The emotion that gripped me the morning after watching President Obama declare an end to the war in Iraq was a deep sadness. Even in his Oval Office speech, the mission of the war in Iraq still wasn’t made clear — and it never was.
The strategic consequences of neglecting Afghanistan and inadvertently strengthening Iran because of the U.S. war in Iraq now appear to have resulted in even more insecurity in the Middle East. But that’s all history now, and the president asked the nation to “turn the page” in his speech. But what makes me so sad is the enormous human cost of the war in Iraq; and how a massive number of people and their families — in America and Iraq — have had their lives changed forever because of this war and will have a hard time turning the page.
It is precisely because of the terrible human cost of war that Peacemakers, Christian leaders and churches are supposed to ask the hardest questions about it. And many asked the tough questions about the war in Iraq. Let’s remember that many Christian leaders, churches, and organizations like the Episcopal Peace Fellowship around the world rejected the arguments for America going to war against Iraq and opposed the U.S. invasion and occupation.
In applying the peace-making ministry of Jesus and the rigorous historical criteria for what constitutes a “just war” we found the Iraq war painfully lacking moral justification. But the United States government didn’t heed the warnings and the objections of the international faith community, even in America, where political opinion was split about 50-50.
The human cost of the Iraq War is literally breathtaking, with 4,400 American soldiers who gave their lives, not to mention the 35,000 wounded, many of whom lost their arms and legs, their strong young bodies, their long-term abilities, or their emotional and mental health.
As people of faith or moral conscience, we must also consider the cost to the Iraqis. Even conservative estimates of Iraqi civilian causalities are now over 100,000 with some estimates peaking over 1.3 million.
What could that $1 trillion — $745 billion in Iraq and $330 billion so far in Afghanistan — have done instead of war? How might the eventual $3 trillion in estimated costs that include long-term consequences and veteran’s needs have been better used?
So was the war in Iraq worth the enormous human cost? My answer is no, which is both a political and a theological statement, but it is primarily a moral judgment — which is exactly what those of us in the faith community are supposed to make about wars.
Today it matters less who was right or wrong about the war in Iraq. Today I feel little celebration in America for the “end” of our combat mission in Iraq. I feel mostly relief … and sadness. And a resolve deep in my soul to challenge any future administration who would seek to convince us with the rightness of war. May each of us pray and work for a just and timely end to our combat operations in Afghanistan. Can we do less?
Rev. Bob Davidson, Colorado EPF chapter convener