Letter to My Daughter

Dear Kalila,

It has been five years since you, as a 12-year old 7th grader, joined your classmates in a walk-out at your school in protest of the impending invasion of Iraq.

You are now a 17-year old high school senior just months from graduating, and the war – which we were told would only involve U.S. combat forces for a few months – is still going on. As you enter college in the fall, some of your classmates whom you have known since childhood could be entering Iraq to fight in a war that should never have been fought.

As a consequence of this war of aggression, you are entering adulthood with the United States despised throughout the world and the threat of mega-terrorism from extremist groups higher than ever. Furthermore, it appears that this war will end up costing more than 3 trillion dollars, money that you will be paying, with interest, for decades to come. This money could instead have gone to health care, education, the environment, housing, public transportation, and other human needs that could have made your life and the lives of others of your generation safer, healthier, and happier. Already, the economic impact of the war is becoming apparent in your life. Your long-promised graduation present of a European trip is looking less affordable as the dollar plummets in value and your parents are scrambling – as a result of cutbacks in federal assistance – to figure out a way to pay your college tuition next year.

As you remember, your mother and I worked very hard to try to stop this war. We so very much wish you could have avoided experiencing, as we did during our adolescence, our country engaged in a brutal counter-insurgency war in a foreign land.

I remember how much you missed me as I traveled around the country giving speeches and interviews to try to convince the public and elected officials that Iraq was not a threat to our national security and that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would be a disaster. I remember your tears as you heard me denounced on national television as a “supporter of Saddam Hussein” and claims that my research “was funded by terrorists.” And you no doubt remember the negative impact the stress and exhaustion from that period had on my health as well as my relations with you, your siblings, and your mother.

Yet I also remember your pride in seeing me speak before half a million people in San Francisco at the anti-war march, your excitement in getting to use my backstage pass to meet Bonnie Raitt, and your appreciation of being a part of history that sunny February afternoon. I have seen you attend subsequent marches on your own, still convinced that, while unable to prevent the war, you could still try to end it.

You were born in October 1990 on the eve of the first U.S. war with Iraq. We gave you an Arabic name – meaning “beloved” – in part to honor the rich cultural traditions of a people whom our government is willing kill in order to control their natural resources. In certain respects, the United States has been killing Iraqis for almost your entire life. Meanwhile, a whole generation of your peers in that unhappy land has grown up knowing nothing but war, sanctions, and related hardships.

I think about the impact the invasion has had on you and how it has affected the way you see your country and its government. You figure that if a total idiot like your dad could figure out that Saddam Hussein could not have possibly reconstructed his capability of producing “weapons of mass destruction,” you logically assume that the president, vice-president, top cabinet officials, and congressional leaders of both political parties were lying when they said that he had. As a result, instead of coming of age with a healthy skepticism about your government, I’ve seen how you and many of your peers have developed a bitter cynicism, assuming that both Republicans and Democrats are willing to lie to their constituents in order to justify imperial conquest.

Whoever becomes the next president, however, this war will continue to impact your life for many years to come. Seeing you as a beautiful, smart, and competent young woman – facing an uncertain future in this militarized, divided, and economically weakened society – I wish there was something more I could have somehow done five years ago to prevent this war from happening.

FPIF contributor Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco.