Would you sacrifice your firstborn son to establish a democracy in country that had a dictatorship? How about giving up your son to effect a regime change? What about exchanging your son to end the oppression of minorities? How about trading your son in return for a country holding elections? I don’t know of any American mother or father that would do such a thing. I wouldn’t give a finger from one of my sons to do any of these things. Some Americans, however, wouldn’t mind it if some other American’s son came back from some foreign war in a box with only a finger that was recognizable – just as long as it wasn’t their son. Now that the war in Iraq is officially over, I keep hearing from apologists for the war about how it was worth it. I keep hearing that because Saddam Hussein is gone, Iraq has a Constitution, Iraqis have freedom, and Iraq holds elections that all the death and destruction was worth it. “We are leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people,” President Obama told the troops at Fort Bragg. “I think the price has been worth it, to establish a stable government in a very important region of the world,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Of course, none of Panetta’s three sons died in Iraq. Okay, suppose it’s all true – and then some. Suppose it’s even better than anyone could have imagined. What if Iraq is now a model democracy for the rest of the world? What if Iraq now has a constitution that rivals our own? What if there is now no more sectarian violence in Iraq? What if Iraq now has a free market? What if Iraq is now an American ally? What if Iraq is now a friend of Israel? What if Iraqis now have freedom of speech and freedom of religion? What if Iraq now respects the rights of women and minorities? What if all Iraqi children are now in school? What if Baghdad is really the best city on earth instead of the worst?
Would it now be worth the life of your son? Can you look your son in the face and tell him that you would have sacrificed him to bring about these changes in Iraq? And if your son had the misfortune of dying in Iraq, how do you think he would feel if he could now hear you say that his death was worth it? There are a total of 4,487 American sons (and daughters) who died in Iraq. Some of them came home in one piece in a flag-draped coffin; others came home in a box of unidentified fragments and were dumped in a landfill. Hundreds of thousands of Iraq War vets suffer from PTSD or traumatic brain injuries. Many thousands more are missing an arm or a leg – or combinations thereof. Hundreds of vets will need a lifetime of medical and/or psychiatric care. Hundreds have committed suicide, as will hundreds more. And then there are the thousands of Iraqi defenders (remember, we invaded them) killed, the many thousands of civilians killed, the 1.2 million Iraqis displaced, and the 1.6 million Iraqis made refugees, not to mention the horrendous destruction of infrastructure. But, of course, none of this matters since these are just dark-skinned foreigners who speak a difficult language, worship a strange god, and wear towels on their head. And besides, they are all terrorists anyway, or would grow up to be one. So, even though Iraqis paid a terrible price for their “freedom,” let’s just focus on America and Americans. I don’t think it was worth one drop of blood from one American soldier to bring about anything “good” that happened in Iraq. Not a drop of blood, not an injury, not a headache. It doesn’t matter if Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It doesn’t matter if Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. It doesn’t matter if Iraqis were not free. It doesn’t matter if women in Iraq were oppressed. It doesn’t matter if Iraq was a threat to its neighbors. It doesn’t matter if Iraq was not a friend of Israel. It doesn’t matter if Iraq was not pumping enough oil. It doesn’t matter if Saddam Hussein gassed his own people. Nothing that was going on in Iraq mattered. The United States is not the policeman, fireman, security guard, social worker, mediator, babysitter, guardian, manager, or overseer of the world. Any American concerned about anything going on in Iraq should have gone there and put his own life on the line and on his own dime instead of expecting other Americans to expend their blood and treasure. I have consistently maintained these views since the beginning of the Iraq War. Yet, although I am the one who didn’t want the drop of one American soldier spilled in some senseless foreign war, I am the one who has been labeled un-American and unpatriotic; I am the one who is said to be unsupportive of the troops and a traitor. The next time some armchair warrior, some warvangelical, some member of Congress, some reich-wing nationalist, some bloodthirsty conservative, some warmongering Republican, some red-state fascist, some neocon, or some theocon beats the drums for war – like they are doing regarding Iran right now – tell him to put his son in uniform, put him on the first plane overseas, and tell his son what a noble cause it is that he is being sent to die for. Let him tell his son how much his death will be worth it. And if he doesn’t think it worth the death of his son, then it is not worth the death of any other American’s son either.