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.
President Obama spoke Wednesday afternoon in Fort Bragg, N.C., to a crowd of returning veterans from Iraq.
To loud applause, the president declared: "We’re here to mark a historic moment in the life of our country and our military. For nearly nine years, our nation has been at war in Iraq. … So as your commander in chief, on behalf of a grateful nation, I'm proud to finally say these two words – and I know your families agree: Welcome home.”
It’s a sentiment we all can share.
Obama acknowledged the huge human cost of the war. “We know too well the heavy cost of this war. More than 1.5 million Americans have served in Iraq. Over 30,000 Americans have been wounded and those are only the wounds that show," the president said. "Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice … so today, we pause to say a prayer for all those families who have lost their loved ones, for they are part of our broader American family. We grieve with them.”
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President Obama’s announced plan has U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The American people, and now the U.S. Senate want them home sooner. As we watch the last U.S. troops leaving Iraq, there are still nearly 100,000 remaining in Afghanistan. Nearly 2,000 have died, and the cost is now nearly $500 billion.
After a decade, it’s time to bring also them home.
Finally, as President Obama has announced, this American war will soon be over, with most of the 44,000 American troops still in Iraq coming home in time to be with their families for Christmas.
The initial feelings that rushed over me after hearing the White House announcement were of deep relief. But then they turned to deep sadness over the terrible cost of a war that was, from the beginning, wrong; intellectually, politically, strategically and, above all, morally wrong.
The War in Iraq was fundamentally a war of choice, and it was the wrong choice.