Vietnam-Iraq War Connection

The Vietnam-Iraq Connection;
Letter from an Iraq War Veteran:
“When Will We Ever Learn”

The philosopher George Santayana famously said that “Those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.”  As this year marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, which Pope John Paul II and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops judged to be an unjust war (which, however, was supported by the majority of American Catholics), this may be a good occasion to ask, “Why do we keep making the same errors in moral judgment?”
Good topic for a book, but for the purpose of this blog-reflection,
I’ve got to keep it brief.  I would venture that there is a thread connecting the Vietnam War, another unjust war, with the Iraq mis-adventure.  We never named our moral culpability in  the Vietnam War.  Moreover, those who were chagrined at America’s humiliation were highly motivated to regain the military/political prowess that they saw diminished by Vietnam.
As a country we’ve never taken responsibility for what we did in Vietnam.   Nick Turse in Killing Anything That Moves takes an uncompromising look at the real American War in Vietnam.  While there has been over 30,000 books on Vietnam, Turse presents an in-your-face, deeply disturbing book that provides the fullest documentation of the intentional brutality and ugliness that marked American’s War in Vietnam.  Using the U.S. military’s own records, reports, and transcripts he provides a sickening compendium of American’s savagery towards Vietnam civilians (over 3,000,000 Vietnamese died during the war), which was camouflaged by a record of government deceit and cover-ups on the part of high-ranking officers and government officials.  After you read this book, your left with the lingering dread that the claim that My Lai was a one-off event becomes unsustainable.
Rather than naming, repenting, and amending our national life,   the attitudes that fostered the immorality of the Vietnam War were simply awaiting an opportunity to reclaim America’s robust military/political presence in the international realm.  That opportunity came with the Iraq War.
Invasion of Iraq: A break of trust.  Since we did not take moral responsibility for the Vietnam War and suppressed it’s horror in our collective memory,  that made it easier for us as a nation to make future mistakes.  So, let’s look at the five unfortunate facts that marked our invasion.
First, the leaders of the Bush Administration, many of whom were foreign policy wonks of the Nixon Administration (such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Pearle, and Paul Wolfawicz), were intent on invading Iraq from the beginning of the Bush Administration.  What they lacked was a reason to embark on it.  When the 9-11 attacks came, the Bush Cabinet immediately discussed how that national tragedy could be used as a justification to invade Iraq.
Bush-Cheney tried to pin the blame of 9-11 on Iraq and though there was no evidence to support such a claim, the Administration promoted it through a very compliant media, including liberal bastions as the New York Times and Washington Post.  Invading Iraq as a response to 9-ll made as  much sense as the United States invading Mexico after Pearl Harbor.
Second, though at one time 60% of the American public  accepted the deception of the Iraq/9-11 connection, the Bush-Cheney settled on the excuse for invading that Iraq was making weapons of mass destruction.  They trotted out to Congress, the American people, and the United Nations a series of fabricated intelligence reports.  The proof of these fabrications were well known before we invaded.
Third, the same hubris that characterized our Vietnam involvement was seen in our gross mismanagement of the war that cost minimally 100,000 Iraqi lives, and thousands of American lives.
As has been documented by scores of books of Iraq (most notably, Thomas Ricks, Fiasco), the Bush Administration had no real plan for occupying Iraq.  But, in a mind-boggling strategic error, it did dismiss the Iraqi army, despite the fact that the latter had access to a trove of weapons, which fueled the insurgency war that soon followed.
Fourth, Iran profited by our invasion.  For years, Iran’s aggressive tendencies had been held in check by the Baghdad government.  Since the U.S. invasion, Shiite-dominated  Iran has gained a greater influence  in Iraq, which is 60% Shiite.  On top of that, Iran has gained a greater influence throughout the Middle East, though the Arab Spring has damped that somewhat.
Fifth, invasion and occupation of Iraq added between one trillion and two trillions to our long-term debt.
War profiteers such as Haliburton and Blackwater made huge profits.  These war expenses were initiated as the same time the Bush Administration began a tax cut, which largely benefitted the wealthy.  The financial difficulties our government and economy face today are in large part driven by those twin decisions.
While it is appropriate that we thank our veteran soldiers and civilians for their service in Iraq, no matter how misguided the policies were, it is, however, inappropriate that we thank for their service the senior officials who concocted this debacle.
One of the great strengths of America is that we look to the future with optimism and confidence.  That penchant may also be one of our greatest weaknesses because we don’t do a very good job of learning from our past history.  Indeed, since we did not learn enduring lessons from the Vietnam War, we suffer from a collective amnesia or ignorance of our own history.   We must honestly teach our history, learn from it, not cover it up, and never forget it.
Message to Bush, Cheney from a Dying Veteran.
The following letter is written by Tomas Young, who was in the fifth day of his first deployment to Iraq when he was struck by a sniper’s bullet in Baghdad’s Sadr City.  The single bullet paralyzed him from the chest down, and changed his life forever.  Now, nine years later, at the age of 33, young has decided to end his life.  He announced recently that he will soon stop his nourishment, which comes in the form of liquid through a feeding tube.
(Note: This originally appeared at
I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans.  I write this letter on behalf of the 4,448 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq.  I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives.  I am one of those gravely wounded.  I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City.  My life is coming to and end.  I am living under hospice care.
I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of he fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf o those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries.  I write this letter on behalf of those veterans who trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done n Iraq have led to suicide on  behalf o the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day.  I write this letter on behalf of he some one million Iraqi dead and on behalf o the countless Iraqi wounded.  I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those while spend their lives in unending pain and grief.
I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney.  I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power.  I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and  hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, I know fully who you are and what you have done.  You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.
Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, our privilege and our power cannot mask the hollowness of your character.  You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit.  Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago.  You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young mean and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.
I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks.  I joined the Army because our county had  been attacked.  I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens.  I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States.  I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mss-destruction facilities or implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East.  I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues.  Instead, this war will cost the United States $3 trillion.  I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war, which is illegal under international law.  And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes.  The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history.  It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East.  It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror.  And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region.  On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure.  And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war.  It is you who should pay the consequences. …
I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration.  I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used.  We were betrayed.  And we have been abandoned.  You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being Christian.  But isn’t lying a sin?  isn’t murder a sin?  Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins?  I am not a Christian.  But, I believe in the Christian ideal.  I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.
My day of reckoning is upon me.  Yours will come.  I hope you will be put on trial.  But mostly I hope, for your sakes,  that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live.  I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in  particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.
Tomas Young
Kansas City, Mo.


