The war in Iraq: a sad look back

I have spent my summers in Cape May Point, New Jersey, for the last 19 years. For the past three summers, two little hands periodically knocked on my door. It was the neighbor’s boys, two brothers, one aged seven and one aged five. They came to my father and me looking for help with fixing their bikes. This year I took the boys to the beach where we tossed nets into the ocean hoping to catch some crabs. Their eyes lit up with every crab we trapped.

Their father, Michael Kelly, was the Washington Post Writer’s Group syndicated columnist and past editor for The Atlantic Monthly. He also wrote Martyrs’ Day: Chronicle of a Small War and Things Worth Fighting For. The last summer I saw Mike, I helped him shovel sand into his backyard so his boys had a safe play area. Like mine, this was the Kelly family’s summer home.

When this war in Iraq began, he was one of the first journalists to go; he had covered Desert Storm. At the beginning of the war in Iraq, when the news networks reported a humvee accident that killed a journalist, the conflict in Iraq hit me hard and everyone else connected through Mike.

I cannot leave my home without seeing those two little bikes parked next to the yellow house on the dunes. Walking out of my house is a constant reminder of the effect the war in Iraq has had on the Kellys and many other families affected by this war.

As the war progresses and the death toll rises, the more we at home are hit by these unfortunate losses. There is no telling the length of our stay in Iraq or its outcome, but as in any war, the damages are irreparable. Tremendous suffering occurs on all sides.

The impact of death is far worse than death itself. To shield the public, the media rarely reports on life after suicide bombings, insurgent surprise attacks or stealth precision bombing. As life speeds ahead, creating news by the minute, we bury the stories that came beforehand. All it takes is a picture, a newspaper clipping, the recitation of a dead soldier’s name or two little boys with bike problems, and all those events of yesterday become reality again.

Life is filled with tragedies. No person should ever have to go through a senseless tragedy, but for those who do, life is forever altered in a way that they and their loved ones will only know.

We struggle through the rise of gas prices, the president’s decisions, our occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, political scandals and life. With the impermanence of life comes the permanence of death, and the emptiness that death leaves may grow smaller but it never completely closes.

Twenty-five years from now, when we have seen what became of the war in Iraq, the combat will be another piece of U.S. history; a time of suffering in this country cemented in the history books.

For some mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters and friends, it will be a time when a loved one went away and never came back. In any conflict, foreign or domestic, we sacrifice something for the cause. As generations of people across the globe have seen, a war is fought not only on the battlefield but on our front doorsteps.

Mike Kelly will be remembered by his fellow journalists, his family and his friends. Through his examples, Mike taught me to always try to live one’s life with concern for the truth, as well as standing up for the little guy when the big guy grows too powerful. For all those who have died and suffered in this Iraq war, it does not make it easier when the reasons for going to war now appear tainted.

Sam Rega can be contacted at