O'Brien captures the war's futility in just a few sentences toward the end of the novel:
The end was coming. He could feel. Already he anticipated the textures of things familiar: decency, cleanliness, high literacy and low mortality, the pursuit of learning in heated schools, science, art, industry bearing fruit through smokestacks. Wasn't this the purpose? The goal? Some vision of virtue? Weren't these the valued things? Wasn't freedom worth pursuing? If civilization had meaning, weren't these the reasons? Hadn't wars been fought for these very promises? Even in Vietnam -- wasn't the intent to restrain forces of incivility? The intent. Wasn't it to impede tyranny, aggression, repression? To promote some vision of goodness? Oh, something had gone terribly wrong. But the aims, the purposes, the ends -- weren't these fully virtuous and proper? Wasn't self-determination a proper aim of civilized man? Wasn't political freedom a part of justice? Wasn't military aggression, unrestrained, a threat to civilization and order? Oh, yes -- something had gone wrong. Facts, circumstances, understandings. But had the error been wrong intention, wrong purpose?Those are the questions that arise in reflection upon American military misadventures since the "great war" of the "greatest generation." But, as events that apparently no American experts foresaw unfold in the streets of Iran, one wonders if we haven't used entirely ineffective means to pursue the intentions and purposes that we always claim guide our actions in places such as Vietnam ... or Iraq.
As always, it will take the great writers of the American experience in Iraq to bring us to deeper and fuller understanding. Unfortunately, by that point we will doubtless be already engaged in another misbegotten misadventure. Sigh.
I think I'll go back to a good, light murder mystery for these early summer days.