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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Christians are called to be peacemakers and healers. Disagreement on policy does not excuse us from a responsibility to help those who come home broken and in need of help.
You might call yourself a pacifist, a just-war theorist, a pragmatist, a dove or a hawk but today (and every day), you should be a good neighbor to a veteran.
“I wore chains just like these for over six years, a burden too great to bear for many like me, who stood ready to do violence in the name of the American people and way of life. In Genesis, Cain was the first person to have killed another human being, and we’ve been doing it ever since. As punishment, Cain was sentenced to a life of wandering, a burden he claimed was too great to bear.
"After the towers fell a decade ago, I reenlisted and was deployed overseas with an infantry platoon for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. Wandering the Mesopotamian wilderness like Cain before me, I saw things nobody should ever have to see. My heart hardened in the desert heat like the mud bricks I watched cure in the Iraqi sun.
"After coming home, I found war had infected my mind. Images and memories from Iraq would haunt my dreams and invade my thoughts. Not too different from the suffering endured by American and Iraqi families who have lost someone to war, I too lost someone on the field of battle – myself. I had sacrificed more than I bargained for, a lifetime of mental health and well-being forever crushed by the heavy yolk I bore as a combat soldier."
Despite all that I knew 40 years ago about the policy and politics of the Vietnam war, I learned much more by simply listening to veterans. Late at night, often in bars, I heard about the war from the experience of those who fought it. And that taught me more than everything I had ever read. With tens of thousands of vets coming home from Iraq in the next two months -- and many more returning from Afghanistan over the next two years -- we'll have plenty of opportunities to say thanks, and then just listen.
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.
Let’s face it — while lawmakers are picking their own battles in Washington, they aren’t fighting on the ground in Afghanistan. Winning elections has become more important than implementing winning foreign policy strategies that would end the war and bring our service men and women safely home.
And it’s my generation that’s being sacrificed.
The recent British film In Our Name is a returning-soldier drama featuring a married woman, Suzy, who leaves her husband and little girl to fight in Iraq. Because she's involved in the killing of a little girl during her tour-this part is based on a true story, but it happened to a man -- she returns home only to steadily fall apart under the stress of soul-destroying anxieties.
Hidden Battles is a 65-minute documentary which follows a female Sandinista rebel, an Israeli officer, a Palestinian freedom fighter, and two American soldiers as they come to terms with their combat experiences. The film offers unique insight and hope into the internal conflicts that human beings around the world continue to face long after they have left the battlefield.
The documentary listens to the stories of these former soldiers as they reconcile what it means to have killed another human. A Vietnam veteran recalls that when he first killed, he was gripped by the feeling that he "did something -- literally against God." Watch this film and see how these veterans have fought to overcome. Each soldier deals with killing in his or her own unique way. Hidden Battles shows five ways in which this act is integrated into five different lives. Ultimately these stories testify to the resilience of the human spirit and hopefulness for the future.
[Editors' note: As part of Sojourners' campaign to end the war in Afghanistan, we will run a weekly Afghanistan news digest to educate our readers about the latest news and developments related to the war, the U.S. military's strategy, and the people impacted by our decisions. Read more about our campaign at www.sojo.net/afghanistan.]
- Afghan president's half brother killed by a bodyguard: "President Hamid Karzai's half brother, the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan and a lightning rod for criticism of corruption in the government, was assassinated Tuesday by a close associate."
Our country is in the midst of a clash between two competing moral visions. It is not, as we have known in recent history, a traditional fight between Republicans and Democrats. It is a conflict between those who believe in the common good and those who believe individual good is the only good.