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Consider the facts when forming ideas about the war in Iraq

May 27, 2007|By Lloyd "Pete" Waters

The year was 1966, and I had just graduated from Boosboro High School. Like many other graduates growing up in the '60s, I had an opinion about life, the world and just about any issue you wanted to discuss.

Whether or not those opinions were always supported by facts was altogether another matter. The conflict in Vietnam was in full swing and there were a lot of other things happening as well. The Baby Boomers can all share a story or two in regard to social changes, freedoms and the good music of that era.

Since I didn't have any money, I thought the best way to see the world was at the expense of my Uncle Sam. So I enlisted in the Army. From Fort Bragg, to Fort Knox, to Long Binh, to Fort Lee, and the many stops in between, I was one traveling Dargan dude.

My early opinion about the Vietnam conflict was that every nation deserved an opportunity to become a democracy. I supported my country's involvement in Vietnam, but I soon discovered my opinion was predicated more on patriotic idealism than on analysis.

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In the middle of a philosophy class some years later at Mount Saint Mary's college, I came to the realization that I often had failed to include important facts and relative information in developing some of my opinions. I promised myself to do better in the future.

As I look at our country's situation in Iraq, I am reminded of the political blunders of President Johnson and Defense Secretary McNamara during Vietnam. I am also reminded of the 58,000 soldiers, many of them fresh out of high school, who paid the ultimate sacrifice to help promote democracy in Vietnam.

Did Vietnam, in the end, choose democracy? Can anyone tell me exactly what those 58,000 deaths achieved for this country? Would the money spent in Vietnam have been better spent on a different foreign policy, or better social reforms for our citizens at home?

I have concluded that the politics of Vietnam, like a dead fish lying on some Asian seashore, was rotten to the bone. It was ill-conceived, flawed politically and militarily from the outset, economically regressive and represented a pathetic chapter in our history

In order for people to have a more defined opinion about the war in Iraq, I would have you consider some of the following:

·There are some 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. An additional 21,500 will be added for duty, primarily in Bagdad and Anbar province. Some 7,000 additional support positions may also be part of this increase.

·As of May 12, there have been 3,393 American deaths with some 25,245 injured since this war began. In many homes this year, Mother's Day had emptiness unknown to most of us.

·Twenty percent of the wounded soldiers have serious brain or spinal injuries that will require lifelong care. As many as one in 10 sent to European hospitals for treatment suffered from mental problems associated with war.

·At the outset, Congress initially agreed that some $50 billion would be needed to stabilize Iraq. When Lawrence Lindsey, a White House economic adviser, suggested that amount would be closer to $200 billion, he was dismissed by President Bush for sharing his opinion.

More recently, Columbia University economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, a 2001 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics, along with Harvard Lecturer Lina Bilmes have suggested that the cost of the Iraq war through 2010 might actually top $2 trillion.

In their analysis, they offer some additional expenses not considered by earlier congressional estimates to include:

·Long-term medical treatment and disability for American soldiers;

·Recruitment bonuses and costs.

·Rebuilding a stressed and depleted military.

·Impact on the economic welfare of this country caused by the borrowing of money, large federal deficit and interest due on this debt.

·A resulting increase of $5 per barrel on oil caused by the instability in the Middle East.

·The potential long-term impact on investment- and growth-related issues of the U.S. economy.

The cost of the American dead, wounded, and maimed is a substantial impact that has touched every American citizen. How this country might better invest $2 trillion toward health care, debt reduction, prescription plans, economic growth, homeland security, immigration control and other issues is a vision that has been cast aside by the blind political decisions related to the war.

Imagining how a Shiite-led democracy in Iraq might fare in future years with the nearby theocracy of Iran is difficult for me to envision on my best day.

I know that each American citizen has to formulate an opinion on this war, and I hope you will consider the facts. I urge you to continue to read and analyze all available information in arriving at your position.

As for me, I believe the position expressed by John Edwards, who recently said, "that the best way to honor the troops is to demand an end to the Iraq war," is the best course of action. The best way to honor the taxpayer and our society is to make a wiser use of $2 trillion.

Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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