One decade ago, as the United States was ramping up the rhetoric against Saddam Hussein and his mythic weapons of mass destruction, nobody could have imagined our present situation.
Not only did we find no weapons of mass destruction, but the "quick and decisive" action that Bush administration officials promised turned out to be much bloodier, longer and darker: a military action on a scale that can only be compared to the U.S. occupation of Vietnam half a century ago.
Now that we are being told that the conflict is over (for the second unforgettable time) we might take a page from that older war that defined an entire generation. The words of singer Steve Goodman can be equally applied to either Iraq or Vietnam: "Now they say the war is over, but I think it's just begun."
Is the war in Iraq really over?
Certainly it is not over for the hundreds of thousands of veterans who still suffer from psychological and physical wounds they incurred in Iraq. Nor is it over for the families of those who have died in the war, such as the family of Jonathan J. Santos of Bellingham, who was killed in 2004 in western Iraq.
Certainly the war is not over for the Iraqi dead and displaced. Apparently it is not over even for the Iraqi government, which issued a warrant for the arrest of Iraqi Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi the day after the American withdrawal. Lastly, it will not be over for the American economy or the taxpayer deficit for the foreseeable future.
Consider the numbers - there are roughly 32,000 physically injured troops, hundreds of thousands psychologically injured service members. Nearly 5,000 men and women were killed in battle, while many more, such as Tim Nelson of Bellingham, killed themselves after returning from combat.
The most conservative estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths is 104,000. In 2006, the British medical journal Lancet estimated 600,000 Iraqis had already been killed. Other studies put the death toll over one million.
According to the United Nations, there are 3.5 million war refugees - 1.8 million fleeing Iraq to other countries and 1.7 million displaced within the country - due to the war. Most of those who could afford to flee the country were middle class professionals (doctors, engineers, educators and lawyers) whose absence has gutted Iraq, leaving it a hovel of poverty and illiteracy and now the most illiterate country in the Arab world.
The war will not end for the Iraqis struggling to return home. The women and children are the biggest losers - over 1 million widows are attempting to survive in a hostile environment.
Nor is the war over for the estimated 16,000 "private contractors" paid an estimated $6 billion annually to perform security, diplomatic and "public relations" duties in place of soldiers. Nor is the war over for defense contractors that feed on taxpayer dollars, preparing for the next unhappy war; the largest being Halliburton, now based in Dubai, paying no taxes to the government that creates and maintains the industry.
The war for democracy has only just begun.
Thousands of armed militiamen are currently keeping the peace; less peace than grudging stalemate between rival factions. Huge waves of protest have rolled through the country following every election since 2005, a sign of the likely corruption, fraud and disenfranchisement of large swaths of the Iraqi population. It bears noting that sectarian violence didn't start until late in the term of Paul Bremer, the Bush appointee who acted as supreme authority in Iraq.
Lastly, according to The Bellingham Herald (Aug. 19, 2011, "Cost of War") the cost of the wars in Asia stands at more than $3 trillion - a figure we haven't even started to understand in context of joblessness and poverty.
Veterans for Peace Chapter 111 stands in stark opposition to the official narrative being spun by politicians of triumphant militarism.
As combat and non-combat veterans, we hate war and the cult of war as only those who have been part of the horror could.
Some of our local members were deployed to Iraq and many of our friends and family have been there.
We want to correct the collective notion of war. War is not clean or neat; it begins at a definite point but does not end definitively.
War is not a political game where numbers of dead and wounded are traded for points at the polls.
What is war? "War is Hell," according to iconic U.S. General W.T. Sherman. "War is a racket," said the highest-decorated marine in U.S. history, Smedley Butler, "where the few profit and the many pay."
We believe that the war is not ending - it is only shifting from the streets to the hospitals, the cemeteries, the community and our homes.
Michael Jacobsen, Vietnam War veteran; Evan Knappenberger, Iraq War veteran; and Carole Edrehi, Vietnam War Red Cross worker, are members of Veterans For Peace, Jonathan J. Santos Memorial Chapter 111, Bellingham. For more information, go to vfp111.org.