I Fought at Fallujah. Here's What I Think About When People Ask If It Was Worth It.
This past week an Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) seized significant swaths of Anbar Province in Iraq. I spent my early twenties there, fighting in Anbar’s streets. In the years since, those streets have never been far from my mind. I am, and forever will be, strangely an expatriate of places like Fallujah, Haditha, Hit, and others that barely dot a map. Like any expat, I’m defined by a place I might return to someday, the idea that somewhere on my life’s horizon is a time when I’ll again walk those streets knowing my war is finished.
After any war, a chorus always wonders about the cost. Was it all a waste? That chorus has been particularly loud this week, especially among those who shed blood wresting Fallujah from Al-Qaeda in 2004. I’ve had a hard time pinning down my emotions about this. Instead, a story keeps running through my head like archive footage.
It’s about 8am in the morning, almost ten years ago, in Fallujah, the second day of the battle. The platoon of Marines I lead, forty-six of us, fight rooftop to rooftop in the middle of the city. The night before, we’d snuck behind the insurgents’ main defensive lines to seize Fallujah’s Government Center, a five building complex. The sky is perfectly blue. We’re crouched behind a wall on the roof. Between machine gun salvos, rockets, and grenades, the Marines snap pictures of each other with cheap disposable cameras. No one’s been hurt yet.
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