Sept. 11, 2001, is a day no warm-blooded, coherent American will ever forget. It was a day of great tragedy as we watched New York City’s World Trade Center, symbolic of capitalism and free enterprise, crumble into smoldering bits of steel and ash. We can never forget the terrifying and tragic pictures and video of those plummeting to their deaths to escape the blazing inferno, or the images of firefighters going into the burning buildings and watching those buildings disintegrate. We looked on in horror at the scenes of the attack on the Pentagon as well as the plane that crashed on its way to the White House. News reports of thousands of lives lost within a few minutes got America’s blood boiling. So when President George W. Bush announced the war in Iraq in March 2003, somehow, for some reason, the American public, for the most part, wasn’t outraged that the focus of this invasion wasn’t in Afghanistan or any other country where al-Qaida was actually reported to be.

The Bush administration justified the invasion on the false premise that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and then American troops took over the country in the name of democracy. These efforts resulted in an estimated $2.2 trillion in national debt and a death toll of 190,000, with most of those being Iraqi civilians, according to Brown University’s project The Costs of War. While the numbers may vary among the different news agencies and studies, one persistent question remains: have we learned anything from Iraq?

The war in Iraq, known as Operation Iraqi Freedom, resulted in the crash of the regime of Saddam Hussein, revealed the horrors of Hussein’s insane cruelty and the number of executions under his reign of terror, ranging between 300,000 and 1 million. America can take some pride in taking down this sadistic ruler, but to say that it was our war to fight — it doesn’t add up.

While conservative lawmakers decry our nation’s burgeoning debt, we never had the money in the first place to engage in war with a country that was not directly involved in the 9/11 attack. In our country’s lust for vengeance, many put their blinders on with the respect to the detrimental consequences of our invasion and continued war efforts in Iraq. But now, after the final withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in December 2011, the hope is that Iraq is better off. The high death toll, however, reeks of a slaughter, a war wound that will take Iraqi civilians many, many years to overcome.

It’s a delicate fence to straddle. On one side, we toppled a terrifying regime. On the other, we invaded a country that hadn’t engaged in tactics that justified war; we accumulated massive debt that will take decades to pay off; we lost thousands of American troops and killed thousands of Iraqi civilians; and we have tens of thousands of war vets suffering from various disabilities as a result of the war. Ten years later, have we learned anything? If all the failures associated with the Iraq war aren’t blatantly obvious, then we will never learn. But there is now a surge of clarity in this country — the majority of the American people are no longer willing to accept the status quo that got us involved in this mess in the first place. We are voting these lawmakers out of office, we are keeping them out of office, and we are voicing our opinions in numerous forums and making it clear: this sort of war-mongering strategy will not happen again. While old, stale ways of thinking, in a power-over-diplomacy style, may never disappear, it’s reassuring and refreshing to see them fading.