Not far from my San Francisco Bay Area home, and very visible from the freeway and BART line I and hundreds of thousands of other Bay Area residents use daily is a hillside peppered with more than 4,000 white crosses, marking the deaths of every soldier lost in Iraq. It is a grim and horrifying reminder of the very real toll that the Iraq War has taken on this country. It's a controversial memorial--some of the biggest supporters of the war think it's an insult to the soldiers' sacrifice, an assertion I personally find absurd. What's more horrifying to me is the fear that should the war continue much longer, they will run out of room to place these crosses.
This week marks the sixth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War and the weekend was filled with memorials and protests, including this protest by veterans at the VA in Washington DC:
HuffPo has many blogs on thoughts of entering the seventh year in Iraq. Tom Mattzie--who in his positions at MoveOn and IraqSummer, has been at the forefront of trying to push for change--has two lessons he thinks we need to remember:
First, the task of ending the war is not complete yet. President Obama is endeavoring on a plan to withdraw U.S. troops. I believe he is doing so in good faith and I am proud that America elected our first president opposed to the war we were in on Election Day. This is reaffirming of the wisdom and decency of the American people.
But while we are leaving Iraq, and after we leave, there will be an unmet burden both for millions of Iraqis and hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers, marines, airmen, sailors and their families who carry wounds both seen and unseen.
It will be easy to thrust responsibility on to the hawks and warmongers, but those of us who opposed the war--and the politicians we supported--are essentially running the country now. This is our challenge. We have obligations both to our veterans and to the Iraqi war victims. It will continue to cost tens of billions in the years ahead but that is the necessary cost of our irresponsibility as a country getting into Iraq.
And while we focus on healing those in the war we should also seek to heal the first casualty of this and every war--the truth. There are still questions that haven't been answered about how we got into the war and what happened once we were in it. We deserve answers.
I especially believe that we need to focus on how U.S. policy fanned the flames of sectarian violence and cleansing (called ethnic cleansing in other wars) that turned Baghdad from a mixed city into a majority Shiite city. This is an often-neglected area with profound moral implications.
Did we train and arm sectarian Iraqi Army brigades who by day provided security and by night led death squads? The evidence suggests we did.
The Iraqi refugee crisis remains one of the largest in the world--larger than Darfur last time I checked. Shouldn't there be a truth commission to investigate all of this? The goal of the commission wouldn't necessarily be to seek criminal convictions. What is most important is that we learn the truth lest history repeat itself. And while the process of ending the war will continue for years, the second big lesson I hope we take from Iraq--as a country and as human beings--is that wars are terribly hard to stop once they start. If we learn nothing else from the war in Iraq it should be that the task of staying out of wars should be a critical activity of human civilization.