There was no parade downtown today. No ticker tape. No headlines in the newspaper boxes trumpeting: WAR OVER.
Standing here on Michigan Avenue in the mechanical heart of the American Empire, there wasn’t enough traffic to bother an alley cat.
After nine years of war in Iraq, $800 billion spent (not including the interest), nearly 5,000 Americans dead, another 32,000 wounded and another 100,000 Iraqis killed, we cut and ran Thursday following a 45-minute ceremony in a fortified bunker at the Baghdad airport. Mission Accomplished.
Looking back, we lost more than lives and wealth in Iraq. We lost our reputation as benevolent giant: the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib prison for one. A war predicated on cooked-up intelligence about phantom weapons of mass destruction.
When that didn't pan out, the mission became a war against fanatical Islam. But then consider the Christians who have populated Mesopotamia for two millennia. They have all but left, caught up in the sectarian violence uncorked by the American action.
Before you call me a pinko, know that my father was among the first American invaders into Vietnam. My people have a long and proud history of service to this country. Before you call me a coward, know that I was present during the invasion of Iraq. I did not go with a gun. I went with a pen.
I was led to believe the basis for the war was just. But after two weeks of chasing ghost WMDs back in 2003, I began to doubt it. So did the Marines I traveled with. Their justification for being there changed from protecting our motherland from foreign-borne terrorism to liberating the Iraqi people from the bloody dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
A man needs a reason to fight.
Saddam was gone, but the blood still flowed. Score-settling followed. I remember an Iraqi in a small town in the center of the country. He was a big, bumbling hulk of a man who welcomed the Americans, since he was a Shiite whose family disappeared at the hands of the Sunni minority who ran the country. He told the Marines he would guard the local bank from looters. The next morning, he lay dead at the bank’s front door, his throat slit.
Iraqis back then were complaining to junior officers that there was a lack of power, water and electricity. Eight hundred billion American dollars later, they still complain.
I remember a contingent of national guardsmen from New York, bivouacked in a crater along a tar highway that lead to nowhere and came from nowhere. They were being devoured by a cloud of black flies.
“What do they have you here for?” I asked.
“Beats me,” shrugged a ragged sergeant.
Their vehicles had no armor.
I want to thank the servicemen and women who did the work with honor. Especially those that gave their lives. Those who live and gave their limbs. It is nice to know we Americans still turn out substantial people. I honor you.
But standing here, scribbling these words on a notepad on top of a municipal garbage can in Detroit that never seems to get emptied, I wonder what we gained?
Because I am no more free or chained than I was last week.
If you ask me, the freedom is maintained by the police here at home. The men and women we ask to step into the middle of chaos caused by people who are not able regulate their behavior. People who do not realize that freedom requires a certain compromise.
But where is the money and commitment for police here? Just a crumb of that trillion dollar pie?
Detroit -- once the very epicenter of American financial power -– has descended into this great nation’s most impoverished, most violent big city.
Motown is on the brink of insolvency and one remedy -- the main remedy, unbelievably -- is to slash public safety.
Really? The police are already underfunded, poorly equipped and outnumbered. I know a homicide detective who once had to take a bus to a murder scene because there were no working cars for him to drive there.
I think of that, I look around Michigan and I wonder: what have we done?