As you read this post, please understand, I'm not a pacifist. I was raised in a politically conservative family. My dad is a proud WWII vet. My only brother retired from the U.S. Air Force. I was taught to be patriotic and support my country's wars once we committed to them. But I grew up during the Vietnam era, which was my "coming of age" war. Although I didn't serve, the Vietnam War is still the single most defining political event in my life.
When we decided to declare war on Iraq, I was struck by the ideological resemblance to Vietnam. In Vietnam we were supposedly fighting communism and the "domino principle." In Iraq we were supposedly fighting terrorism and the possibility of continued 9/11-type attacks. Both wars largely depended upon political rhetoric, which roused in Americans the fear of losing our most prized possession, our freedom. The result was to make these wars seem to us as if we were fighting for our freedom. Nothing was farther from the truth. Instead, we lost our freedom. And the costs are still being counted.
The war in Iraq, dubiously named "Iraqi Freedom," cost us our freedom to relate to others around the world. Our advance into Iraq sent ripples of disrespect throughout the world; America can no longer afford to be a global bully.
The Iraq war cost us our freedom because it created a political division in the country that has moved from what was mostly respectful dialog to mostly vicious ideological debates where petty politics are the rule of order. I understand that there is gamesmanship involved in politics, but this Congress has engaged in an extreme amount of petty political infighting and parlor tricks. The Tea Party is one result of this divide.
The lives lost among our own servicemen and women -- which, like the financial costs of the war, were hidden and underestimated -- are also a great loss to us all. The lives of these brave soldiers were a high price to pay for a particular political ideology and capitalistic opportunities. Those opportunities were engineered by granting all of the no-bid contracts to notorious multinational companies, the replacement of troops with private vendors, and the relaxing normal accountability structures to these companies. And please, let's not forget the hundred of thousands of Iraqi citizens, including many women and children, who unwillingly forfeited their lives, their limbs, or their land.
We also lost our freedom financially. Economic professionals from JPMorgan Chair and CEO Jamie Dimon to Nobel Prize-winning global economist Joseph Stiglitz noted that our current wars contributed greatly to our country's economic downfall. Stiglitz and others have ran the numbers to find that the cost will exceed 3 trillion dollars! Taxes were not levied to support these wars; monies raised for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan were floated, almost entirely by borrowing. People lost jobs. Schools were closed. Federal safety regulations were bypassed. People in need of medical insurance were denied. Homes were foreclosed. Wetlands were lost to development in the name of fixing the economy. The list goes on.
I'm not a Tea Party person nor am I a terrorist by a long shot, but I do want my freedom back. I want the global freedom that comes with the respect of the global community, based on the fact that America is a generous, innovative, and not always a self-serving nation. I want the freedom I sense in a good nation when our politicians regain their civility, honesty, and concern for the betterment of the country over tawdry political maneuvers. I want the freedom to know that I am not sending my fellow countrymen and countrywomen to face the horrors of war and the loss of life for an unworthy cause. Their lives are far too precious for such negligible affairs. I want to feel like I am helping other countries in need rather than destroying their lives and governments.
I also want the freedom of knowing our nation has the financial capital to create jobs, fix the environment, and provide effective health insurance and education to everyone in need without it becoming a binary-track debate between the common good and the common debt. We must admit, we have all, from the media to the average Joe and Jane, been duped by following a false idea of freedom; as usual, the most marginalized in our society lose the most when we lack financial freedom. America needs a "re-boot!" We need our freedom -- but we don't have to kill for it.
Vietnam, Iraq, and now Afghanistan are opportunities for us to create a wider national discussion about the core values we associate with true freedom. (see "Might Will Never Make Right in Afghanistan" by Randy Woodley ) For those of us who are of the household of faith, we have an opportunity to seek the guidance of the Creator and lead by creating new opportunities and alternatives to war and its influence. After all, I don't know how many times déjà vu will occur in our lifetimes.
Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee Indian descendant and the author of Living in Color: Embracing God's Passion for Ethnic Diversity. He is distinguished associate professor of faith and culture and director of intercultural and indigenous studies at George Fox University and Seminary in Portland, Oregon.