I was very disturbed to read Gwynne Dyer’s June 23 column in which he dryly enumerates “the balance sheets of costs and benefits” involved in the disastrous Iraq war and occupation to answer the question: “Was it worth it?”
For the U.S., he concludes, “The investment (in lives and money) did not produce any worthwhile returns, but the negative consequences were not great either.”
The consequences are not great? Are we so numb to the realities of war that we cannot conceive of its consequences? The cost of human suffering caused by our Iraqi invasion and occupation is immense. Thousands of Americans killed, tens of thousands physically maimed, families shattered, and hundreds of thousands of our veterans showing symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder that we are just beginning to understand. Dyer acknowledges Iraqis suffering with bloodless statistics about their millions of dead and displaced people, but believes “good luck and high oil prices” will “restore” their prosperity.
Iraqi and American veterans and families will take years to make peace with the suffering this war and occupation has delivered. The U.S. military is overwhelmed by Iraq veterans suffering from PTSD and by the alarming rise in suicides among returning troops.
There is no “just” or “good” war. Mohandas Gandhi said, “I object to violence because when it appears to be good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”
War is not inevitable. In his book “God and Empire, Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now,” theologian John Dominic Crossan says, “Violence is not the inevitability of human nature, but only the normalcy of human civilization.” The U.S. is no different than Rome was 2,000 years ago if we continue to justify violence as the path to justice. Jesus was opposed by Rome because he preached peace through justice, not peace through retribution and institutionalized violence.
Every war over the past 100 years has been preventable. Sept. 11 was preventable, as the 9/11 Commission concluded. We especially need to prevent further conflict in the Middle East.
After Israel’s invasion of Gaza, the U.S. paid out $1 billion in humanitarian aid to help the Palestinians, Israel’s “enemy.” Israel’s invasion and “show of strength” killed 2,000 Palestinians, made 300,000 homeless and did not move peace one step closer. Hamas, Hezbollah, and Israel are equally guilty of perpetuating violence, but Israel’s policy of isolating Hamas has failed, as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has acknowledged. Both he and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell ended centuries of bloodshed in Northern Ireland because they brought together Catholics and Protestants who were tired of killing each other.
We twist words to support our view that justice can be achieved through violence. “It was a day at the office for the SEALS, much like it’s a day at the office for a heart surgeon or concert violinist,” said Dick Couch, a Vietnam-era Navy SEAL during the recent killing of three Somali “pirates” (disgruntled fishermen) by SEALS. How can anyone compare trained assassins to trained healers? The recent Sri Lankan war was called a “family triumph” by the press. The war killed more than 10,000 civilians and displaced 300,000 innocent people. Brothers Mahinda, Gotabya and Basil Rajapaksa shared this “triumph” by bankrupting their country with massive defense spending and terrorizing supporters of the Tamil Tigers during a declared cease-fire.
Forgiveness and reconciliation allow nonviolent justice to flourish. South African statesman Nelson Mandela suffered decades of imprisonment at the hands of his white captors before becoming his country’s first black leader. He set up a Commission of Truth and Reconciliation that began to heal decades of racial hatred. He said, “When I walked out of the gate [of the prison], I knew that if I continued to hate my jailors, I was still in prison.”
Let’s honor our brave veterans by finding ways to prevent war. There are times when we need to defend these shores, but let’s create economic and social justice to eliminate the conditions that foster conflict. Sit in on a Peace Studies class at the University of Maine if you want to learn more.
We need to stop building the next generation of $5 billion Zumwalt destroyers at Bath Iron Works. Let’s build 10 hospital ships instead. Then we can sail them around the globe to treat wars’ victims and offer free health care to our own 50 million citizens without health insurance. It would represent an excellent return on a positive human investment.
Mac Herrling of Orland applied for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War and actively supports Peace Now and the Christian-Jewish peace group Tikkun.