Friday, December 16, 2011


By all accounts, 23-year-old David Hickman (below, left) from Greensboro, N.C. was pretty excited about coming home for Christmas. It is widely reported that he called his mother on November 13 to say so, but that would be their last conversation. On November 14, Hickman, an infantryman, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Critics of the Obama administration contend the president should never have announced in October that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by Christmas. According to some, Obama’s pronouncement only served to make the Iraqi insurgents step up their quest to knock off as many Americans as possible before the deadline. They may be right, and Hickman may be the unfortunate consequence of Obama’s grandstanding.

This week marked the official end of U.S. troop involvement in Iraq. It has been nine years since the U.S. involved itself in the ill-conceived “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Many Americans believe it was not this country’s responsibility to ensure democracy in Iraq. It is now well known that the U.S. entered the war with faulty intelligence and under less than noble circumstances. It is known that President George W. Bush's aggressive stance toward Iraq after 9/11 was a knee jerk reaction that proved ill-fated and fatal for many Americans.

As usual, the numbers tell the story. According to the government’s own figures, here is the human toll: U.S. Troop Casualties - 4,486 US troops; 98% male. 91% non-officers; 82% active duty, 11% National Guard; 74% Caucasian, 9% African-American, 11% Latino. 19% killed by non-hostile causes. 54% of US casualties were under 25 years old. 72% were from the US Army.

Here is the ongoing human toll: US Troops Wounded - 32,226, 20% of which are serious brain or spinal injuries. (Total excludes psychological injuries.) US Troops with Serious Mental Health Problems - 30% of US troops develop serious mental health problems within 3 to 4 months of returning home.

We learned from the Vietnam War that the human toll exacts consequences that transcend generations. Vets who are mentally or psychologically disabled try to re-acculturate and live somewhat normal lives, but their injuries and psychological wounds affect spouses, children, co-workers and most anyone with whom they interact. We know anecdotally that marriages crumble, domestic abuse skyrockets and child abuse intensifies among many vets.

And so there was little celebration this week, and there won’t be ticker tape parades or victory services at the National Cathedral or anything to truly mark the end of this war. That is because we know that people who were 20-something when they lost their eyes or their arms or legs or sanity will spend decades trying to right themselves. And we know that many of those 4,486 US troop casualties had children that will never know their parent(s). And we know that people like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell who actively engaged the U.S. in this war will not be held legally accountable for their misguided decisions.

It is from the vets themselves that we learn the most about how bad decisions in Washington wreak havoc in lives from coast to coast. Watch and listen to vets recap their own experiences in a CNN report:
The war in Iraq was one of the most significant mistakes I've ever witnessed the American government make. With no weapons of mass destruction, and no evidentiary connection between Iraq and 9/11, 4,486 men and women were ordered to their deaths for absolutely no reason. That is how history will see the Iraq debacle.

It is critical that we recognize now the enormity of the error that was Iraq. I am hoping that our collective realization of the vulnerability and poor judgment of our government officials puts a kink in our blind trust of them. Every reasonable American knows now that we should never have gone to Iraq. If something similar happens in the future, we Americans are likely going to demand far more accountability from the president on down.

Like Vietnam, American history has nothing to be proud of with the Iraq war. Not a thing. And that, all by itself, should tell us Americans to become more engaged with the political process, to more carefully choose who will govern and to clearly convey to them what we expect.

No comments: