Ten years ago the United States began the war in Iraq. At that time the war in Afghanistan had already been underway since late 2001. The cumulative costs of these wars have been staggering. The Iraq War has cost 4,488 American lives and 31,925 have been wounded. At least 100,000 Iraqis have perished, probably many more. In Afghanistan, 2,309 Americans have died with 18,285 wounded. Military suicides are an on-going tragedy.
Today, Iraq is closer to Iran and Syria than the United States. All the publicly stated rationales for the war—eradication of weapons of mass destruction, democratization, wiping out Al-Qaeda, to name a few—have faded with time. Afghanistan remains a collection of warlords as it always has been. The short term financial cost of these wars is over a trillion dollars with long-term cost estimates of $2 to $4 trillion. The single accomplishment of the Iraq war was to remove a despicable dictator from power, one of many around the world. We can’t even claim anything similar in Afghanistan.
Who’s responsible for making these horrendous blunders? Bush and Cheney and their disinformation campaign? Sure. A pliable news media running with a hot story? Sure. Weak-kneed Democrats? Sure. Each played a role but these are the easy explanations. Want to see the real culprit? Look no further than the mirror. To one degree or another, each of us, pro-war or not, bears part of the responsibility. We all could have done more.
What have we as a nation learned from our disastrous wars? From all appearances, very little. There has been no national discussion of the avoidable mistakes that have cost so many so much. The political and media voices tell us to move along, nothing to see here. Work, buy, consume, repeat. We owe it to the dead and wounded to do more.
We should not simply turn our backs on mistakes of such a huge magnitude. We’re like a hit-and-run driver desperately fleeing an accident scene. The greatest danger is that unacknowledged errors will be repeated. We should not, we cannot, let this happen again.
What can we do at this point? Here’s an idea…
I propose a national day of contrition. A day on which we would individually and publicly admit our mistakes about the wars, taking responsibility no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel, and resolve to never repeat them again.
Specifically, we need to start a word-of-mouth movement to pick a specific date, July 4th 2013 for example, and on that day at 2:00 in the afternoon each person would walk out their front door, go out to the street, and talk and listen to our neighbors. Others could meet in town squares and churches.
Those that supported these wars should recite for all to hear how we were individually and collectively wrong, what we have learned, and then vow to never make such a mistake again. Neighbors should listen to neighbors and honor those with the courage to take responsibility for their errors. Forgiveness should be freely available to all who ask.
A day of national contrition is bound to be unpopular with those who refuse to acknowledge their misjudgments. Many would dig in and counter-protest yelling to the top of their lungs their determination to again go to war at the next opportunity. Let them. The point is to get out there the idea that we have done something that by all that is right we should deeply regret.
Confession is a time-honored tradition in the Christian and other religions. This is the foundation of personal, and national, integrity. We owe it to our kids. We owe it to ourselves. And we should do it now before there’s more forgetting. This July 4th let’s make it happen.