Iraq was one of those wars where people actually put on pounds. A few years ago, I was eating lunch with another reporter at an American-style greasy spoon in Baghdad's Green Zone. At a nearby table, a couple of American contractors were finishing off their burgers and fries. They were wearing the contractor's uniform: khakis, polo shirts, baseball caps, and Department of Defense identity badges in plastic pouches hanging from nylon lanyards around their necks. The man who had served their food might have been the only Iraqi they spoke with all day. The Green Zone was set up to make you feel that Iraq was a hallucination and you were actually in Normal, Illinois. This narcotizing effect seeped into the consciousness of every American who hunkered down and worked and partied behind its blast walls -- the soldier and the civilian, the diplomat and the journalist, the important and

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  • GEORGE PACKER is a staff writer at The New Yorker. This essay is adapted from a Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Lecture on American Civilization and Government that he delivered earlier this year at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers.
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