Thursday, March 13, 2008

5 years in, a time for penance

March 19 will be the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war. With nearly 4,000 American soldiers dead, many more damaged and wounded in terrible and subtle ways, families and communities devastated by endless combat tours, and countless hundreds of thousands of Iraqi's displaced, devastated, and killed, it is a moment that requires thoughtful reflection on our responsibilities and accountabilities.

Five years ago, in the run up to the war, I shared the following with some mailing lists I am on (preblog days):

Echoes and Focus

A timely and thought provoking piece from a voice that earned a right to be heard:

In my opinion, Iraq II may be the right war for the wrong reasons. By being for the wrong reasons, it makes it the wrong war (the end can never justify the means).

The US created Saddam in the name of practicality, to help manage the direct consequences of another monster that was created in the name of practicality (the Shah). It falls to us to clean up the mess we created, not in the name of the UN or homeland security, but because of our responsibility to the American ideal.

As a nation, we should address that responsibility directly, and not mask the discussion in wranglings over UN resolutions and WMD posturing. This is a problem we created, and we need to fix it, the French be damned.

The other side of the war on terror understands that their war is with the American ideal, not America the place. It is we that are blind to where the real battle is being fought.

America the place will survive, even if we suffer horrific losses. The great legacy, burden, and responsibility of the nation is the ideals it represents. The smear of hypocrisy is the great enemy, and I fear we're sinking ever deeper into that hole for the sake of practicality (TIA, Pakistan, Venezuela, UN "debates", Saudi Arabia, Palestine/Israel, China, etc.)


When the war started, we were visiting my parents home in Washington DC. Like many Americans, I was riveted to the television in those first days of the war. My profound dread and fear for our soldiers were replaced by the giddy joy of watching Baghdad fall with minimal loss of life. There were tears flowing down my face as the brave soldiers draped the American flag on the statue of Saddam. As I went on my run that day (down Democracy Blvd of all places), I was bursting with pride that my country had so expertly removed a tyrant and evil man, and had begun to atone for the evil of having put him in place to begin with.

Shortly afterwards, a letter to the editor in the Washington Post lambasted the soldier who draped that flag on that statue. I was moved to write the following to the editor of the Washington Post:

I am writing in response to Joe Dobrow's comments on April 11 that the marine who draped the flag over the statue of Saddam Hussein "displayed the insensitive behavior for which Americans are known around the world."

Mr. Dubrow and others should remember that for our military, their families, and many Americans, our flag is not a symbol of jingoism, political affiliation, or national borders. Regardless of how it may appear to others, the Stars and Strips represents the freedoms that members of our volunteer military have committed their lives to defend, even in distant places for other peoples.

When that brave Marine raised the flag, it was not to chants of "U-S-A" in some perverse ESPN moment. Rather, the flag was raised in honor and memory to those who fought and fell at Okinawa, Normandy Beach, Berlin, Pyongyang, Basra, Baghdad, and countless other far off places so that we and others may enjoy the blessings of liberty.

While we may have honest disagreements about our nation's policies and the long term implications of the war, we as a nation should never be ashamed or reproachful when those who bravely and honorably fight and die for the freedoms we all enjoy proudly raise the Stars and Stripes. They, their families, and what our flag represents deserve better.

Ray Ghanbari

Five years in, I am grateful that we have not turned on members of our military. However, it is clear that we are engaged in an unjust war for unjust reasons. It was the right thing to remove Saddam. We had created a monster, it was our obligation to remove him. Our distorted rationale going in (and on-going distortions to stay in) have corrupted the moral basis for the war, and have hurt our country in ways that will decades for us to recognize and reconcile. Until we acknowledge and accept that we have not been in the right and that we have caused tremendous pain and death to countless innocents, we will be unable to to gain the redemption that will truly save what we are fighting for.

Several weeks ago, I was struck dumb by a remarkably vivid call for repentance and salvation by the Rev. Jim Wallis. His words are worthy of study and contemplation by all Americans, regardless of religious persuasion. His call for repentance is of profound importance to us all. In this season of repentance and rebirth, I wish all of us the courage to confront our past, so we can embrace our future together.

A Lenten Call to Repentance (by Jim Wallis)

March 19 will be the fifth anniversary of the war with Iraq. In this season of Lent, we are called to lament and repent for an ongoing war that is being waged by our country, financed by our taxes, and fought by our brothers and sisters. After five years, we all lament the suffering and violence in Iraq. We mourn the nearly 4,000 Americans who have lost their lives, the tens of thousands wounded in body and mind, and the unknown hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died.

Recent U.S. claims of modest security gains in certain sectors of Iraq do not justify extending the U.S occupation - especially when five years of occupation has not produced the political reconciliation necessary for real security and stability. The fragile security improvements are not sustainable without a political solution, which is simply not forthcoming. And without a clear path to political progress, we will simply see more of the same failed strategy and a scenario of American occupation in the midst of bloody sectarian warfare with absolutely no end in sight—and with a real prospect of compounding the tragedy by attacking Iran as well.

On this anniversary, we should all repent for America's actions. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said about the war in Vietnam: "How can I pray when I have on my conscience the awareness that I am co-responsible for the death of innocent people in Vietnam? In a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible." It is a good lesson for those of us who oppose the war – it is still funded by our tax dollars and supported by our elected leaders. That is a responsibility for which we all must repent.

But repentance means more than just being sorry. It means both admitting that the course we have been on is wrong and committing to begin walking in a new direction. Repentance has to do with transformation, and that's exactly what the American church needs to break out of its conformity to the American government's foreign policy of fear and war. We must pursue our future foreign policy in ways that are consistent with moral principles, wise political judgments, and international law - rejecting unilateral preemptive wars for multilateral cooperation. We need a new definition of our national security. There is a better way. The global church feels it, and the world is hungry for it.

Given how important the issues of Iraq, Iran, and U.S. foreign policy will be in the 2008 elections, there is no better time than now for U.S. churches to offer words and acts of repentance for their misguided and misleading support for America's mistakes. It's finally time for the American churches to find their voice for Jesus' way of peacemaking and to demonstrate—in matters of war, peace, and the critical area of conflict resolution—just who we belong to.

For the next four weeks, God's Politics will be featuring posts from a variety of voices on Iraq. We'll hear from Iraqis, U.S. veterans and parents, Christians from other countries, pastors, and peacemakers - all reflecting on the cost of the war. Together, we can dedicate ourselves to a world where war is not the answer.

For those so inclined, Rev. Wallis has an on-line affirmation for those looking to publicly embrace a new path.

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