Former US marine Ross Caputi said the USA had learnt the “wrong” lessons from the wars. [Picture: Crescent International]
It was early morning on March 20, 2003, when the United States and its allies began pelting bombs and missiles on Iraqi targets. The soldiers pressed on through the barren landscape towards the capital, Baghdad. It was the beginning of a long and brutal conflict that would claim thousands of lives in an illegal invasion.
Today, Iraq has been largely erased from the American public consciousness. When it is spoken about, there is a mythological understanding of a war fought for a good cause, although this is hardly the truth. That is according to former US marine Ross Caputi, who served in Iraq between 2003 and 2006.
“The American public has largely forgotten about Iraq. It’s no longer a topic of interest within the media. It’s very difficult to continue to keep public attention on Iraq and to campaign for things like reparations or even humanitarian aid,” he said.
He said the Americans had learnt the “wrong” lesson from the Vietnam War, in that they improved propaganda efforts by the time the Iraq invasion came around. They also learnt “how to wage war better,” he said.
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Speaking about what lessons the US might have learnt from the Vietnam War in the 1960s, when it backed South Vietnam against the Vietcong and North Vietnam, as well as the Iraq war in the early 2000s, Caputi said they learnt only the wrong lessons.
“What became very clear over the last few weeks after the 20th anniversary of our invasion, there’s been a lot of retrospective looks back on Iraq, talking about what the war has meant to American society. It’s very clear that we learnt all the wrong lessons,” he said.
The former US marine said the fact that America illegally invaded the Middle Eastern country was ignored in the US. His work as a historian today aims to fix the narrative.
“I’ve been doing this work as a historian to correct our memory of this conflict, to continue to raise awareness about what we did to Iraq. It’s an uphill battle, but myself and my colleagues [are] still fighting this fight.”
“I try to make good on my responsibility to Iraqis using this position that I now have … To do historical work that can actually benefit Iraqis and to continue to raise awareness about what this occupation has meant for them.”
“That’s really concerning to me. They’ve also gotten much better at propaganda and I think that’s one of the biggest differences between the invasion and occupation of Iraq and our war in Vietnam.”
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Twenty years after the devastating war that left Iraqi society in tatters, the former US marine now works as a historian and has co-authored a book on his experience, titled The Sacking of Fallujah: A People’s History (2019). He is also one of the founders of Archive Iraq, an open source digital collection of historical documents about the war.
The idea behind Archive Iraq, he said, was to present the truth about the war to American highschool and university students. An active campaigner for reparations, he said the initiative was their responsibility and a service to Iraqis.
“We mean to turn this into an open source, open access digital archive of historical documents on the occupation. We want to create materials for high school and college classrooms to use our positions as academics as a kind of public service.”
The archive was created amidst boundless propaganda material meant to convince Americans back home that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and that Iraq was a threat. Caputi said it would also be in the best interest of Americans to bring down the “mythology” about the war.
He said Archive Iraq was created “not only to benefit Iraqi society,” but also to benefit American society. “If we continue to live with this mythology we’ve created about how we liberated Iraq, it’s just going to lead us to more disastrous foreign policy decisions.”
Inayet Wadee and Ross Caputi also spoke about the media’s involvement in coverage of the war and how that shaped American sentiment today. Watch the full discussion here.