On March 19, the Anniversary of the Iraq war, at UMKC a panel provided five insightful perspectives on the legacy of the Iraq war and lessons for the future. Several peacemaking groups such as AFSC were exploring the factors that might avoid a repetition of war with Iran.
The first presenter was Lucky Garcia, an Iraq War vet, who had first hand involvement with Iraqis while serving there. She began by reflecting on the destruction of Iraq that has left four and a half million orphans, two million widows and a quarter of the people without access to water. She observed that the human impact, Iraqi and on U.S. troops, is traumatic, leaving people disconnected and in denial of the real loss. She related a story of a request by an Iraqi man for desperately needed medicine for his mother. The life saving medicine turned out to be aspirin and earned her the undying gratitude of the Iraqi son. She is now trying to pick up the pieces.
Next, Mitch Green, a graduate student in economics and an Afghan War vet, spoke of working to “win the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people. A change in his commander who authorized night raids placed new suspicion on the presence of American soldiers and caused Mitch to revaluate the price of human life. Mitch Green told of his personal struggles with PTSD, and how he still sees things like a traffic jam, as a potentially dangerous situation, or how he can't be in an urban setting, without watching out for snipers on the roof.
Professor John Henry spoke about how conventional cost analysis of war leaves a lot out of the equation, and how thousands are still paying the price of the Viet Nam War. Professor Henry also explained how he thought that it was erroneous to describe the Iraq War as only nine years old, when it really dates back to 1991's Desert Storm Campaign. He proposed that we have witnessed the incineration of an Iraq nation with deadly consequences beginning with sanctions in the ‘90s, the suffering continuing twenty-two years and involving systemic policy to control oil and military bases arising straight out of Pres. Eisenhower’s warning about a Military Industrial Complex.
Tom Magstadt, PhD of International Studies from John Hopkins University and a former CIA analyst, spoke with great emotion about the futility of US foreign policy over the years. He asked if we have ever learned anything about war after one colossal blunder after another and hoped that a lesson would be that we don’t fight other people’s battles. He cited the high level of frustration among some government analysts who had learned the lessons, because saw that those who make the decisions in government had not. He said the money spent on invading Iraq, which economist Joseph Stieglitz estimates at 3 trillion dollars, could have been used to generate much good will and ‘soft power” in Afghanistan and Iraq.
One of the poignant presentations came from an Iranian panel member, who pointed out that Iran does not want an American style democracy. She said that given the choice, Iranians would rather have an Iranian dictator, than an American brand of democracy. She reiterated the sadness that she felt for the loss of lives and her own experiences of the Iran – Iraq war. She warned against cultural stereotypes, and the U.S.'s efforts to impose it's lifestyle on other nations. She encouraged people to see the film “Separation” and the need to understanding other people. She closed her comments quoting the Persian prophet, Zoraster who said, “I will only fight against darkness, but I will not fight with the sword, instead by bringing a light into it."
Listening to this insightful and empathic forum, one could not help but wonder if more Americans experienced programs like this if invariably they would change their “hearts and minds” moving them away from war and toward peacemaking.
(Audio of this program will be broadcast over the next two weeks on Tuesdays (3/27 and 4/3/2012) at noon on 90.1FM KKFI Kansas City Community Radio, (online at www.kkfi.org). by Rev. Ron Faust and Mike Murphy