Articles and thoughts by Peter Holslin

Almost forgotten memorial

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Today, the sun smiles on San Diego. The weather is wonderful. Spring has come.

It’s been kind of a stressful week. I slept in, getting up at the ungodly hour of 11 a.m. The first thing I recall doing is replacing the AAA battery on my noise-cancelling headphones, the device that insulates me from the world as I walk the streets and ride the bus. They’re so insulating that often I like to just take them off so I can hear the world around me. But I’ve gotten a lot of new music lately and today I looked forward to listening only to that while going on a walk.

The next thing I did this morning was lazily read the news. Among the headlines: “Acorn On Brink of Bankruptcy, Two Leaders Say” (NY Times); “Al-Shabab leader killed in Somalia” (Al-Jazeera English); “ESCONDIDO: Students rally for immigration reform” (North County Times); “Spring arriving today in pleasant fashion” (San Diego Union-Tribune). I checked out the results of the parliamentary elections in Iraq on Inside Iraq, my favorite Iraq blog. But somehow, my eyes glazed over both an e-mail from the IraqCrisis listserv with the subject line “[Iraqcrisis] Anniversary” and a San Diego News Network article titled “Protest mark 7th anniversary of Iraq War.”

Next, I talked to my mom on the phone. We talked about the beautiful weather; about The Wire; about activism; about whether I would go to the anti-war rally today, apparently the one I read an announcement for in CityBeat earlier this week. And somehow, it still didn’t occur to me that today was a special day.

I had lunch. I read dispatches from SXSW in Austin on Pitchfork. I reloaded my iPod Nano. Finally, with my mind still fixated on the weather, I set out to walk from my house in Golden Hill to North Park. About halfway there, I decided to take the bus to Hillcrest. I was riding the bus, comfortably listening to The Knife on my noise-cancelling headphones, when it hit me. It finally hit me. I took my cell phone out of my pocket and double-checked the date: “Sat, Mar 20.”

The day I’ve always committed myself to remember. The day, of all days, I thought I cared about–even if I thought nobody else did. Yet, even in the face of all these reminders, it’s a day I’d almost forgotten. I thought to myself: How many years has it been?

And just then, I noticed an argument flaring up on the bus. Yelling. A man getting off in exasperation. I took off my headphones. Something about how he works for the government; it’s not his fault.

“The United States had no right to invade Iraq,” a man says after the fracas. “No right at all.”

At least somebody remembered, I thought. At least somebody still cares.

I used to spend hours reading about Iraq. I used to feel Iraq in my bones. I dreamt about it. I thought about it. I tried to imagine it. I committed myself to visiting Iraq one day. I tried to come up with answers, with solutions. I’ve thought about whether or not our occupation was just, sure, but I still think that’s beside the point. We are responsible for what we’ve done. We now have some responsibility for improving Iraqis’ lives. I’ve never failed to recognize that responsibility.

Two years ago, I wrote on my blog: “The question of American responsibility remains fixed in reality; it always will. Let’s proceed with that question on our minds.” By that, I meant: Whatever happens, we will always be responsible for what we’ve done and for what we will do. Last year, I rewrote that in a blog entry commemorating six years in Iraq. And today, the words I wrote last year still ring true:

Like so many others, the recession haunts me like a poltergeist. But even after all of our troops leave Iraqi soil two years from now (if all goes according to plan), we as Americans must still consider our responsibility to Iraq. We can work to find secure living situations for the millions of Iraqi refugees; or donate to progressive cultural institutions in the country, like the Iraqi National Library and Archive. We can just read a few great books to learn more about the nation that our nation has invaded and occupied, and to understand the war’s historical implications.

But I’m finding it hard to believe my own words. How can I talk about American responsibility now, when I’m drifiting further and further away from my own?

Just a bunch of pointless words: That’s all I can give you this year, Iraq. I guess it’s better than nothing.


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