The Iraq War Was My Fault


I remember what it felt like ten years ago this week.

The dread had been building for months. The sabers had been rattling for some time.

Though there were certainly plenty of folks who were ready to “finish off the job” that had begun over ten years before, it seemed as if the great masses of Americans opposed military intervention in Iraq.

I myself had participated in a gigantic march through the streets of Dallas to voice my opposition to war. Around the world, huge numbers of people were saying, “No” to this looming conflict. It seemed impossible that Bush would actually go through with starting a preemptive war.

To the end, I convinced myself that something would happen at the last minute to stave off the invasion.

Alas, shock and awe happened. Poor planning happened. Insurgency happened. Abu Gharib happened. And Guantonomo Bay. And 116,000 Iraqi casualties. And 4,486 American casualties.

I don’t need to replay all that has happened in those ten years. I don’t want to, because it’s outright depressing. That’s why it’s taken me a few days to write this post.

To this day, it stuns me that we let the Iraq war happen. I let it happen. You let it happen. I knew it was a terrible thing, and you did, too. And it happened on our watch.

We could blame the Bush administration, but that would be too easy. We could blame the media for not asking enough tough questions, or the general public which too easily believed the rhetoric and hype from Washington.

But this blog is the place to blame ourselves, particularly the church. Especially the church. Especially people who claim to actually believe what Jesus said and did. I can’t speak for other denominations or traditions, so I will speak for my own. The United Methodist Church horribly disappointed me in those months leading up to the war.

There were, of course, individual bishops, clergy, and laypersons who stood up publicly to oppose the war. There were proclamations and statements, including this one from the President of the Council of Bishops in October 4, 2002: “A preemptive war by the United States against a nation like Iraq goes against the very grain of our understanding of the Gospel, our church’s teachings, and our conscience.” And, of course, there are the Social Principles of the church, which state that “war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ.”

But as all of us know very well, statements by bishops and agency heads are viewed with great suspicion — even by our own members, much less anyone else in the general population. You think Dick Cheney lost any sleep over what Rev. Jim Winkler (General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society) thought about the war?

As a whole, United Methodists across the country did NOT rise up and demand that the US stand down. Not only that, but very few preachers were willing to preach against the impending war. There was simply very little momentum, and even less strategy, within the church to turn the tides of war.

We could have stopped the Iraq war from happening. Yes, we could. In 2003, there were 8.3 million United Methodists in the US. That’s a significant number, enough to have at least slowed the war machine.

If significant numbers from the other Christian churches in the rest of the country had also stood up and demanded that we stop the madness in the name of all that is moral and upright, I am convinced that we could have stopped the war from happening.

But I can’t sit and mope around about what didn’t happen. After reflecting on these last ten years, I find myself extremely motivated to make sure it never happens again. Not on my watch, anyway.

I will never stand back as passively as I did ten years ago as our country begins ramping up for a preemptive strike on another country. I would not be able to bear the guilt if I let it happen again.

And yes, I’m talking about Iran. Or North Korea. Or any other country which a President deems “unredeemable” or “evil” or “a threat.”

Perhaps we were too naive ten years ago, believing that marches and articles and prayers alone would stop a nation’s madness. It may be that we need to learn some new nonviolent strategies or take a few pages from the Occupy playbook. Those of us interested in the peaceful ways of Jesus have to do things differently next time.

Yet, even as I sit and write these words, I am uncomfortably aware that the current administration engages in the same kind of rhetoric and justification of violence that the last one used.

Bush had his Saddam vendetta, but Obama has his drones.

Bush had his al-Qaeda playing cards, but Obama has his kill lists.

Bush allowed for hospitals and schools as collateral damage in his bombings, but Obama allows for women and children as collateral damage in his drone strikes.

Bush had his Guantanamo Bay, and Obama has … the same Guantanamo Bay.

Bush was a willing participant in the military-industrial complex that dominates our political system, and so is Obama.

The truth is, nothing much has changed in ten years.

And it’s our fault.



  1. Mike meyer

    Come on Wes, you have a better vocabulary than “dickhead” and “rat’s ass” . I miss seeing you and your blog continues to be thought provoking.

