Eyes  Wide Open     

Published Circleville Herald 19 September


The full costs in human suffering, the financial wastage, of our military incursion into Iraq is hidden out of sight in our national discourse. This war, and our attendant use of torture as national policy, are some of the darkest and ugliest events that we, the people, allowed to occur in our name. Like the mythical Medusa, so ugly that anyone who gazed on her turned to stone , examining this darkness is so ugly that we turn away in self-preservation. Yet we must open our eyes and see what we have done.

To date, over 5,100 of our finest are dead, 40,000 injured from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Traumatic Brain Injury, the signature wound of the Iraq War, leaves many of these 40,000 alive but shattered forever. Uncounted hundreds of thousands have PTSD. Hundreds of the “noncombat” deaths of our young men and women are from suicide, brought on repeated deployments, by “being treated like toys a rich kid got for Christmas” (Kurt Vonnegut, veteran and author).

I recall the young medics and support personnel I served with in the 256th Evacuation Hospital and the 2291st U.S. Army Hospital. They were great kids, many of them not from privileged backgrounds. They enlisted to carve out a piece of the American dream for themselves, get a little money for college, learn some employable skills. I wonder if some of them have been killed in Iraq/Afghanistan. Until very recently, photos of their caskets coming home were hidden from our sight, heaven forbid we should see with our eyes what war is truly about, that is, many, many dead young men and women.

Our  nation lost its senses after 9/11, we became a mob, we followed a President who promised us revenge in his State of the Union address January 2003, promised us  that Saddam Hussein was obtaining yellow cake uranium from Nigeria. Mr. Bush was advised multiple times, by the CIA and other advisers, that this “intelligence” was not reliable and he should delete it from his warmaking  address . Mr. Bush used it anyway. The Medusan horror is that we went to war based on revenge, against anyone, it didn’t matter who, whether they were responsible for 9/11 or not, we launched a strike-first war based on cold, calculated deliberate misinformation from the Cheney/Bush administration. We must open our eyes to what we have done.

Do you remember our President strutting around on an aircraft carrier under the “Mission Accomplished” sign like Iraq was a high school football game we had “won”? (May 2003)Do you remember our President taunting the Iraqi insurrectionists to “Bring it on!” (June 2003) Their sin is ours,  we elected , re-elected, then failed to impeach and prosecute these men.

Over a million Iraqi and Afghanistani civilians are dead. Millions more are refugees. If we in the U.S. do not think often of their deaths, of those we have tortured, of those Afghans, Pakistanis killed by Mr. Obama’s drone bomb attacks, rest assured that the Islamic world does. Mr. Obama would have us move on, put torture behind us. If we don’t look at torture, with “Eyes Wide Open” and acknowledge our guilt,  if we do not acknowledge that our aerial raids continue to kill hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan, then what we do not look at and  do not learn from we cannot teach our children. Our children shall too easily be led into the next war. We must open our eyes to what we have done.

The estimated full cost of these wars, by the time all the veterans are cared for, all the interest paid on the money we borrowed from China to finance them will be from $3 trillion to $5 trillion dollars. This money would have financed 40-80 years of the most expensive version of healthcare reform now before Congress. If we were to have the most efficient health reform, single payer, these misspent funds would have provided centuries of health care. Which would have made us more secure? These wars, or a strong , healthy, educated nation?

The Circleville Quakers and Veterans for Peace invite you to visit “Eyes Wide Open-Ohio” on the Pickaway County Courthouse Steps September 25-27th. We invite you to spend some quiet, contemplative, perhaps painful time, among the almost 200 empty combat boots representing Ohio troop deaths and the hundreds of empty civilian shoes for killed Iraqis and Afghanistanis. Come in peace, feel with eyes and soul wide open and know that war is not the answer. Whether that war is fought with bombs and missiles overseas, or with hatred and contempt, violent language, directed at our  ”enemies” at healthcare reform rallies, war is not the answer.


Brad Cotton

Convener, Circleville Friends Worship Group