A photo of the first-ever Arlington West offers a grim reminder of the thousands of U.S. soldiers who have lost their lives since the war began on March 20, 2003.
Paul Wellman

March 20 marks the fifth anniversary of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. According to antiwar.com, 3,974 Americans have died and another 29,320 were wounded since that date. Additionally, 307 other coalition troops and 1,182,393 Iraqis were killed during the fighting that followed America’s incursion into Iraq.

Since the initial invasion, the war in Iraq has cost Americans about $255 million a day, or about $1.8 billion a week, according to msnbc.com. Costofwar.com.

estimates that Santa Barbara County’s own taxpayers $767 million. According to the site, that amount could have been used to fund health care for 315,671 people, 115,263 scholarships for university students or 2,296 affordable housing units. Sure, these statistics are straight off the web, and sure they can probably be called into question.

But, the fact of the matter is that the Iraq War has cost the American people far too much already, whether you’re measuring it in deaths, dollars, or diplomatic credibility. And, that is something that cannot be questioned.

People who read my column regularly know that this issue is a very personal one for me. Earlier this year, I lost my first love in Iraq. He was 23 years old when he was shot and killed by sniper fire while serving his second tour of duty there. His name was Bob, he was my first boyfriend, and his death served as an all-too-jarring reminder of the senseless stupidity of this war. He was a sweet, sensitive guy, a talented musician, and an incredible friend.

Five years ago, he took me to my first anti-war protest. I have to admit, although we were both against the impending invasion of Iraq, our reasons for attending this particular protest were probably not the purest. We were both avid consumers of all-things tie-dyed and patchouli-scented and we relished an excuse to escape the doldrums of our daily high school routine for a day. So, we skipped class. We indulged our inner hippies. And we protested. It didn’t make much of a difference, and a few days later, George Bush announced America’s plans to attack Iraq.

We went back to our daily routines. He graduated. At some point, we broke up. He ended up at community college, and eventually joined the army after they promised to pay his way through school and provide a career path in the meantime. I came to UCSB. We maintained a strong friendship and a casual habit of meeting up to make out when we were both single and in the same town. He completed his first tour of duty, came back, and took me out on a few dates. Then, he left town for a while. We lost touch. The next thing I heard about him was the news of his death.

I’ve long since hung up my tie-dye and replaced my patchouli with perfume, but as I contemplate the five-year anniversary of that first protest and those first few days of what is turning out to be the deadliest mistake in recent U.S. history, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of responsibility. Maybe, if we had protested more, asked more questions, confronted the commander-in-chief, and used all the passion and power our country puts forth picking the next American Idol into discussing the merits of making a unilateral move into Iraq, maybe we could have made things turn out differently.

The flower child inside me fervently wants to believe that. The cynical college student, who is up to her ears in student debt and still has to figure out how she’s going to pay her taxes this year, finds it hard to have faith in the power of the people.

Either way, I do know that this war has to end. Withdrawal strategies, plans for the future of Iraq’s infrastructure, all that stuff is necessary, of course. But the number one priority for whoever gets that presidential win this November better be ending this irrational, insane Iraq War before another single drop of blood is spilled. It has been five years too many. I’m not going to lie; I still don’t know what the most effective means of turning my opposition to Operation Iraqi Freedom into an end to the invasion is. What I do know is that there will be an opportunity to express all of those emotions on March 15, as a coalition of groups come together in Santa Barbara to protest the country’s continued presence in Iraq.

Participating groups include UCSB’s own Students Against War, the Santa Barbara People’s Coalition, Artists for Social Change, Progressive Democrats of S.B., the S.B. Sierra Club, and many more. The protest starts with a pre-march rally at 11:30 a.m. in Vera Cruz Park. More information is available at thepeoplescoalition.org/sb/index.php.


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