Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | December 20, 2011

A muted end to a misguided war

“The Iraq war was fought by one-half of one percent of us. And unless we were part of that small group or had a relative who was, we went about our lives as usual most of the time: no draft, no new taxes, no changes. Not so for the small group who fought the war and their families.” ~ Journalist Bob Schieffer

A friend, an Air Force veteran, wondered why she’s not seeing more celebrations marking the end last week of the United States’ war in Iraq. She’s right; the end of the war is a very muted event. We don’t see any of the iconic celebrations that marked the end of the World War II, for example. I saw more jubilation over the end of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy than I saw over the end of the Iraq War.

Edith Shain VJ Day Kiss NYC from the Flickr photostream of Ghost*Rider (Patrick)

The war ended officially on Thursday, Dec. 15, with the encasing of the colors ceremony. In 2008, the Bush Administration negotiated an agreement, called SOFA, that called for the United States to leave Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011. The last US troops left the country on Dec. 18, marking the end of a stunningly costly war no matter how you measure it. NPR reports that the nearly nine-year Iraq War is estimated to have cost $800 billion, the lives of almost 4,500 American troops, and an estimated 100,000 Iraqi lives. The cost to the United States will continue for decades as we care for the 32,000 soldiers injured in the war, many with injuries so severe they will require treatment for life-long effects.

Of course, the war had a last American casualty: David Emanuel Hickman, 23, of Greensboro, NC. He was killed by an improvised explosive device on Nov. 14. He joins a long list that includes a South County resident, Jeramy Ailes of Gilroy, who was only 22 years old when he was killed in Fallujah almost exactly seven years earlier than Hickman.

And then there are the loved ones of the troops who were injured and died: They’ll feel the effects and pay the price for the rest of their lives, too. CBS news reports that “since U.S. troops first entered Iraq, 8,794 Americans lost a son or daughter; 3,141 lost a parent; and 2,468 lost a husband or wife.” As journalist Michael Ware put it in Newsweek, “Perhaps we should grieve for the living. Those left behind, without a father or a mother. Those who must now face the rest of their days living a war without end.”

The effects of the war will be felt in Iraq for generations as well – not only by the families who had dead or injured loved ones, but also by the country’s landscape, politics, economy, and psyche. The country is politically fragile, as Reuters put it, and “divided across sectarian and ethnic lines.”

My friend is aware of all of that context. Still, she wondered: Certainly the end of a war is something to celebrate; why aren’t we?

I think it has to do with the misguided nature of the war effort. As Rep. Nancy Pelosi said, “[President George W. Bush] led us into the Iraq war on the basis of unproven assertions without evidence; he embraced a radical doctrine of pre-emptive war unprecedented in our history.” Yes, that war toppled Saddam Hussein, but it’s fair to wonder: Was it worth such a cost?

What’s more, the end of the Iraq War is coming on the heels of an organic, grassroots revolution in Libya that was faster and dramatically less expensive by every measure. The way that the Gaddafi regime in Libya ended makes the Bush Administration’s strategy of trying to impose regime change and democracy in Iraq look even more foolish than before.

Schieffer identified another reason we’re not celebrating the end of the Iraq War: It didn’t dramatically affect most Americans’ daily lives. Unlike World War II or the Vietnam War, we had no draft. We weren’t encouraged to buy bonds or ration staples or plant victory gardens. We put the cost of the war on a credit card, forcing our children and grandchildren to pay for it rather than taxing ourselves.

Am I glad the war in Iraq is over? Yes. Our service members, including my niece, are home, having served honorably in difficult circumstances. I’m thrilled that the courageous one-half of one percent of us who served in Iraq have finished their work there. But a celebration? No; it just feels terribly inappropriate.

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