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Iraq: You Can’t Support the Troops without Supporting the Mission

This article is part of The Fletcher Forum’s “Iraq War Special Series” commemorating the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

By: Capt. Timothy Kudo -
Most Americans will overlook the ten-year anniversary of the War in Iraq this month. It was a conflict of immeasurable complexity that divided the nation in ways that are still felt to this day. The only thing most Americans agree on is that they are glad the troops have come home and are now safe and sound. Tragically, that is simply not true.

Before this decade of conflict began, the active-duty suicide rate in the military was half that of the civilian population. Since 2001, the suicide rate has more than doubled. Even more disturbing is that these statistics don’t capture the number of veterans who committed suicide after leaving the military.

Staggeringly, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that veteran suicides account for roughly one out of five suicides nationally. Suicide is a cost of any war but the conflicts of the past decade have seen twice the number of service members commit suicide than during World War II.

While the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. military commands attempt to solve this pressing problem through counseling and medication, there is a larger cultural issue that the nation must address. The transition from serving in a time of war to becoming a veteran of war is as acute as being exiled from a tribe. But it is made even more challenging by the fact that we veterans return home to a society that claims to admire its veterans but rejects the cause for which we killed, lost friends, and risked our lives.

Americans dangerously dissociated themselves from the aims and management of the war in Iraq. This distancing was perilous because the citizenry provide the ultimate check on the war powers of the President. Even worse, a culture that disowns its country’s policies and politicians has a damning effect on the nation’s ability to heal in the aftermath of armed conflict. Sadly, this neglect has expanded to include the so-called “good war” in Afghanistan.

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