WASHINGTON -- It's the question asked by Gold Star families -- the loved ones of our fallen -- when I meet them at funerals or public events. It is spoken quietly by the spouses of grievously wounded soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines when I visit military and veterans hospitals. And it's in the correspondence I receive from parents and friends of those who have left something on the battlefield: "Was it worth it?"
A decade ago this week, when Operation Iraqi Freedom began, this wasn't a question posed to our Fox News team. While cameras in Baghdad captured the "shock and awe" of precision-guided missiles and bombs hitting Saddam Hussein's capital, Griff Jenkins and I were embedded with U.S. Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 and a battalion of Royal Marine commandos en route to the Faw Peninsula on the largest night helo-borne assault in history.
More than 50 U.S. and British helos took off from the tactical assembly area in Gibraltar and raced for the border at more than 100 knots, just 120 feet above the ground to avoid enemy radar. My night lens, pointed out over the .50-caliber machine gun, caught the blinding flash as the helicopter on our left side went down on the desert floor. There were no survivors. The seven British commandos and four U.S. Marines aboard were the first 11 of 4,804 coalition personnel -- 4,486 of them Americans -- killed during nine years of combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
By April 9, when we went with Marine Regimental Combat Team 5 into Baghdad, more than 350 Americans had been killed or wounded. Yet there was still an international and domestic consensus that coalition forces would capture Saddam Hussein -- and his brutal sons, Uday and Qusay -- and find the weapons of mass destruction that had been the casus belli.
Today critics denigrate the sacrifice of blood and treasure in Mesopotamia by describing OIF as "Bush's war" and claim it was "illegal" or, at best, "a mistake." The revisionists overlook Saddam's brutal record: millions dead in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, his well-known use of chemical weapons against Iranian civilians and genocidal attacks against his own people.
From the mid-1990s, the regime in Baghdad provided refuge to vicious terrorists who killed Americans. Abu Nidal, who dispatched assassins to kill my wife and children, was sequestered in Baghdad. Abu Abbas, mastermind of the Achille Lauro hijacking and financier for families of suicide bombers who blew up "Americans and Jews," was captured trying to flee Iraq by U.S. troops.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.