Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and University of Wisconsin-Madison alumnus Anthony Shadid gave a chilling and moving account of his time spent in Iraq over the last eight years as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and the Washington Post.His audience sat in stark silence as Shadid described the war-torn country he came to know.
Shadid began with the latest statistic from Baghdad: 122 people dead from two accidents. But, as he explained to his eight year-old daughter, “It really isn’t about the numbers. It’s about the stories.”
With vivid and vibrant language, Shadid brought the audience to Thuluya, a small, lush and even scenic town on the Tigris River. He first visited the town in June 2003, when it was mourning the death of a local 15-year-old boy at the hands of American soldiers. A townsperson called the boy’s death an omen – this heartbreaking event would not be an isolated experience, many bad things would follow.
Shortly afterwards, American soldiers invaded the village and an informer within the community was discovered. The town elders gave the informer’s family a choice: kill your son, or we kill your family. Feeling trapped, the informer’s father shot his son dead. With tears in his eyes, the informer’s father told Shadid, “Even the prophet Abraham didn’t have to kill his son.”
Shadid used this story to illustrate the brutality to which the country has fallen victim. He said the murder of the informer opened the door to violence. “His death,” Shadid said, “made others dare to kill.”
The events set in motion by the plight of the informer and of the young boy reveal how the American invasion of Iraq inevitably brought many unintended consequences.
Shadid maintains that the United States has not taken responsibility for the damage we have inflicted on Iraq. He says we now have a clear obligation to the country.
Shadid also noted that many people living in the United States do not understand how we are perceived in other parts of the world. “We as Americans don’t understand the baggage that we carry abroad,” he said.
Shadid recently returned to Thuluya, exactly seven years after his first visit. He found the tiny village much like it had been before – beautiful fuchsia flowers abounded, and tribal leaders presided over the residents. When viewed closer, though, Thuluya was not the same. As a result of American occupation, it has experienced devastation, trauma and tragedy. Ultimately, Shadid wonders what, exactly, Thuluya got out of the American invasion.
“What was it all for? That’s what I keep going back to,” Shadid said.