I look out my window this morning as the hour slowly approaches noon. Outside there is no lifting wind, no cleansing rain nor looming thunder. There is nothing that might distinguish this morning of August 19, 2010 from any past. I suppose it is the sheer gravity of last night’s events, its profound yet bittersweet sense of closure, that is so extreme that I would have almost expected there to be some sort of recognition displayed by mother nature. Yet, there is none but a mere calm in the bluest sky, and in the sunlight which radiates upon the thick suburban blades of grass.
Across an ocean, in the deserts of the Middle East, American soldiers attempt to grasp the overwhelming significance of the past seven years, the impact the years had on their own lives, and particularly on the lives of those for whom they fought. They are the last United States combat troops to depart the nation of Iraq. By this hour, having long passed the Iraq-Kuwait border, many of these men and women are still too filled with emotion to speak. They remain quiet, some thinking only of returning home to their families, while others are less sure if they are returning to anything at all. Some have reached too great a sense of numbness to fully accept, even remember, a life that is preoccupied by concerns such as bills, gas prices, birthday presents and grocery lists.
They have been blessed, or cursed, with the knowledge of what a gift it is to be breathing, to be walking, and to have the opportunity to be with those they love. For those with whom that knowledge may prove to be a curse, the images of violence and death are too painfully engrained in the fabric of their minds. They, unlike the men and women who approved their deployment, are among the few human beings who truly understand the meaning of war. They understand the unmistakable and inutterable consequences of man’s cruelty to his brother. They understand why war must be a last resort, why soldiers must be sent to fight only when it is absolutely necessary. They will return home to realize how pathetically little their family, friends, countrymen and elected leaders fully understand this truth. They will witness the devastating extent to which Americans, despite all their bumper stickers and parades, still believe in war as a solution to international differences.
For many of these honorable, extraordinarily brave men and women, a very sad fact will ultimately sink in if it has not already: this war was not absolutely necessary, this war was senseless. Over the past seven years, much has been said regarding how Americans take the sacrifice of our military for granted. Many politicians and political commentators have criticized the public, particularly those who spoke against the war, for not ‘supporting our troops’. These pundits and politicians went so far as to call these people un-patriotic, even un-American.
The sad reality is, we do take the service of our men and women in uniform for granted. Yet, not in the way that these critics have cited. First, of the gradually increasing faction who spoke out against the war, many were initially supportive of it. In our fear following September 11, and in our immature and almost animalistic haste to do something about it, we invaded Iraq–a country that was suspected, yet never proven, to be have played a part in the tragedy, and furthermore, suspected of being an imminent threat to the United States. How we were capable of invading a country without proof of its guilt, an invasion and further occupation that cost the lives of over 4,000 American soldiers (and over 30,000 Iraqi men, women and children), is no phenomenon. It is a vicious symptom of a very dangerous disease that has existed in our frame of mind for half a century. The fact that we went to war and thereby sacrificed the lives of thousands of American and Iraqi lives based on what was no more than an assumption–a mere bad vibe–is proof that we take the entire concept of war and human life for granted. It is a frightening testament to our swift capability in sending strangers to die for a cause we believe in, a capability equal to that which one might feel in merely pressing a button when operating a computer. We had a chance to support our soldiers, and we failed when we sent them to Iraq.
What our soldiers deserve cannot be displayed by a flag pin, nor even by the most extravagant parade conceivable. What our soldiers and their families deserve is an apology. They deserve an apology from every citizen, journalist and politician who supported or championed this war. When they arrive in America, may they be met by thousands of humble and sorrowful citizens, heads bowed in respect and embarrassment, standing silently in unison asking for forgiveness.