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Turn page on Iraq, but don't forget fiction of this war
By Burt Constable | Daily Herald Columnist

Filling the yard of his Barrington business with flags in honor of American service members killed in the early days of the war in Iraq, Paul Vogel says an end to the combat mission doesn't mean we can forget about the costs.


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Published: 9/1/201 1:16 PM

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Our war in Iraq, once prematurely celebrated with jingoistic images of victorious statue-topplings and "Mission Accomplished" boasts, ended not with a whimper, but with a somber reminder that the United States of America simply has more important things to do.

"It was amazing how brief it was considering the investment," Barrington peace activist Paul Vogel says of President Barack Obama's 18-minute "end of our combat mission in Iraq" address from the Oval Office where his predecessor, George W. Bush, took even fewer words to announce the start of the war on March 19, 2003.

"It's time to turn the page," Obama told the nation, as he praised the more than 4,400 Americans who died fighting an unnecessary and costly war that Obama opposed and inherited from Bush.

One of America's greatest attributes and deepest flaws is our ability to turn the page. While some parts of the world still hold grudges and spill blood in the name of injustices from an earlier millennium, lots of Americans don't bother to know what side Russia was on during the World War fought by Obama's grandpa. We are good at turning the page. But we shouldn't forget the fictional story that created this war.

In 2003, Americans were told that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction, and we couldn't risk giving United Nations inspectors another day to investigate. Aaron Vogel, the son of Paul and Patricia Vogel, was one of the soldiers Bush sent to Iraq on that mission to disarm Iraq. He served, lost buddies and now works as a videographer in California. Some weren't as fortunate.

"We met a mother whose son was killed going into a building because they were told weapons were there, and it was just a booby trap," Paul Vogel says.

At the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2004, the media yukked it up as President Bush poked fun with a comedy skit showing him searching for those WMDs in his Oval Office. Dick Cheney, who told us this nearly 8-year-old war would take "weeks rather than months," mocked wary military skeptics. Fox News commentators noted "the three-week swing through Iraq has utterly shattered skeptics' complaints." Columnist Cal Thomas, a staple on our editorial page, suggested the "false prophets" who predicted that the invasion of Iraq wouldn't go smoothly should be brought before "a cultural war crimes tribunal" and their words archived forever "to remind the public of journalism's many mistakes, as well as the errors of certain politicians and retired generals, and allow it to properly judge their words the next time they feel the urge to prophesy."

Sadly mistaken about everything else, Thomas is right about the need to remember all those arguments about the need to go to war.

"I hope it helps people to be more critical, ahead of time, for the next war," Patricia Vogel says.

"Let's hope people continue looking and cast a critical eye on Afghanistan, as well," she adds, voicing her fears that our end in that war "won't feel very satisfying either."

Having gone to Iraq in 2003 to visit his son and see things for himself, Paul Vogel honored those who gave their lives serving America by planting small U.S. flags in the yard of his business. He barely had room for the 2,900 flags he erected when he sold that property, let alone the more than 1,500 he would have needed to add.

Politics and election concerns played a role in Bush's start and Obama's end of this war, Vogel says. If we had a military draft and more Americans suddenly found themselves paying the same price as our small percentage of military families, we might be more thoughtful when it comes to war, Vogel figures.

As for Iraq, "Obama is trying to put a period where there is no period," Vogel says.

Thousands of dead Americans, tens of thousands of disfigured and injured Americans, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, and millions of people who can't easily move on with their lives.

"For so many people the war will never be over," says Patricia Vogel.

"Now," Obama says, "it is time to turn the page."

OK. Turn the page. But keep that book handy as a reference for the next war.