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Column

10 years later, was  Iraq war worth it?

An overwhelming majority of Americans, 70 percent in the latest polling, believe that the Iraq War we entered into a decade ago was a mistake. One NPR commentator called it “the worst strategic mistake in American history,” apparently leaving out mistakes that led to our Civil War or the role of American isolationism in contributing to World War II. I believe that the Iraq War was not a mistake, and its future consequences will be beneficial.

The basic view is that since no weapons of mass destruction were found, the purpose for going to war was false, however, searching for WMDs was not the only reason for the war. Saddam Hussein had defied numerous U.N. resolutions, and his military had been firing on U.S. airplanes enforcing a no-fly zone.

Western intelligence agencies believed he possessed WMDs. Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush and congressional leaders of both parties believed he did. Interrogations of captured Iraqi military and political leaders revealed that they also thought Hussein had those weapons. The Iraqi leader was a tyrant who murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people, including thousands of Kurds with chemical weapons. He had invaded Kuwait and Iran. During the Gulf War he fired missiles with poison gas against Israel. That is a weapon of mass destruction. It was a reasonable assumption that since he possessed WMDs in 1991 that he had them in 2003. The Iraqi dictator also gave $25,000 to the family of any terrorist who killed American Jews in Israel.

We cannot know what would have happened if we had not invaded Iraq in 2003, but based on his past behavior and his socio-path, paranoid personality, his own people or another nation would have been a future victim. Even after his defeat in the Gulf War, he slaughtered tens of thousands of his own people: Kurds, swamp Arabs, and Shia.

Many believe that the war was not worth the cost in American lives, and that Americans are “war weary.” On an individual and family level, the deaths of 4,500 Americans and 32,000 wounded, is painfully tragic. But that number is far fewer than losses sustained in past wars.

Aside from those connected to the military, most Americans did not experience or suffer from the Iraq War. We cannot say that we all lived through that war. The loss of 650,000 Americans out of 31 million in our Civil War was significant. The deaths of 100,000 Americans in the First World War, virtually all combat dead occurring during the war’s last seven months, out of 105 million people was a profound loss. The deaths of 420,000 Americans out of 135 million in a period of 44 months, during World War II was of a higher magnitude. Fives times as many Americans died during the six-week Battle of the Bulge than died during the Iraqi War.

The loss of even one American is meaningful, but if you believe that this war was a mistake, then you cannot state that the 4,500 died to protect our freedoms. Protecting liberty makes the war justifiable. If unjustifiable, then they did not die to protect us.

I do not believe that our soldiers died in vain. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to the liberation of 70 million people from the grips of a tyrant and a religious fundamentalist tyranny, the Taliban. Hundreds of thousands of Americans died in two world wars to free 40 million French. Were their lives wasted?

Continued violence in Iraq should be viewed in an historical context. It takes time to develop civil and tolerant societies. Most middle and near east violence is amongst religious groups: Shia, Alawite, and Sunni. Millions of Christians killed each other in Europe’s wars of religion from the start of the Reformation in 1517 to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years War. You would only have to go back 25 years in Northern Ireland to be in the midst of Christian sectarian violence.

I am not concerned that the Iraqi War strengthed Iran’s influence. Iran will some day be our friend again, We fought two wars against Britain, two against Germany, one against Mexico, one against Japan, and a 12-year war against Vietnam, and they are all now our allies or friends. We even invaded Canada twice. We fought two wars on the side on Russia, and although not allies, we no longer are Cold War enemies threatening to destroy the world in nuclear war.

Americans should have a quiet faith and pride in our nation, the main country in the world that sacrifices lives for the freedoms of other peoples. Our Iraq war dead died heroically and for a noble cause.

Rick Sirvint is a resident of Rindge.

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