Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It’s a Long Way Back Home

Barack Obama has stated that it will be sixteen months before the Iraq War ends and our soldiers are allowed to return home, the surge being the last final push before troop withdrawal takes place. During the American Civil War following Gettysburg, the war was also extended: for nearly two years. Many soldiers couldn’t wait for the end of the war, even though they were still caught up in ongoing battles.

During the Civil War, soldiers suffered from “soldiers’ heart disease,” which today would be called postwar trauma. Both then and now, soldiers’ mental health issues are being overlooked. Soon after the Civil War ended, many soldiers died due to exposure and medical inadequacies. Even though we have the medical know-how today, soldiers are still coming back with ailments caused from physical and psychological fallout to war.

After the Civil War, soldiers went back to lives they’d lived previously, back to their farms or city jobs. We expect the same, for our soldiers to return, get a job, and just be normal. One local anonymous Iraqi soldier relayed the sentiment that it was hard to concentrate on selling items at Home Depot when he was having deep emotional feelings about the people killed back in Iraq. He found it difficult to relate to customers because he was frequently distracted by memories and emotional events.

We are happy to send them a letter from home, but in the soldiers’ heart, they don’t want a letter from home. They want only to be home. When we finally bring them home, as in the Civil War, we expect to pick up the pieces and carry on as though nothing ever happened to them.

As it is, we have sixteen months to come up with something extraordinary so that our soldiers will feel welcome. Otherwise, if we don’t, 145 years from now, people will be wondering what impact the war had on our soldiers, just as we wonder what happened to our boys following the Civil War. The irony is that, in 145 years, this country hasn’t learned how to deal with the social impact war has on our soldiers. It wasn’t until years after the Civil War ended that statues and placards were erected for our fighting brethren, long after many had died, unable to see their names carved in stone.

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