The death of a loved one. The scars left by horrible trauma. Family relationships forever altered.
The Iraq war left indelible marks on millions of people, including many in the Bay Area. To mark the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq on Tuesday, KQED’s Michael Krasny talked to four such people on the show, Forum.
Here are excerpts of the show, edited for clarity, to give you a sense of how the war continues to shape their lives.
Mike Liguori served two tours in Iraq as a Marine between 2004 and 2006, and wrote The Sandbox: Stories of the Human Spirit, which documents his experience in Iraq.
- On discussing weapons of mass destruction during deployment:
“When I was part of a motor transport unit and a lot of the times there was intelligence being brought down to us from Battalion and a lot of the times it would tell us — there was very little mention of WMDs — cause that wasn’t our mission. It was more of our job to resupply all of the forward operation units in the Al Anbar Province and whenever [conversation] came to WMDs — they liked to deflect the conversation.”
- On watching the Iraqi people vote
“I was there for three out of the four elections that they had. That was one of the greatest accomplishments my tours of service was watching the Iraqi people actually get to vote, standing in line and waiting hours and hours just to put a ‘Yes or a No do you approve of the Constitution?’ and it was very powerful experience, it’s a very humbling experience.”
- On the Switch to a Humanitarian Effort
“After the major combat operations had ended, I believe it was in 2004, I showed up six months afterwards so the administration had now deemed it the peacekeeping and humanitarian effort. So when they tell you that it’s peacekeeping and humanitarian effort there’s no aggressive assaults, very defensive tactics, your mindset becomes more defensive: if the people of Iraq need you, you are there to serve and help the Iraqi people. Not to go in, clear the buildings and then go and take out the insurgents’ stronghold. It was interesting though because even though they had deemed it [a peacekeeping and humanitarian effort] fighting was still going on around the city of Fallujah and still going around Baghdad and the Sunni triangle.”
Haitham Jasim, an Iraqi immigrant translated for the U.S. Marines. He left Iraq in 2008 and now lives in San Jose.
Karen Meredith’s son Ken Ballards died in Najaf, Iraq on Memorial Day weekend in 2004
- On the Anniversary
“I hope that people will understand that we have got to hold our government accountable for the things that they do in our name. And if you don’t tell people that you don’t like what they’re doing, then they’re going to think that it’s OK. And even though millions of people protested before the war, this week 10 years ago, our government did not listen to us. We’ve got to become more vocal especially because so many people in this country were not directly affected by the war and still aren’t.”
- On Whether George W. Bush Administration Leaders Should be Criminally Charged
“My fantasy would be to see them all do the perp walk. I would like to see them brought up on charges. All of them.”
- On Opposition to the War
“I think that people who didn’t support the war as I did not, need to remember that our administration, our country, sent those young men and women over there and we have to support them. They didn’t necessarily go to war, they didn’t necessarily want to fight, but they were doing their job. And they were serving their country, which I can’t say about a lot of the people in this country anymore.”
- On Faith
“I was raised Catholic. I was angry with God. I’m still angry with God. I have a hard time with it.”
- On Why He Worked With the U.S. Military
“My goal, when I worked with the U.S. military was to help my people in the first place, to make sure there was no confusion between someone who has a gun and someone who might not understand the language. I mean, the culture and language barrier— that’s a big obstacle between someone who has a gun and someone who has no gun…
“[From] when I worked with the Americans from the first time till now, I’m still convinced of what I did. I will never regret what I did.”
- On Adjusting to Life in America
“For my wife it wasn’t easy. She was struggling because she lost her friends, her family bond, and Iraqi culture is reliant on your environment, your neighbors, your community. Here, everybody is busy… the Iraqi community, the Iraqi refugees — they are busy. They want someone to help them not someone else to chit chat with them and you know, pass the time.
“While for myself, I didn’t feel like I had any difficulties to adjust in the life here. I feel like I burned in my work while I was working with the Center for Survivors of Torture… But my boss looked at me and she said ‘You are burning, you need to have some time off because you have depression and all the symptoms. I can see, it’s obvious.’ From my point of view, I could see nothing but that I need to work, work, work. That’s it. Maybe that’s kind of avoidance, which is a [symptom of PTSD].”
- On Working with Americans
“It was difficult and complicated at the same time. I didn’t realize the American side—how complicated it was for them to survive. I didn’t realize that until I was on the convoy… the [leader] at the time was like very confused, she was looking at me and looking at the hole in the middle of the road and she was asking me loudly, “I don’t get it. I don’t understand. The people who planted this, [are the] same people from this country. While you’re from the same country. How you are working with us and serving with us and helping while the others are trying to kill us and kill you at the same time. I don’t get this.'”
Elizabeth Elias’ husband, Isaac, served in Iraq in 2007-2008
- On Giving Birth While Her Husband Was Deployed
“We were married in 2004, had our first daughter in Monterey in 2006, and you know that was a really happy time for us because were were together. He was in school with the military, he was at the Defense Language Institute.
“By the time I was four months pregnant he was gone with his team to Iraq and so I was there, doing it alone. I had my small 1-year-old and I did my whole pregnancy basically, by myself, and had a baby by myself, did the first month six months of her life by myself. And you know, it was hard. It was really tough. But it’s one of the things that you get through cause you have to, you don’t really have another choice. You’ve got to pick up and carry on and hope that things get better.”
- On Her Husband’s Relationship With His Daughter
“For the first six months of our second daughter’s life she didn’t know her dad. So he came home for his R&R, which was just a few weeks, and when she first met him, she loved him. She thought he was the best and they got along great and they had a lot of fun together, they bonded really quickly. It was fantastic. And then he left again. He was only gone for a few more months after his R&R so he got back about three months later — home for good. But she didn’t want to bond with him again.
“She looked at him like ‘I remember you and I remember that you left. So I’m going to be on guard for now.’ It took her about six weeks before she really even paid him the time of day. And even now, she’s five and she loves him and they have a great relationship but it’s just not the same, she needs her mom. Mom is always the safe place and the solid place and she knows that I’m not going anywhere. She should have that knowledge with him, too, because he hasn’t gone anywhere for the past four years. But it’s tough on her.”
- On Opposition to the War
“I really just try to give people the benefit of the doubt. And given that lies were told and perhaps we went over there under false-pretenses, I like to believe that we are doing good or at least have done some good. I think that I kind of have to believe that to not just be so so angry with all of the sacrifices made, all of the people’s lives who have been forever changed.”