July 2, 2008 – As the Iraq war grinds on endlessly, there is growing concern among U.S. military leaders about the excessive strain placed on troops who have been deployed there and redeployed two or three times.
According to an Associated Press report, “Thousands more troops each year struggle with mental health problems because of the combat they’ve seen. The lengthening of duty tours to 15 months a year ago also has been blamed for these problems, as has the fact that soldiers are being sent back for two, three or more times.”
The Washington Post reported on an Army mental health study which indicated “that 27 percent of noncommissioned officers — a critically important group — on their third or fourth tour exhibited symptoms commonly referred to as post-traumatic stress disorders.”
These conditions, of course, result from two problems:
1. The fact that we are involved in two stressful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that, so far, we are far from winning either.
2. The fact that our forces are made up of volunteers whose numbers are limited.
The Iraq war has lasted longer than World War II and the Civil War. It has resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 troops and in the serious injury of thousands more. There have been fewer casualties in Afghanistan, but no quick end is seen to that conflict either.
Bob Herbert, a New York Times columnist, wrote recently that many thousands of U.S. troops “are returning with brain damage and psychological wounds that cause tremendous suffering and have the potential to alter their lives forever.” He added that “a study found that approximately 30,000 individuals who served in Iraq or Afghanistan are currently suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” and that many suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Public support for the Iraq war has declined precipitously as the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the pre-emptive attack have been exposed as lies. Saddam Hussein, though he was a ruthless dictator, did not have a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and was not cooperating with al-Qaida. The real goal of the invasion was to gain access to Iraq’s oil reserves.
The result of all these conditions is that the true burden of carrying on the war is shared by a very small segment of U.S. society — members of the regular military forces, the National Guard and the reserves. They represent less than .0005 percent of the general population. Everyone else is free of the risk of death, injury and the mental stress of combat.
While many Americans have been vigorous critics of the pre-emptive attack and the reason for launching it, there has been little discussion of the fact that only a small segment of society has shed blood for the cause. The war on Iraq has been a costly, dangerous and utterly useless venture.
The fact that only a small number of Americans are feeling the worst effects of the conflict makes it even more imperative that we end the war and bring home our troops.
In both World War II and the Vietnam war, a large percentage of the adult population was subject to being drafted for military service. While a military draft is not popular under any circumstances, at least it does not require that only a tiny share of the population will be exposed to the possibility of being killed or seriously wounded.
That gross inequity could be avoided in the future by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment would state that the U.S. cannot declare war — pre-emptive or otherwise — unless Congress passes a law that would make a large section of the population subject to the possibility of being drafted.
Such an amendment would make it much more difficult for any administration to take the country to war. It would also end the cruel injustice of making only a tiny minority subject to the possibility of dying or being wounded in combat.
President Bush has been arrogant enough to keep asserting that we are making progress in Iraq and will be able to prevail if we persist. That is clearly untrue and a great majority of Americans recognize that fact.
Ending the war will benefit all Americans but it will also end the terrible plight of the men and women in the military who are bearing the whole burden of the conflict.