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Remembering the Human Tragedy of the Iraq War

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Interfaith worshipers gathered at Hanover Street Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware on January 5th to remember those killed, wounded, and displaced by the Iraq War, and to pray for peace and healing.  Sally Milbury-Steen, the Director of Delaware Pacem in Terris, opened the occasion with the address printed below, which outlines the human suffering.  Thanks, Sally, for this guest post. 

The pictures in this post record some moments of the solemn candlelight procession following the worship service, which honored U.S. veterans who perished not only in the Iraq War, but also in World War I and the Vietnam War, and African American servicemen who received the Congressional Medal of Honor.  There are monuments to these veterans in Brandywine Park, adjacent to the church.


Remembering the Human Tragedy of the Iraq War

by Sally Milbury-Steen, Director of Delaware Pacem in Terris


(This article is the speech that Sally gave at "The Iraq War (2003 — 2011): Remember, Reflect and Re-Commit Ourselves to Peace" service at Hanover Presbyterian Church on January 5, 2012 which was sponsored by the September 11th Coalition for Just and Peace Initiatives, a project of Pacem in Terris.)


   This is a very solemn and sad occasion for us all as we think about those who have suffered because of the war in Iraq.  May we take this occasion to remember all of the U.S. soldiers, Coalition members, private contractors, and Iraqi civilians who died during the War in Iraq:  4,487 U.S. soldiers were killed (54% of whom were under the age of 25), 318 Coalition members were killed, 463 non-Iraqi private contractors were killed, and although we will never know for sure, estimates of Iraqi deaths range from 113,265 to over one million.  In addition, 1.24 million Iraqis were forced to leave their homes and became internally displaced in Iraq.  Another 1.6 million Iraqis had to flee their country as refugees.

    About 1.5 million US service men and women served in the Iraq War, many of them for multiple deployments.  Over 800,000 of the two million US soldiers sent to Iraq and Afghanistan have served multiple deployments in Iraq or Afghanistan, many in both countries. Although the Pentagon reports that a total of 32,226 wounded, its tally is restricted to "wounded in action."  The true number of military personnel injured over the course of our nine-year long war in Iraq, according to Dan Froomkin, …" is in the hundreds of thousands –maybe even more than half a million — if you take into account all the men and women who returned from their deployments with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, depression, hearing loss, breathing disorders, diseases, and other long-term health problems." 

    We do not have an exact number, because nobody was really keeping track.  According to the Rand Corporation, at least 20% of all returning veterans from the war in Iraq suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, but only a quarter of them have been treated by Veterans Administration health care.  The Pentagon’s Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center diagnosed 229,106 cases of mild to severe traumatic brain injury from 2000 to the third Quarter of 2011, among both Iraq and Afghan vets.

     vigil attenderOne U.S. military veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan attempts suicide every 80 minutes and from 2005 to 2010 approximately one active duty service member attempted suicide every 36 hours according to the Daily Mail Reporter.

    In 2010, 468 active duty and reserve troops committed suicide while 462 died in combat, marking the second year in a row that more US soldiers killed themselves than died at war, according to Congressional Quarterly’s John Donnelly.  He goes on to explain that from 2000 – 2010, over 2,000 soldiers took their own lives, yet their deaths were given little, often no, attention in our corporate media. For example, in August 2010 the New York Times ran a story with the headline, “Iraq War Marks First Month With No U.S. Military Deaths.”  Yet, during that month, the Department of Defense reported19 possible suicides among active-duty soldiers. In July 2010, that number reached a record high of 32.

    There is a higher suicide rate among National Guard members than among full-time soldiers. Kimberly Hefling found that "A Department of Veterans Affairs analysis of ongoing research of deaths among veterans of both [Iraq and Afghanistan] wars found that Guard or Reserve members accounted for 53% of the veteran suicides from 2001 through the end of 2005."  The suicide rate for female soldiers triples when they go to war, from 5 /100,000 to 15/100,000. 
    We remember that behind these statistics are real people whose lives have been lost and scarred.  Let us remember not only those who have died in the war in Iraq, but the many more who are living with physical disabilities and invisible wounds, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Military Sexual Trauma, and Major Depressive Disorder. Let us insist that the best way that our nation can honor our veterans and help the Iraqi people, is by providing the means and treatment necessary for them to heal. 

    The cost of the Iraq War has had a devastating impact on the poor and most vulnerable in our country.  According to the Congressional Research Service it cost 806 billion dollars.  However, economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimate that the total cost for veterans’ health care and disability payments will be between 422 billion and 717 billion dollars.  At a time when social programs are being cut and our infrastructure is crumbling, the war abroad has also been a war on us.
    While it is true that those of us who raised our voices against the Iraq War and engaged in every activity that we could think of to try to hasten its end, we did not succeed in shortening it.  However, I take consolation from the fact that we consistently spoke out, we told the Truth, we remained kind and caring.  We never let the war and its militarism rob us of our humanity, our compassion, or our belief in nonviolence as love in action.  We did what we could and have discovered that our peacemaking is not reactive, but a way of life.  It is founded on the belief that each of us can do something to make a difference. The task ahead is for us to  make real the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, "Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the men [and women] who wield it.  It is a sword that heals." 

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