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20 Years Since the U.S. Invasion of Iraq: A Reflection from a Socialist in the Heart of Imperialism

A Left Voice member and anti-war activist reflects on the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and how he learned to hate U.S. imperialism.

Samuel Karlin

March 20, 2023
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Between 400,000 and 500,000 protesters gathered to oppose the invasion of Iraq in New York City on Feb. 15, 2003.MARIO TAMA VIA GETTY IMAGES

My journey to becoming a socialist and a Trotskyist started with a visceral hatred of war, and U.S. militarism in particular. While I often think of this hatred as somewhat instinctual, I can trace it back to a vivid memory from around the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I remember so clearly my mom complaining that the U.S. had no right to go to Iraq. That it would just make everything worse. 

I’m sure I didn’t appreciate the significance of that at the time or understand at all what was happening. I would’ve been 6. But in hindsight, I can’t emphasize how important it was to hear that early on. That U.S. intervention and war in particular would make everything worse. It did. 

To me, war and U.S. imperialism became the most blatant, most savage, most impossible to conceal contradiction of capitalism, even before I really understood what capitalism was. Middle school is when I began calling out that contradiction, almost begging anyone around me to see the U.S. military for what it truly was, not some valiant force for good made up of brave, noble individuals, but a massive institution which destroys and kills in an unnatural, mechanistic, callous fashion, solely in service of the ruling class. 

I would learn quickly just how much people did not want these contradictions exposed. The homophobic and misogynistic slurs and social isolation I got as responses made it clear that this is not just an institution people don’t criticize, it is an institution that is culturally protected and praised to shield it from criticism.

Now the “War on Terror” is “over,” even as a U.S. military presence remains in Iraq and the country remains poisoned as a result of biological weapons and the whole region destabilized as a result of occupation and intervention. I’m thinking about all of those in our class who will not be part of the reframing we hear from the very bourgeois press and capitalists responsible for the invasion. The Iraqis whose lives were quickly snuffed out. The ones whose deaths were dragged out, being incinerated, tortured, bleeding to death, being poisoned, being starved, dehydrated, deprived of shelter. Being born with birth defects because of white phosphorus and dying within the first 30 minutes of life. And while I always want to center the Iraqis who are always erased or dehumanized in the U.S. framing of the war and today are still suffering the worst devastation, I still think about my class siblings in this country who were mostly kids either trying to pay for college or duped by a flood of propaganda, just to be sent into Iraq to be killed themselves or maimed and traumatized and end up homeless, while the oil companies and weapons manufacturers far away from any fighting reaped the spoils of war.

Now the era of the “War on Terror” is over, but capitalism is not, so war is not. In fact, we’re threatened by even greater war as shown by the meat grinder in Ukraine. And even though the U.S. isn’t yet ready to fully commit to fighting a war with major powers like Russia or China, we see it preparing, already dividing our class, pitting us against each other again, sending Russians who fled Putin’s draft back to be tossed into a proxy-war it’s fueling, stoking anti-China chauvinism which has fueled a rise in racist violence against Asians. 

I’m scared of what it will look like when the United States decides it is ready to fight directly. Few people alive have ever witnessed a world war. I won’t try to wrap my head around it. I know it will be a nightmare. I know it will be one of the most reactionary things we ever see. I know it will be one of the biggest challenges socialists in the U.S. face, holding firm against it, refusing to be divided or sold on hating and wanting dead our class siblings in Russia, China, and anywhere else the U.S. ends up fighting. 

But I’m inspired that we can resist. Unlike in middle school, I’m not alone in this fight to stoke hatred and opposition to this evil institution and the system it serves. The military’s own recruitment crisis shows this. Left Voice’s anti-war interventions and growing anti-imperialist sentiment in the United States show this. The anti-war efforts of our comrades in Germany and the Spanish State show this. Our comrades and class siblings raising all hell in France, an imperialist country, shows this. Everyone who reads our pages who could’ve easily capitulated to NATO or the Russian invasion, but who stood with our class instead shows this. I believe one day we’ll foster so much class hatred and international class solidarity within the belly of this imperialist beast that we will organize ourselves to end it and build a new society. And when that happens we’ll march into the White House and the Pentagon and the offices of The New York Times and CNN and every space that was used to destroy Iraq. And we’ll use them to honor all the victims of the invasion and occupation. This history will not be buried. Their deaths will not be in vain. People will remember U.S. imperialism and war for the blatant, savage, impossible to conceal contradiction of capitalism that it always was, and they’ll hate it, and they’ll love that it was defeated.

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Samuel Karlin

Samuel is a socialist with a background in journalism. He mainly writes for Left Voice about U.S. imperialism and international class struggle.

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