Nine years ago, as the Bush Administration bullied and mislead our country towards war in Iraq, marked a political awakening for many Americans. Friends who had checked out of the 2000 race feeling that Bush and Gore were the same, or who had skipped the outrage over the Supreme Court decision in that contest, suddenly understood that President Bush was dangerous, and that he represented an approach to governance that was not interchangeable with his political rivals.
While many prominent Democrats, including Senator Hillary Clinton, had supported the Authorization for Use of Military Force, a majority of her party had opposed it -- either out of reticence to charge into combat, skepticism over the evidence or just mistrust of the Commander-in-Chief. President Bush was proving to a populace still dazed from the contested election and shaken from the events of 9/11 that politics matters and elections do have consequences.
In January, 2003, friends who had never been politically active marched on Washington. In February, rallies against war took place around the world. In March, we watched the invasion unfold according to a televised schedule -- and took to the streets again on March 21st to register our dissent (my 25th birthday party that evening had a decidedly mixed vibe as many of the guests had spent the day protesting).
None of the protests, written off as "focus groups" by a man determined to be a "War President," stopped, or even slowed, the war. At least Americans were finding their voice, after having been warned by the White House Press Secretary to "watch what they say." After the shock-and-awe invasion and the quick declaration of "Mission Accomplished," the worst fears of those who had shouted "Not In Our Name!" were realized and exceeded.
There were no weapons of mass destruction, or plans to make any, revealing either that our intelligence community didn't live up to its name or that a grand hoax had been perpetrated with their compliance. The swift execution of war contrasted with the bungled promotion of peace in the aftermath. Instead of a "cake-walk," we had to surge our troop levels and financial commitment; as we saw the devastation, chaos and civilian casualties surge as well.
In the nearly nine years of our war and occupation, Americans were forced to become familiar with terms like IED, as more of our own men and women returned maimed, luckier than those that didn't return at all. We were confronted by the horrors of Abu Ghraib, a stain on our national honor and international reputation. We concealed the costs of war on separate balance sheets, and every effort by those in Congress to escape this quagmire was met with accusations of not supporting the troops.
Through those years, there were many who continued to protest -- to honk for peace on Fridays, hold vigils, read the names of the dead and vote for candidates who would use whatever power they had to call for an end to the war. Most of us stopped marching for peace -- there were other causes that needed our signs and slogans and shouts: reproductive health, Wall Street accountability, death penalty clemency, environmental justice.
Now, the war is over. It's a different mission that was accomplished, or at least concluded, and it ended in a very different timbre than the pomp and posturing of May, 2003. No plans for parades welcoming our armed forces home. No spontaneous cathartic riots like those that accompanied the announcement of Bin Laden's death.
The war ended with little fanfare because for many Americans it had ended already - either when we forgot why were there, or stopped believing we should be; when our national attention moved on to new fascinations; when we realized there was no "winning" in any grand sense, but the more difficult, less sensational work of enabling peace in a fractured nation.
We should be thankful the war is over, but we also can't just ignore it. Discussing what happened there and why is the only way we can learn from this mistake. And while our marching in the frigid early days of 2003 didn't prevent the war, I don't regret trying. I only regret not trying harder - my own mistake that I hope I learn from as well.
Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."