Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

36 hours left in this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

A U.S. Army Soldier from the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team kicks in the door of a building during a cordon and search in Buhriz, Iraq, March 14, 2007. (Photo: Staff Sgt. Stacy L. Pearsall/U.S. Air Force/Flickr)

A U.S. Army Soldier from the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team kicks in the door of a building during a cordon and search in Buhriz, Iraq, March 14, 2007. (Photo: Staff Sgt. Stacy L. Pearsall/U.S. Air Force/Flickr)

My Son Was Killed in Iraq 14 Years Ago—Who's Responsible?

The Islamic Republic? George W. Bush? Both answers feel like evasions.

Who should I hold responsible for the death of my son, killed in action while serving in Iraq 14 years ago this month?

However reluctantly, I am obliged to conclude that ultimate responsibility for my son's death rests with we the people.

A Washington-based law firm, Sparacino, has stepped up to offer a straightforward answer to that question: I should blame Iran. My wife and I recently received a letter from the firm inviting us to join a lawsuit against the Islamic Republic that will "empower us to attempt to seize Iranian assets on your behalf should any opportunities emerge."

Sparacino's case "seeks to hold Iran responsible for its material support for anti-American terrorists in Iraq from 2004 through the present." Other Gold Star families—the firm claims to represent "hundreds of them"—will share in any potential windfall.

We gave this cynical proposition all the consideration it merits: We tossed it into the trash. Even so, the question implicit in this vile proposal to cash in on the deaths of American service members and exploit the grief of those they left behind nagged at me: Who is responsible for my son's death?

Fingering Iran amounts to little more than an evasion. Viewed in retrospect, the Iranian government's response to the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq strikes me as rational, understandable, and arguably even justifiable.

After all, although Iran was uninvolved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the George W. Bush administration wasted no time in tagging it as a part of an "axis of evil," targeted for destruction pursuant to a just-announced global war on terrorism. While Iraq ranked first on America's hit list, no one believed that the war on terrorism would end once US forces toppled Saddam Hussein. "Liberating" Iraq was merely a first step. Iran was primed to come next on Washington's "Freedom Agenda."

Were there any doubt regarding American intentions, the Bush Doctrine of preventive war removed them. Within a year of 9/11, unilateral preemption had become the explicit centerpiece of U.S. national security policy. The doctrine allowed for no ambiguity: The United States asserted the prerogative of identifying regimes that it deemed intolerable and then eliminating them—no need to ask others for approval or permission. Iran was unlikely to stand idly by in hopes of good behavior exempting it from Washington's extraordinary claim of authority.

I sometimes wonder how the United States would react to hostile forces—Russian perhaps, or Chinese—invading Canada. If Canadian "terrorists" rose up to resist foreign occupation, I like to think that Americans would offer arms, aid, and advice, motivated in part by self-interest but also inspired by a sense of solidarity. After all, we did as much for Afghans resisting Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Wouldn't we do as much or more for our neighbors to the north?

So Iranian assistance to Iraqis intent on evicting foreign occupiers—us—hardly qualifies as surprising. Were positions reversed, we would surely do the same. At least, I hope we would.

So where does responsibility for my son's death rest? The question lingers.

I resist the temptation to blame Bush. By all accounts well-intentioned—his post-presidential artistic efforts speak to an essential decency and perhaps even to regret—Bush was clearly out of his depth after September 2001, when the roof fell in on his administration. Nor do I blame the various warmongers, armchair militarists, and hawkish pundits who willingly enlisted as cheerleaders for bloodletting and mayhem. Their sin was not malice but cluelessness—chanting for war while ignorant of its risks and oblivious to its costs, which, of course, they themselves would not pay.

However reluctantly, I am obliged to conclude that ultimate responsibility for my son's death rests with we the people. After all, the architects of the "forever wars"—the sequence of ill-advised, mismanaged, in some instances illegal, and arguably immoral interventions that began with the invasion of Iraq—acted with our explicit or tacit concurrence.

Even today, the electorate shows little inclination to rethink the core assumptions informing basic U.S. national security policy. Supporting the troops means suppressing second thoughts, asking few questions, and shoveling more money to the Pentagon.

If the Sparacino lawsuit is contemptible—as I believe it is—how should we characterize the unwillingness of the American people to confront head-on the causes and consequences of our recent wars? For members of my family, my son's death was a tragedy. But our nation's collective inattention to the follies that paved the way to his death and that of so many others is something far worse. It's shameful.


© 2021 Boston Globe
Andrew Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich is president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. Bacevich is the author of "America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History" (2017). He is also editor of the book, "The Short American Century" (2012), and author of several others, including: "Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country" (2014, American Empire Project); "Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War" (2011); "The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War" (2013), and "The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy Since World War II" (2009).

Just ONE DAY left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

'We Will Fight! We Will Win!': Nearly 200 Abortion Rights Defenders Arrested in DC

"If people don't see the rage," said one woman at the protest, "nothing changes."

Jon Queally ·


Federal Abortion Ban Desired by GOP Would Increase Maternal Deaths by 24%: Study

"Pregnancy shouldn't kill people—in fact, in other rich countries it very rarely does," said the lead author of the new analysis.

Jake Johnson ·


Naomi Klein: The US Is in the Midst of a 'Shock-and-Awe Judicial Coup'

"The rolling judicial coup coming from this court is by no means over," warned the author of "The Shock Doctrine."

Jake Johnson ·


Markey, Bowman Join Climate Coalition in Urging SCOTUS Expansion

"We cannot sit idly by," said Markey, "as extremists on the Supreme Court eviscerate the authorities that the government has had for decades to combat climate change and reduce pollution."

Brett Wilkins ·


Ocasio-Cortez Says US 'Witnessing a Judicial Coup in Process'

"It is our duty to check the Court's gross overreach of power in violating people's inalienable rights and seizing for itself the powers of Congress and the president."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo