Memory is never finally fixed. We are constantly editing our memories in the light of subsequent events. Sometimes meaningless event are explained in the fullness of time. Sometimes those events really were meaningless and they take on meaning only because we have jammed them into our narrative of memory.
That is why oral histories are unreliable and even things that are written down are subject to continual revision.Telling any story is always an act of choosing and even if we are being fair and thoughtful, our choices will always be subject to revision. We probably cannot arrive at THE truth, but we usually can come up with something useful or at least something that makes sense to us.
I have been thinking about these things as I prepare to address a class in public diplomacy at USC. They want to know about strategic communications at a PRT in Iraq. Lucky for me my blog provides a lot of contemporary impressions and pictures. I can see the evolution of my own thinking and my blog entries remind me of lots of things I would have forgotten. It seems like I am reading the experiences of someone else, but I know it was me because I can see the pictures.
My time in Iraq was the most meaningful work I have ever done. I am not saying that it was the most enjoyable or even that it was the best work I have ever done, but my job made a difference and my actions made a difference in a way they had not before. I am convinced that my activity saved lives. My PRT contributed to our success in Iraq and that is a world changing accomplishment. America and the coalition beat back terror and chaos, when many in the world and even in our own country had written us off. The alternative would have been horrible.
I don’t think we have told the story very well. Most people I talk to and read about in the papers have it wrong. They think that our success was based on good luck or that it would have happened anyway. This is very ironic, given the fact that back in 2007 most of these same people were convinced that we were so far down that road to perdition that we could never recover.
There is definitely a political dimension to this. Some people are knee jerk anti-war. They don’t want to believe that anything good can come from something is bad as the Iraq conflict. They dislike words like victory or even success. I don’t think anything can be done to change their minds, short of them experiencing what I did. Forget about them. But the broad American public should understand because there are lessons to be learned. We learned how to counter an insurgency. We beat an Islamist terror group right in the heart of their own region, on a battlefield of their choosing. Their growing power is not inevitable. History is not on their side. The future belongs to us, not them.
Iraq is a success story. I read an interesting headline in the paper the other day. It said that the Iraqi election was too close to call right away. When you have an election like that, it means there are actual alternatives. Saddam always got nearly 100% of the vote.