There is a bumper sticker which reads " Stop Endless War ". The message is short, straight forward and it gets your attention. I have reflected previously that for a lot of my life our country has been at war in some form or another. Out of my 62 years of life, the United States has been at war for 32 years. The fallout from war , of course, not only effects the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and civilians who fight, but also their families. The financial costs of war including medical care, mental health care, disability payments, etc. is staggering. Economist Joseph Stigliz projected the cost to be two trillion dollars ( The Two Trillion Dollar War, 2006 ). Is there anything we can do to stop this phenomena?
In the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, and the siege atmosphere of Brussels, several people have advocated more aggressive action against the jihadist terrorists. Thus far several nations have engaged in bombing campaigns in Syria. But there is now an increasing call for uniformed forces to be deployed on the ground in order to fight Isis.
Are there other alternatives ? For over fourteen years we have endured unending combat in Afghanistan and Iraq which has produced over 4000 deaths and thousands of injuries both medical and mental health to many military personnel, not to mention thousands of deaths to civilians. When the Iraq war began, we heard from various elected officials " how we would be welcomed with open arms as heroes. " How accurate was this prediction ? We even had a presidential advisor from a previous presidential administration state " that the invasion of Baghdad would boost their popularity numbers by five points. "
We are now into this struggle fourteen years later. The dismantling of the Iraqi Army and other factors have probably contributed to the phenomena of Isis. Yes, what we have seen of these insurgent forces has been barbaric and truly evil. What we do now in terms of policy regarding how we fight and defeat this menace becomes even more crucial.
There are those who now argue for the mobilization of a NATO ground force. You will recall that a former President boasted " we're going it alone " regarding an invasion of Iraq. The question becomes if we go into Syria now, who is going to be a part of this ground force ? My concern is that it could be mostly United States forces with few nominal back up reserve assets from other nations. This hardly sounds like a united front against a world-wide threat.
There has also not been any discussion about how another ground invasion could affect future mental health needs for military personnel who need treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and other mental health disorders.
Navy Psychiatrist Russell Carr MD has commented regarding mental needs of military service members
The mental health needs of service
members have shifted from the immediate
effects of combat to dealing with long and
repeated deployments. Most of the active
duty army personnel I see are completing
15-month deployments. For those who have
been in the army for more than a few years,
this is usually their second, third, or even
four th deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Most will face another deployment within 12
months of returning home. Currently, the most
frequent problems that soldiers present in
theater are marital problems. Many have spent
three of the last five years away from home.
The strain for both partners after repeated
deployments can become tremendous.
Many of these soldiers are also dealing with
post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from
prior deployments. A N A N A LY S T I N I R A Q
24 THE AMERICAN PSYCHOANALYST • Volume 43, No. 1 • Winter/Spring 2009
Former Secretary Of Defense Bob Gates reflected that there was pressure for him to strategize and determine when the next war might begin. Bob Gates was heard to say, " Hey, can you let me wind down the current war before we start a new one ? ( Duty 2014 )
War without end has caused us all in our country a lot of fatigue, and a lot of losses both in terms of human lives and financial costs. There is also the resignation that comes with the notion that " this is the way it is ", that this is " the new normal " and that there is no recourse.
I believe the American people are smart and want to see conflicts resolved without the massive expenditure of human lives and financial and other structural resources. We can have and exert the will to do otherwise. There is wisdom in what John Lennon and Yoko Ono said
" War is over if you want it.
The truth is that is that if we want peace we will need to do more than just talk about it or pray about it ( although that is important ), we will really have to act in a smart, methodical , thoughtful and strategic fashion. We have it in us to do this for our lives and for our descendants.
May it be so.