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Struggling to Understand the Iraq War, 10 Years Later

Public opinion surveys in 2011, at the end of U.S. military involvement in Iraq, revealed a majority of Americans felt the U.S. invasion there was a mistake. War casualties had a major role in shaping Americans' feelings about the war, and now, 10 years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein from power, those sentiments persist.

Relatives and friends of those who were lost in the war continue to struggle to come to terms with the meaning of the conflict and its consequences.

On a cold, wintry March afternoon, Iraq War veteran Harvey Kanter is fighting back tears as he fights through the snow to create a keepsake that reminds him of the friends he lost. “You don’t forget the names, and you don’t forget how it happened," he said.

U.S. Military Fatalities in Iraq, 2003 - 2012

U.S. Military Fatalities in Iraq, 2003 - 2012

The names he won’t forget on the Mideast Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Illinois, belong to three men Kanter served with in the U.S. Army at the height of the insurgency in Iraq - casualties of an unpopular conflict Kanter says is fading from America’s collective memory.

A poll conducted by the Huffington Post website and YouGov in January indicated 52 percent of Americans thought the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a mistake. 55 percent of those who responded said the war was not worth fighting.

“I never want to see somebody look at it and say, 'Hey, it was a mistake; it was worthless,' when you have all of those lives lost, said John Bartosiewicz. Two of his sons served in the military, but neither served in Iraq. While he says he supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, he was also relieved when Americans left in 2011. “If they would have just pulled out without setting a goal, and reaching that goal, then I would have thought it was worthless, because all those lives were lost and you can’t put a value on that," he said.

U.S. Combat Troops in Iraq, 2003-2011

U.S. Combat Troops in Iraq, 2003-2011

“During the war, a common phrase was, 'We don’t support the war but we support our troops.' And I think that’s very important, to remember that distinction," said University of Chicago researcher Matthew Schweitzer. who is the creator of the blog “Post War Watch” which analyzes the legacy of U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He says U.S. public opinion shifted dramatically during the U.S. troop surge in Iraq in 2005. “It came too late to really sway people’s opinions after they saw thousands - hundreds of thousands - of Iraqis dying, and many U.S. soldiers dying for what seemed to be an unattainable goal.”

“It’s hard to change anyone’s opinion about what is freedom, what is democracy, what is the price you pay for it," said Jerry Terando. His son Joshua paid the ultimate sacrifice, killed by a sniper’s bullet in 2005 in Iraq. Jerry Terando is now among a majority of Americans who view the war unfavorably. “Regardless of what our fighting men do, all wars come back to politics. [If we have] A nation without the heart to win, or a government without the will, we’re just wasting our time.”

Joshua’s name is now etched on the marble of the Mideast Conflicts Wall Memorial, a permanent reminder of what the war cost Jerry Terando and his family. “I would do anything to have him alive again, but I’m proud of him for what he did and the sacrifice he made. And I only wish the rest of America could appreciate that and the sacrifice of all the others whose names are on that wall," he said.

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    Kane Farabaugh

    Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.