This week President Obama, in keeping a 2008 campaign promise, declared the war in Iraq to be over. The last American soldier deployed to that sad country will be home for Christmas. The administration has stated that Iraq's time to become a working republic, to take responsibility for its own security has, at last, arrived. The Iraqis agree, most of whom were certain that we would never leave and that our purpose in being there was really to get at their oil. They must be stunned and perhaps more than a little apprehensive at the same time. But no matter: our boys and girls are coming home at last after the longest military engagement in American history.
More than a million service people were deployed to Iraq in nine years of war there. Of that million plus, more than 40,000 US casualties were suffered, of which 10% were fatal. This of course doesn't include the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were injured or killed in that same period of time. (The English medical journal The Lancet estimates that more than 600,000 Iraqis died war related deaths, including from sickness, malnutrition, lawlessness, degraded infrastructure, and direct and indirect military and terrorists' actions.
Coming home, but to what?
I am overjoyed that the President has ended this war. And so, apparently, is 78% of the entire American public. A Congress which should be celebrating the end of this madness instead calls the President who ended the thing a traitor. Naïve. Weak. "We should leave at least 30,000 troops in Iraq," bloviate opposition members of Congress (and the former vice President who started the whole thing); members who gave absolutely nothing to the cause. The current traveling circus, one of whom will be the Republican nominee for the 2012 presidential elections, continually tries to make lemons from lemonade in this matter, so as to gain the votes of the stupid wing of their party. One wonders if they would have the federal government pay for a parade down Broadway for the troops without a corresponding cut in some hated government program. It is no wonder that fewer than 10% of the public view Congress with anything other than absolute disdain.
I am overjoyed that, as a senior citizen, I can welcome home soldiers, sailors and airmen who did everything they were asked to do during those terrible nine years, and I will tell any of them I ever meet “Well done!” but I truly wonder at what kind of country they will discover. What kind of country those who have served and already returned home are experiencing as they attempt to return to civilian life. Will they find jobs? Will they find financial security for themselves and their families? Will they find - at last – peace? After the ticker tape parades – what?
Our soldiers come home to a nation in turmoil. They come home to a nation whose people never were asked to make the personal sacrifice historically required to engage in war. There were no bond drives as in World War II, there were no income tax surcharges, as during Vietnam, to pay the multi-trillion dollar bill this war will cost us over time. There was no pressing of young citizens into the military through the draft.
Indeed, we conducted this war on a credit card. As we spent billions of dollars a day to either (a) take Saddam Hussein down or (b) bring democracy to the Middle East or (c ) fight terrorism, we were told to go shopping; to go out and buy something. And we did. In spades. And we paid for whatever we bought with borrowed money, too. And while all this was going on, the middle class which arose after the greatest war this nation ever fought was destroyed as the monied class was given enormous tax breaks; as multinational corporations, banks, and Wall St. traders were paid to rape and pillage the American economy. And like a distance runner collapsing after a marathon, the American people are now spent out.
This is what our troops return to. They return to a nation perhaps unable to govern itself anymore. They return to a society whose intelligentsia wonders if the great 200-year experiment with freedom, self-government and prosperity might have been a pipe dream whose bubble would someday burst with the inevitability of a sunset; whose people know nothing of shared ideals, of making common purpose, and doing things which have no direct personal benefit.
And many of those troops will wonder if their sacrifice - and the sacrifices of their fallen comrades - were worth it. They are not the sons and daughters of investment bankers and hedge fund speculators. They are people of common means and who come home with an ideal of what and who we are. And over time they will match their ideals with the reality of living in 21st century America.
Will their parents get it right?