  2. thomas

    Hindsight is… dependent upon perspective. In hindsight, UN failure to finish the job and UN Security Council absence of backbone led directly to Gulf II. Period.

    In hindsight, “it” happened in for what some thought good reason. For the exact same concerns for human rights violations that were the justification for going to war in a little place called Yugoslavia were in an exceptionally egregious extreme fully justification for going to war in Iraq. Further in Iraq there were legitimate U.S. national interests at stake.

    In hindsight, more could have been done by the Church. It wasn’t. Beyond moping, if the future of the nation and world is to be shaped according to Christian values, the Church will have to embrace evangelism as job number one.

    In hindsight, evil really does exist. It is incumbent upon the U.S. to act in it’s national interests. Failure to act leads to consequences as extreme as 9/11.
    In hindsight, it was irrational to think that hope and change were anything more than the glittering generalities of a political campaign that only focused on power and control.

  3. rogerwolsey

    As a United Methodist pastor who *did* speak out vocally and often to try to prevent that war, my heart is truly gladdened to see a colleague who didn’t speak out confess and repent. Where this repentance will matter is how you respond to the next war our nation moves toward manifesting. I invite you to take to heart the concept conveyed in the bumper-sticker that reads: “I’m already against the next war.”

    That said, being opposed to war in general may not be enough to be persuasive to certain citizens, so it’s helpful to be specific in each instance as they arise. There was a bevy of information that we who opposed the war with Iraq had that we were getting out to the public as best we could, including that of a fellow UM who was an Intelligence analyst for the US State Department.

  4. rogerwolsey

    looks like you’ll have to copy and paste that link into your browser as for some reason it didn’t post all of it as an active hyperlink. it shares about the aforementioned UM who was an analyst for the State Department.

  5. x

    So happy to read your words this morning wesmaguder. While I’m already thinking about what to when the bombs start to fall on Tehran, you (and the commenters) make me think our response should begin now. Is it too late for me to join the preemptive effort directed at the warmongers?
    Of course evangelism is job one, but what do we do then with our changed hearts?
    Sort of like Faith and works, isn’t it?

    • thomas

      With respect, evangelism is job number one because it is the only lasting change that offers real hope for changing the world. It is not a matter of faith and works. It is a matter of faith that works. It is a matter of changing hearts through Christ rather than substituting mere political change.

      • x

        And I agree. As Dorothy Day wrote, we need a revolution of the heart first and foremost. But as God begins to work that change in us we, of necessity, begin to look for ways to change the world.

  6. revgserna

    I believe that the violence in our society that WE also allow to happen is constructed in a way to allow US for wars like these to happen and so many others to take place. If we did not tolerate the violence in our country violence would never be exported from US to other countries. I’ve worked on gang violence in Chicago for the better part of my life and one of the hardest things to do is to get churches and people of Faith to realize that the gang members are PEOPLE and that they are acting out what our society is going through like poverty and racism to mention a couple. We are always ready to send help to other countries but refuse to help those down the street, across the city, down state, and across the country. I see too many pastors lined up behind police officials and politicians as those officials use words like scum, trash, and animals to describe people that very well can be part of their churches as well as their families. What happened in Iraq and Afghanistan happened quietly in Latin American and hardly an uproar from the churches because the word “communism” was involved and people were afraid to take to the streets. Because of our lack of interest in Latin America we have a flourishing drug trade that was born and cultivated during these covert wars. We have a lot of work to do but it has to start HERE right at home. We cannot “advocate” for Peace around the globe when the poor are discarded as if they had no place in our society.

    Rev. Gerardo Serna
    Universal Anglican Church /

  7. rogerwolsey

    Wes, your confession about not having done enough to try to prevent the war in Iraq has led me to realize and admit I’d have to make a similar confession re: the war in Afghanistan. Aside from writing few letters to the editor of the conservative “Good News” magazine, and a few letters and calls to President Bush and to my Congressmen, I didn’t do enough to prevent that one. I did, however, do all that I could to try to prevent the war with Iraq. Alas, even so it, wasn’t enough. So here we are now. Let’s commit to uniting together and joining forces to wage peace!

  8. sandierichards

    I have marched, written letters, spoken out, lit candles, shouted, argued, and now, I have listened to returning vets whose lives will never be the same and have wrung my hands over our current budget deficits while the future that was sold out ten years ago has arrived and we are bankrupt. I don’t know what else I (or we) could have done. But I remain aghast at my fellow US Americans who so willingly ignored the truth in the name of hate and false retribution. I pray for a better day.

    By the way, Jim Winkler is an amazing Layman. He is the son and brother of United Methodist Pastors, but did not seek orders himself. He is an excellent example of the priesthood of all believers, and of the power and ability of our United Methodist Laity.

  9. Creed Pogue

    One can say that the true enablers of the Iraq War were those in 2000 told us that the race was between “Bore” and “Gush” so it didn’t make a difference if you voted for Nader. I don’t know if you or Roger did that, but if you did, that would be an apology that means something today. Elections matter. It is highly doubtful that President Gore would have insisted on a pre-emptive strike against Saddam Hussein. Vice-President Lieberman, for all of his faults, would not have pushed the CIA to cook the intelligence about Saddam especially while Osama was on the loose.

    Fear is the mind-killer to quote Frank Herbert. A lot of people were afraid. But, there were those like Colin Powell who should have known better at the time and have still refused to fully account for the deception they fell into.

    We have not reached a point in international relations where force can be removed as a political tool. That is a harsh truth but it is truth. Jim Winkler and GBCS wound up coming across like the boy who cried wolf too many times. That hurt their ability to sway minds either in Washington or across United Methodism.

    While I do not see force as a useful tool to change harmful behaviors in Iran and North Korea today, it would be utter foolishness to forswear force in dealing with leaders who do not care about their people.

    • x

      And yet….as Wes correctly pointed out President Obama continues these immoral and foolish wars. He presides over a continuing class war of rich against workers and the poor. He ignores the plight of the Palestinians, and continues moral and military assistance to Israel. Bradley Manning is still in prison.
      On the one hand you do “not see force as a useful tool” and on the other you do not “forswear” it. That position is schizophrenic and useless, as is trying to believe there is any effective difference between the Republicans and Democrats.

    • rogerwolsey

      Creed, I’m registered as an independent but NOT vote for Nadar in 2000. I share your disdain for voting 3rd party in that instance as that swung the election in favor of Bush — and his wars are effectively on the hands of those who failed to vote for Gore.

  10. Gene Hill

    I’m not sure anyone could have dissuaded Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, and immature needing pruned W could have stopped their march to “finish” daddy’s war. No one was listening to the protestors. I’m not even sure our current President will listen if the war mongers decide the economy needs a war in Iran. But we can try a little harder to get their ears, this time.

  11. v. r. cullum

    First off……Ya gotta language the whole thing differently; the media is controlled by the same architects of virtually all the “wars” in our life time—which are not wars–they are imperial conquests by generations of the most powerful and wealthy people in the history of the planet; many of whom are never seen or heard in the media, and the history books never speak of them because they control the indoctrination of your children as to maintain ample supplies of cannon fodder and an underclass of cheap abundant labor. They control gas prices and control the language in the media and appeal to the lowest common denominator; manipulating the economy to force poor people into the military to get an education. They manipulate the facts and true history and call an imperialist incursion a war instead of poor people fighting poor people in the name of God and country on behalf of the most powerful and wealthy. They are incomprehensibly ruthless and devious and if you really had been paying attention to the facts over the last numerous years you would have been shocked at just how radically the facts contradict the official myth of what happened on 911. If you really want to show your “Christian” cajones, try exposing yourself to the real information about 911—— instead of flaccidly whining about what the latest cabal of neo-fascists who have managed to foist this upon the global public because no one is challenging the lies which are manufactured to legitimize this insanity. Watch the language you use; don’t allow an illegitimate media to rewrite the basic pretexts and notions which allow pigs to be pigs. The “American Mythology ” is just that—large piles of fecal remains full of the maggots of greed, racism, violence, narcissism and lies serving but a few.

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