Let Jesus Illumine Your Life

Third Sunday of Easter (C); April 14, 2013

Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41  Ps 30  Rv 5:11-14  Jn 21:1-19

Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison


         We continue to read from the wonderfully rich chapters of John which deal with the Resurrection appearances of Jesus.  In the 21st chapter we have an account of Jesus appearing to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee.  As shown in the Easter Vigil, there is a connection with the Genesis account of Creation and the Resurrection.  Here we have Jesus creating anew, bringing forth new life, animating, giving life back to his Church.

These disciples have had extraordinary experiences of Jesus: He is alive again after going through a horrible crucifixion.  We saw John running to the tomb and Thomas saying, “My Lord and my God!”  But, as the story opens, they are back at their ordinary tasks.  Here are Peter, Thomas, Nathanial, Zebedee’s sons, and two others.  They’ve returned to Galilee from Jerusalem and they’re about their business of fishing again.

Does this happen to us?  We can have a very powerful religious experience whether it be a (prison) Kairos retreat, a sermon that may have inspired you, or an encounter with a very saintly person and you resolve to live your life in a new way.  You’re on fire with the Spirit, but after a while you find your fervor going down; you return to your ordinary life and your old habits.   In some ways, I think that’s what’s being described here.

There’s a very subtle bit of symbolism in this story, which we’re used to seeing in John.  There are seven disciples, not twelve.  Why seven?  It stands for  the completed cycle of time, such as the seven days of the week.  Heads-up: something is coming to completion!

Peter says, “I am going fishing” and the others say that they will join him.  So, they go out at night and they catch nothing.  This account just seems so dreary and flat.  The fervor’s gone; the spirit’s gone.  Where’s the life?  Where’s the animation that characterized them in Jerusalem?  Sometimes our life just seems dreary and flat as we go through the motions of being human.

But, listen:  the Light is about to come on!  “When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore, but the disciples did not realize it was Jesus” (Jn 21:4).  It’s dawn of a new day and there is Jesus.  In the first day of the week according to Genesis, God created light and here Jesus is bringing light to the world, which the darkness cannot overcome.  This is the dawn of a new life.  Jesus is standing on the shore as if he is the light of a new day.  He’s going to illumine their lives.  That’s the point of the story:   Jesus illumines our ordinary life and makes it rich and lively again.

“Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?  They answered him, “No.”  So, he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So, they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish” (vs 5-6).  We’ve been here before:  Jesus enters their lives, they cast their nets, and they catch nothing;   now, they do it and they catch EVERYTHING!  It’s your ordinary life; it’s your ordinary tasks at Folsom Prison.  When the Risen Jesus enters into your life here and now, shines into it, he will take it to a new pitch.

This narrative is like the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.  Just bring a little bit to Jesus and he will elevate and multiply it.  Here is the fish in great abundance.  The same thing can happen to you.  Bring the little that you have to Jesus.  Let him enter your life and shine his light into your darkness and he will draw forth abundant life.  All you have to do is to let him in.