wars that bug you? How would you summarize our military operations, our sacrifices, our magnanimities and our stupidities? Whether it's one person's experience or an attempt at a God's eye view, leave your thoughts in the comments.
[Photo credit: AP Images]