This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
Even as the U.S. formally ends the Iraq war and combat troops prepare to exit by Dec. 31, it’s safe to say that many Americans remain conflicted about the nine-year war waged in that country.
They’re proud of the job done by our military – often under tremendously dangerous and uncomfortable conditions. Despite the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were found, few were sad to see the demise of Saddam Hussein and his thuggish dictatorship. And it’s possible to trace the stirrings of the Arab Spring to the fledgling democracy in Iraq.
Yet many can’t help but wonder if it was all worth the high price paid in blood and treasure.
Almost 4,500 Americans – many with links to Joint Base Lewis-McChord – and more than 100,000 Iraqis were killed. Iraq is rid of Hussein, but still unstable and torn by sectarian violence. The U.S. spent more than
$800 billion on the war, but there will be ongoing costs caring for the more than 32,000 U.S. troops who were wounded.
About 20 percent of those injuries involved serious brain or spinal trauma. And the total does not include psychological injuries – including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression – that have contributed to unusually high rates of suicide among the military. Some estimates suggest that about 30 percent of those returning from war zones will experience at least some psychological problems.
Less documented is the personal cost the war and multiple deployments have taken on soldiers and their families. Their lives were disrupted in ways that many might not have anticipated when they signed up, and the community’s support likely will be needed for years to come.
With the war in Afghanistan also drawing down and pressure mounting in Congress to cut military spending as part of deficit-reduction efforts, there’s little doubt that the size of the active-duty military will shrink and many of its members soon will re-enter the civilian world – to less-than-stellar job prospects.
The nation owes a debt to those who served – to care for the wounded and the families of those who were killed and to make veterans’ transition to civilian life as uncomplicated as possible.
The war may be officially over, but not the obligation we have to those who put their lives on the line and made the kinds of sacrifices the general American public wasn’t asked to make.