I went to Iraq prepared to die. A former soldier called out of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), I was a supporter of the war and ready and willing to do my part. I got into decent physical shape, signed my medical waivers, and volunteered for the job of training Iraqi Troops and taking them into combat. I had no illusions as to the potential price I, or my wife and 2-year-old daughter might have to pay. I made my burial wishes known and wrote about 50 letters to my daughter, dated and spaced to guide her through the challenges which I knew would come in life. I made peace with the plausibility of my death, content in my knowledge that our mission was critical for the ultimate stability of the world and the best course available for American security.
When my daughter was 26, she would finally receive the letter explaining my attitudes towards the war and how I felt about my death. This is the phrase which I believe best captured it:
"In order to secure the American people, democracy had to be spread to the region because democratic governments are far less prone to going to war and they are far less prone to internal strife and violence. The process couldn't help but be messy, but it was necessary. Obviously, I don't know how this experiment works out, but you do. If Iraq is a democratic nation now, or if Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi, Kuwait, or one of the others has become democratic, then the war was worth it. However, if we pulled out because we lost too many soldiers and got out in an act of political expediency, then I did die in vain."
Two years have passed since I wrote this. I came back from Iraq over a year ago. When I lie in bed at night, I think about my experiences there and the men I knew who didn't come back. I think about how our government executed the mission and the serious mistakes of the occupation planning. I watch the cynicism of the "elder statesmen" who are willing to allow our young men who have already died, die in vain and willing to sacrifice more young men in order to achieve a politically palatable surrender--which will neither accomplish our mission, nor earn the respect of our foes. I watch as a segment of our society grabs hold of every setback and is almost gleeful at the chaos. They seem to enjoy seeing the president humiliated. And I grow more frustrated every day.
J.B. Smith served in Iraq from December 2004 to September 2005 as an advisor to three Iraqi Infantry Battalions.
He previously served on active duty from 1992-1999 in the US, Korea, Germany and Bosnia. He lives with his family in North Carolina.
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