WHEN a friend, who has just started uni, recently asked me asked me how I became politically active, I knew the answer without a second’s hesitation. I was always political, but politics became my passion after the Iraq invasion. If I hesitated at all, it’s only because the answer feels trite: after all, my entire generation grew up with the backdrop of war. As awakenings go, mine is startlingly unoriginal, and surely anyone would recognise the experience straightaway.

But my pal seemed confused. Of course he knew all about the Iraq War, but he couldn’t picture why it was my big defining moment, why it became the thing that orientates almost all of my political beliefs.

It was only later as I walked home that it struck me: it’s been 15 years. A student today, aged 18 or so, would have been barely able to attend nursery when the Americans unleashed “shock and awe” on Baghdad. Expecting them to understand the visceral horror of those events is like expecting me to feel the terror of the Lockerbie disaster or the grand occasion of the Berlin Wall coming down, which both happened when I was a toddler.

I was barely aware of my immediate surroundings, let alone the news, so for me these are historical events. For many young people becoming politically active, Iraq is just that: a terrible thing that happened long ago.

Yet, 15 years on, their world is defined by it. Its immediate repercussions have been felt with Daesh, the collapse of the Israel-Palestine “peace process” and the fraying order of the Arab world. But Western politics, too, is shaped by Iraq. From the leftist Jeremy Corbyn to the isolationist appeal of Donald Trump, Iraq has had its revenge on the centrist party leaders who traded blood for oil.

Activists are rightly conscious of the Islamophobia that is driving the rise of populist right parties across Europe. What’s often forgotten, though, is that the idea of the Muslim as the main threat to European nations was invented to justify the War on Terror. A student today wouldn’t remember this, but I do. I remember mainstream politicians imposing massive crackdowns on civil liberties and trumping up suspicions around “Islamic terror suspects”, most of them completely innocent. I remember an escalation of terror, as Western Muslims railed against the draconian policing, security and surveillance measures imposed upon them.

I remember military recruiters patrolling schools, campuses and high streets, rounding up the desperate, the lost and the needy to join the anti-terror crusade.

I remember, most of all, how this all came from supposedly social democratic parties. They sought tabloid headlines about terror threats, domestic and foreign, to justify their adventurism in the Middle East. At best, these headlines and policies backfired disastrously. At worst, they are responsible for the total breakdown in Western liberal democracy that has brought Trump and worse to power.

The Scottish independence movement of 2014 is also unimaginable without Iraq. The people I worked with to start Radical Independence all met through anti-war activism. Many younger SNP and Green politicians today are also products of the radicalisation that happened after 2003. The Iraq effort involved the repressive state on all fronts: surveillance, policing, and border patrols alongside the armed forces. In turn, it forced us to think about the British state’s record of violence and imperialism, a record that stands largely regardless of who is in power.

The biggest effects, of course, were on Iraq itself. Death counts range from the hundreds of thousands to the millions. Government is precarious. Daesh and other forces have run rampant. Basic services like electricity have barely worked, in an oil-rich country.

However, the unparalleled scale of outrage at the invasion reflects not just the terrible results but also the mendacity of the men who led the invasion. Few wars in history have been so textured by lies, misinformation and wacky racial stereotypes. Saddam Hussein, of course, had no weapons of mass destruction, and US-UK leaders showed no willingness to let inspectors do their job. It was obvious that UN resolutions were a fig leaf for an invasion motivated by the oil companies that dominated Bush’s White House.

Today, the Chilcot Report is an establishment stamp on the anti-war movement’s version of events. Yet, tragically, the leaders who took us to war have never known justice. They earn millions from corporate engagements, speaking fees and book sales. They are still cited as legitimate commentators on Brexit and Trump. Worst of all, Tony Blair has been employed as an expert on Middle East peace, which is like hiring Donald Trump for his insights on women’s rights.

This March will be the proper 15th anniversary of the Iraq invasion. We must make a big deal of it. There’s a danger that millions of politicised young people are growing up without the lesson in state power and imperialism that my generation received. It’s our duty to pass that knowledge on. With Trump in the White House, it’s best to prepare for the worst.