Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said about the war in Vietnam, “Some are guilty, all are responsible.” It is a good reminder of our responsibilities now that the war in Iraq has officially been declared ended.
First, we as a society are responsible for the necessary care for our returned veterans. A total of 1.5 million American men and women served in the armed forces in Iraq. Nearly 35,000 suffered physical injuries, as many as 360,000 may have brain injuries, and as many as 25 percent have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Suicides and divorces are rising, homelessness and unemployment are high.
Having sent them to war, our society now needs to assume the responsibility for providing what they and their families need. As Abraham Lincoln reminded the country in his second inaugural speech, as the Civil War was ending in March 1865, one of the unfinished tasks was “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan …”
We must advocate for and ensure that in the budget and deficit cutting battles to come, the necessary funding for veterans care and benefits are maintained. It’s a moral obligation.
Second, we are responsible for rebuilding an Iraq devastated by eight years of war. While the numbers for Americans are grim, for Iraq they are catastrophic. There are an estimated 100,000 dead and unknown thousands wounded. And, unlike the U.S., the country itself was destroyed.
One news report described the situation. “Baghdad is still a war zone of checkpoints, blast walls and coils of razor wire, where buildings sit partially destroyed from the first wave of bombings that President George W. Bush called ‘shock and awe’.” Iraq is “a shattered country marred by violence and political dysfunction, …” It “remains an extremely dangerous place. According to the American military, there were 500 to 750 attacks a month this year, including bombings, rocket attacks and assassinations. There are still roughly a dozen insurgent groups and militias active …”
Pre-war Iraq had good health care and education systems, now both are devastated.
With much of the destruction caused by American weapons, the U.S. now has a moral obligation to provide the necessary assistance in rebuilding. A dysfunctional society will continue to produce violence.
A society in which the basic needs of people are met and they feel an ownership stake in their country will recover.
It’s up to us.
Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor for Sojourners.