By Chelsea McNay, 15, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies
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Chelsea says that after reading more about the war, she’s not as opposed to it as she used to be.


Though March 19 marked the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, up until recently I have felt very disconnected from the war. I’m not someone who didn’t care about the war, but I hardly ever found time to read articles about it.

“5 soldiers slain,” “Explosion kills 80.” Even while these headlines were upsetting, I had problems relating to the stories about grieving over dead soldiers because I don’t know anyone who has ever been there, or has even been in the military.
 
When I paid less attention to the war, I realized I could live without daily news about Iraq. But I felt bad that I had stopped following the war and I missed being informed. Recently though I’ve started paying attention again and I am glad because I feel like I know what is going on in Iraq, and I think that this awareness is important.

The United States invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003. President Bush said Iraq was trying to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons (weapons of mass destruction) and that Iraq was a threat to the United States. In the five years since, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein, has been executed and a new government has been elected. Here are some facts and figures about the war.

3,988
Number of American soldiers killed as of March 19, 2008.

29,451
Number of American soldiers wounded as of March 19, 2008.
Source: U.S. Department of Defense

82,000 - 89,000
Number of Iraqi civilians and soldiers who have died, according to Iraqbodycount.org, a site that tracks Iraqi deaths listed in Western news reports.

600,000
Number of Iraqis who have died, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University who surveyed households in Iraq. The Iraqi Ministry of Health estimates more than
 400,000 have died.

$600 billion
How much the U.S. has spent so far. A professor at Columbia University estimates the war will eventually cost $3 trillion when you include the cost to bring troops back to the United States, health care costs for veterans, interest on paying off the debt on the war and other costs.

The war in Iraq:
five years later


Two years ago things were different. My history teacher had us debate the war, and I read articles every day. I learned that President Bush declared war in 2003 because the “axis of evil” (North Korea, Iraq and Iran) was posing “a grave and growing danger” to the United States and had possession of, as the president constantly put it, “weapons of mass destruction.”

Our teacher told us statistics, such as that almost 2,000 soldiers had died in Iraq, and almost 40,000 Iraqis died from violent deaths as of 2006. I was shocked. I didn’t know that so many people had died, after only three years into the war. I felt like I should’ve known that already, and that I should’ve been reading articles about it.

The facts I read seemed to support my parents’ opinions—that the United States should never have gone to war in the first place. The president talked about “weapons of mass destruction,” but none were found in Iraq according to any of the articles. He said that certain countries were threats to the United States, but there hadn’t been a terrorist attack since 2001. Even though I was learning interesting and important information, I still didn’t feel connected to this war happening so far away.
 
But a little later my dad and I listened to a radio interview with an Iraqi woman, who was a physician and was part of a relief organization working in Iraq. She talked about how explosions could be heard from inside their homes, and that most people kept their children from going to school because they could get hurt or killed. The woman also mentioned that the violence in Iraq was not caused by Iraqis; it was caused by the United States and its allies invading Iraq and bringing war to their country. This made me angry. I sympathized with the Iraqi civilians, because they seemed like normal people. I hadn’t heard any interviews with Iraqis before this one, and it was clear to me that there needed to be more of them, because these types of interviews could help Americans learn something about what’s happening in Iraq.

I gradually stopped following the news though, because I felt like there was nothing new going on, and worse, no improvements. It was just too depressing for me.

When L.A. Youth was planning how to cover the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, I volunteered to write an article. But I realized that to write about it, I needed to keep up with current issues.

Some of the news was encouraging

I spent a week reading every article about Iraq in the Los Angeles Times. Headlines seemed to be much more optimistic than before. On Feb. 6, there was an article with the headline, “Iraq works to clean up national police.” It discussed how training and “anti-corruption efforts”(as the article put it) were aiming to make the Iraqi police competent and reliable. In Iraq, there is conflict between two sects of Islam, Shiite and Sunni. The police in Iraq used to be a largely Shiite group, and some police would kill Sunnis. But the new police includes both Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Jasim Kamil, an Iraqi resident, told the Times, “Now, there is a huge difference in the national police force’s attitude toward the people. They are greeting the people at the checkpoints and treating people with respect.”

This made me feel like maybe the United States was making a difference. Maybe the U.S. occupation wasn’t such a bad idea. I was so used to thinking that the occupation was extremely stupid, and when I started to think that it wasn’t, it surprised me.

A new perspective

Along with that article were some disheartening ones, such as one about how nine people were accidentally killed in a U.S. air strike, and one about a U.S. Army soldier who killed an Iraqi civilian. However, my hopeful feeling didn’t die. Even if the U.S. is making more mistakes than we are helping Iraq, there is still the chance that the whole war wasn’t for nothing. We could help stabilize the Iraqi government and stop violence there.

My friends and I still argue about it sometimes though, like whether we could withdraw all of the troops at once, what the United States is really doing to help in Iraq, should the troops stay there and  what will happen if a Democrat is elected president? Most of my friends think that we should have never invaded Iraq in the first place, and that the United States shouldn’t have thought that it could stop world terrorism single-handedly.

Through writing this article, my opinion of the Iraq war has changed. I don’t think of it as a horrible decision, but rather as a more complicated one, with good and bad aspects. The good being rebuilding the police force and the removal of Saddam Hussein, the bad being the continuing violence. I know it’s hard to read all the articles about Iraq in the L.A. Times, or to keep up with issues there, but it is worth it to try. Even reading a couple articles a month can help you stay informed about the war, and maybe change the way you see Iraq.




Click here to read Brandy’s story about how she felt while her brother was serving in Iraq.




Other stories by this writer …

Finding the right words. Four intense weeks at a summer creative writing camp taught Chelsea, 14, that writing is hard work. (January – February 2008)