The End of a Tragedy
On Sunday, the last convoy of U.S. combat troops exited Iraq, ending our nation’s 8-year war in that country. The human consequences of this misguided, unnecessary conflict are staggering – over 100,000 Iraqis and nearly 4,500 American service members killed, millions of Iraqis displaced from their homes, and hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers suffering psychological and physical injury.
The Bush administration, hawkish Congressional leaders in both parties and the news media face the harsh judgment of history for telling the world that Iraq constituted a just cause, a grave threat, and an easy win – none of which were true. At the onset of the invasion, more than 70 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th plot. That was no accident. It was the fruit of one of the most effective propaganda campaigns in American history.
Pleas for caution and peace from the faith community fell on deaf ears in Washington during the run-up to the invasion. And unfortunately, many religious leaders either remained silent or helped build the drumbeat for war. Prominent conservative Christian thinkers such as Chuck Colson and George Weigel, along with numerous influential pastors, all spoke in support of military action. One month after the war began, 87 percent of white evangelicals approved of the decision to invade Iraq. Even in 2006, when sectarian bloodshed and U.S. casualties spiraled out of control, only a minority of weekly church attenders said the war was a mistake.
The abuses and torture at Abu Ghraib prison shocked the nation’s conscience and provided a terrifying testament to the evil that war unleashes. The images of the victims and torturers outraged the faith community. Faithful America and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which brought together ideologically and theologically diverse faith leaders, were founded in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib and raised a powerful witness against human rights abuses.
As America’s post-Iraq War era begins, we have an obligation not only to support innocent civilian victims and care for our veterans (who face unemployment, post-traumatic stress and numerous other challenges), but also to learn from our mistakes and reexamine our attitudes toward war. Although our government bears most of the blame, citizens of the most powerful nation in the world have a responsibility to approach war with great reluctance and skepticism, not eagerness and credulity. Clergy have a special obligation to ensure that we learn this lesson.