Remembering Michael Kelly
I miss Michael a lot, not least because he was one of the few funny people in Washington, but also because I miss what he would have written over the past ten years.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of Michael Kelly's death in Iraq. Michael was once the editor of this magazine, which he shaped in lasting ways (Here's a very good obituary from Jack Shafer).
The day doesn't feel much different than any other day without Michael, but I thought it would be worth noting today, for the sake of people who didn't know him, that he is missed very much. Like Jim Fallows, and everyone else who knew Michael, I won't ever forget the moment I learned of his death. I was in northern Iraq; a group of us had just returned from covering an operation Michael would surely have liked to cover -- U.S. Special Forces and Kurdish guerillas -- the peshmerga -- had just routed an Islamist terror cell near the Iranian border -- when Chris Chivers, of The Times, got the news somehow that Michael had died several hours earlier, outside of Baghdad. He passed the news on to me, and I called my editor at the time, David Remnick, to confirm. From David's voice, I knew that it was true. Our whole gang of reporters in Sulaymania was shell-shocked. So was everyone else.
I miss Michael a lot, not least because he was one of the few funny people in Washington, but also because I miss what he would have written over the past ten years. It's a bit of parlor game to guess what Michael might have made of the aftermath of the Iraq war (and of everything else to come). I tend to think he would have turned on the Bush Administration for its incompetence and negligence (I have a feeling Donald Rumsfeld, in particular, would have been the unhappy, and deserving, recipient, of Michael's righteous anger), but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have repudiated his support for the idea of toppling Saddam Hussein. He hated Saddam, and what he did to the people of Iraq, too much, to disavow his overthow. Here's one passage from Michael, written in February of 2003, shortly before the invasion was launched, that helped shape my thinking on this:
I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as a liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti, or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realized. Even if the rescuer is a great, over-muscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?
We'll never know what he would have thought, of course, and we, his friends and loyal readers (including those readers he regularly drove mad), are the poorer for it. HIs sons, who were so young when he died, should know, and should be told regularly, that their father is a hero to many, many people.