The old lie – “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”

Visiting New Haven, Connecticut, home of prestigious Yale University, I stumbled upon a plea to count the real cost of war in lives lost and families maimed. President Barack Obama needs all the help he can get to give credibility to the dream of peace.

New Haven’s political connections are striking. Birthplace of former president George W. Bush, born when his father, former president George H. W. Bush, was living there while a student at Yale, the city was also the temporary home of former president Bill Clinton, who met his wife while the two were students at Yale Law School. A predominantly Democratic city, New Haven voters overwhelmingly supported Al Gore in the 2000 election, Yale graduate John Kerry in 2004, and Barack Obama in 2008.

The Iraq War (also known as the Second Gulf War or Operation Iraqi Freedom), began on March 20, 2003 with the invasion of Iraq by the USA under President George W. Bush and the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Tony Blair. Prior to the invasion, the governments of both countries asserted that the possibility of Iraq employing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threatened world security.

In 2002, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1441 calling for Iraq to cooperate with UN weapon inspectors to verify that it was not in possession of weapons of mass destruction and cruise missiles. The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) was given access by Iraq under the provisions of the UN resolution but found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Since then, comprehensive evidence has been assembled to show that the WMD claim was fabricated.

In late February 2009, newly elected US President Barack Obama announced an 18-month withdrawal window for combat forces, with approximately 50,000 troops remaining in the country “to advise and train Iraqi security forces and to provide intelligence and surveillance.” In a speech on August 31, 2010 Obama declared, “the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.” Yet the deaths continue to mount up.

The War in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001 as the armed forces of the USA and the UK, together with the Afghan United Front (Northern Alliance), launched Operation Enduring Freedom in response to the September 11 attacks on the United States, with the stated goal of dismantling the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization and ending its use of Afghanistan as a base. The United States also said that it would remove the Taliban regime from power and create a viable democratic state.

In the first phase of Operation Enduring Freedom, ground forces of the Afghan United Front working with US and British Special Forces and with massive US air support, ousted the Taliban regime from power in Kabul and most of Afghanistan in a matter of weeks. Most of the senior Taliban leadership fled to neighbouring Pakistan. The democratic Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was established and an interim government under Hamid Karzai was created which was also democratically elected by the Afghan people in the 2004 general elections. But, as we know, that was not the end of the story.

On December 1, 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he would deploy an additional 30,000 soldiers over a period of six months. He also set a withdrawal date for the year 2014. The cost of the war was reportedly a major factor as US officials considered scaling down intervention in 2011. On June 22, 2011, President Obama announced that 10,000 troops would be withdrawn by the end of that year. Yet the killing goes on.

No surprise, then, in liberal New Haven to find a quiet protest near a memorial to the Civil War (whose 150th anniversary is currently being commemorated). A pile of stones records the numbers killed each month and a recently added poster laments the loss of life. According to Information Clearing House the current economic cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is over US$1,216, 907,000,000.

The real cost is the number of people killed – soldiers and, predominantly, civilians – whose families who have lost fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Benjamin Franklin’s papers are in Yale University Library. In a letter to Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society in London, dated July 27, 1783, Franklin trenchantly observed, “There never was a good war, or a bad peace.”

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