President Obama mentioned a soldier from the Army's 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, who stated that he wished those who are no longer here could have seen the withdrawal.
In last week's LA Times, Ned Parker reported comments from the same Army 4th Brigade. One soldier, as they passed an Iraqi field said, "Saddam really hid those WMD well." Everyone laughed. Another said, "I have no faith in people whatsoever. Put two people in a room with a hammer and one of them will wind up dead." Parker's article is a cautionary tale that President Obama does not have the stomach to tell. He loves the troops, but like a father who can't admit that his son is in deep trouble and it may be from his parenting, neither Obama, Bush, nor the Pentagon will ever admit the deepest wound we have inflicted on our best and brightest. It is one thing to say a war is difficult and cost billions - it is not going well - it may not be won. It is quite another to admit to over 1.5 million volunteer soldiers as over 400,000 have already filed medical claims, that there was no mission, except to come home.
I directed, The Ground Truth, a 2007 documentary film regarding the physical and emotional effects our current wars are having on our soldiers. Over and over I heard the same response from soldiers in the Army, Marines, Navy, National Guard; it ceased to make sense to ask the question: What do you think is the mission in Iraq? 99% said a variation of: "to protect your buddies, get this shit over with, and go home."
The first thing I learned from interviewing a military general is that your troops must buy into a combat mission in war, if you want to be successful. I would add, if you want your soldiers to come home with less PTSD, less intrusive thoughts, less drug and alcohol addiction, less domestic and violent crimes at home, less suicides, and possibility more ability to transition back to their families, children and community. Unfortunately, time in Iraq for many will set the stage for a new war at home, and even after a mission soldier's believe in, the effects of war are often deep. However, more money, more therapists, and more citizen support for our troops cannot heal the no mission wound.
I have seen severe depression, drugs, an inability to ask for help in the VA maze that most can not navigate on a good day, and most painful, the young wives living with traumatic brain injured husbands who used to be dudes and studs and are now unable to feed themselves. And the silent question of "Why" is deafening, and not uttered because this war's pain wants relief, and it is perceived to be cruel and unpatriotic to tell a mother her son died, is permanently wounded or mentally disturbed in vain.
We need to stop telling our soldiers how brave and heroic they are - and start asking for their forgiveness for telling them they were liberating people who blew them up, forced them to impose democracy on tribal people they did not understand, and still keep asking them to protect contractors who are corporate slaves making twice their salaries. We knew down to our core there was no mission, so we acted like a country not at war. I know many soldiers helped the Iraqi people, did what they could to train their soldiers, and that some of these soldiers have spent more years with Iraqis than with their families. I also know military service is cherished by many, many soldiers despite hating the Iraq War and not having a mission.
Until we can look our soldiers in the eye and tell them what they already know better than anyone else - that there was no mission - how can we genuinely welcome them home or expect them to heal? They will be looking in that rear-view mirror for years to come whether they want to or not while we move on to Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will see in that mirror things they wish were not there that we can never see or erase. But we can at least acknowledge that they are not crazy for their frustration and anguish as they had to do their duty while trying to figure for over seven years why they went, and why they were deployed over and over again to fix the mission that could never be found.