The Fall of Fallujah: What Is “It,” Exactly?

Following the above tweet from Matt Gallagher, I just read a short essay from Fallujah veteran Elliot Ackerman on the question, “was it worth it?” Ackerman ruminates on the decision of a fellow Marine (Dan) to expose himself to enemy fire to redirect Marine artillery that was landing dangerously close to their platoon’s position:

I throw the handset back at Nick. I feel forty-six sets of eyes on me. There is a strange quiet. We’re pressed shoulder to shoulder and I can hear all of us breathing. It’s as if the insurgents and us all anxiously await the next artillery salvo to land. Far away, I hear a single gun shot, an insignificant pop. After it, all hell breaks loose again, as if sound and time were trying to divorce one another. We press into the wall but our ears don’t hurt, no dust consumes us. I poke my head up. About a hundred meters away, the artillery impacts land among the insurgents’ positions.

I grab the radio. “Nice shooting!” I tell Dan.

A different voice meets mine. “Get a Corpsman to the high-rise!”

Dan was the first one killed that day.

The upshot is that this fatal sacrifice is central to Ackerman’s memory of the Battle of Fallujah:

Does Fallujah falling into the hands of the ISIS make what Dan did for me and for the forty-six of us a waste? I wonder what he’d say.

When I think about my wars, and what happened, I do sometimes ask myself if it was worth it. I’m not thinking about Bush or Obama, or about Iraq or Afghanistan. I’m thinking about Pratt and Ames, and of course Dan, and unfortunately other friends like him. I hope they’d think what we’d did for each other was worth it.

I began writing this post to disagree with Gallagher’s assertion that “was it worth it?” is an overly simplistic question. Upon further reflection, I can see how the question is simplistic if we have not clarified the “it” for which “it” is worth.

I’ve been taking for granted that “it” is “the battle of Fallujah,” which is really a metaphor for the Iraq occupation. Taken in political and strategic context, the answer to “was [the Iraq occupation] worth it?” is a straightforward No.

So it initially struck me as absurd to imply that “was it worth it?” refers only  to what Dan did for Ackerman and the rest of his platoon. But Ackerman doesn’t present his emotions as an objective evaluation of the occupation. As he courageously made clear, the emotions invoked by an idea or memory are often complex and sometimes contradictory. That’s a lesson worth taking on its own terms.

I just hope that American readers ask themselves a follow-up question: Given the political context, am I comfortable knowing that Dan’s platoon was placed in harms way such that his sacrifice served a purpose?

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