On Tuesday evening, Feb. 12, on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show, I viewed a segment titled “Hubris.” It was a commentary on the book: “Hubris: the inside story of the spin, scandal and the selling of the Iraq War,” by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. Using numerous interviews with government officials who served during the invasion of Iraq, it was a scathing indictment of hubris run wild: excessive pride, ambition, and arrogance that resulted in an American invasion and conquest of a nation that had done America no wrong.
The expose’ again revealed the intelligence was made to fit the already made decision to invade Iraq. The legacy of this horrid military adventure is the staggering death toll of both Americans and those we deemed enemies. In addition must be added the tragic numbers of maimed, wounded and crushingly disabled brave Americans who will suffer all their lives.
Finally, the painful self-inflicted deaths of those too sensitive to face the future and its recurrent guilt must be included. The wars full cost in suffering and death may never be fully known.
Lest we swiftly rush to judgment and assign easy blame several realities of shared human tendencies need to be acknowledged. Hubris is part of every competent, successful and powerful American male. Each male child is taught from birth to have personal pride, subdued, yet aggressive, ambition, and a quiet arrogance that will guarantee upward mobility.
Our leaders all were elected or appointed for the very hubris that ultimately guided their decision for war. Also, each had sworn to defend our nation against enemies, foreign or domestic. On Sept. 11, 2001, they suffered a horrible failure of their sworn commitment. No one could have prophesied that dastardly attack on the World Trade Center, but sill it was on their watch. Some degree of responsibility and a great desire for retribution must have haunted them. Sadly, President Bush and his people did “rush to judgment” and launched a conflagration. President Bush accepted the responsibly for these wars when he publically and emphatically proclaimed in April of 2006, “I’m the decider; I decide what is right or wrong.” I honestly believe that he made his decision with the utmost confidence in its validity and justice.
There had been a growing animosity between America and the Arab world since the hostage crisis in Iran in ’81 and the Gulf War in ’91. Saddam proclaimed himself the spokesman for the Arab world and an aggressor in his invasion of Kuwait. Surely he, and his Iraq, were the villains that needed to be destroyed. The decision was made and the invasion of Iraq was ordered. Now a decade later, it is obvious the decision was a bad decision; a wrong decision, an erroneous and deadly decision. But hind-sight is always 20/20.
Page 2 of 3 - I’ve previously quoted the dictum that it is dangerous to lie to others, but deadly to lie to ourselves. The ongoing lies we tell ourselves is that the war was a defensive measure; that America had been attacked and needed to defend; that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was a threat to the U.S. and the world; that his people were anxiously awaiting America as a liberator. These repeated claims to justify our aggression have all been proven unfounded. Continuing to believe these untruths continues to keep us from facing the truth and healing. This is especially the lot of those who faced the horror of the conflict, saw first-hand the bloody carnage and who experienced the dishonor of killing and being killed for no reason. No person fighting in a useless war goes un-wounded. Many have been sadly wounded in body, but many more have been wounded in spirit and soul. Most Americans would willingly face harm’s way to defend our beloved country from a real threat. To personally face such risk, however, to witness friends and comrades killed and torn asunder for no reason is a heart-breaker, a spirit wounder and soul slayer. Even to survive in the face of such horrid reality can result in a feeling of great personal guilt. In 2012, more service personnel died from self- inflicted wounds than died in combat operations. Since these wars began, the mental health disorders among veterans has risen 65 percent. The incidences of post traumatic stress are increasing. Now a new specter has been identified: moral injuries!
These are heart wounds from deepening guilt and shame for participating in the killing of others for no reason. Our young people have honor and a conscience; they faced death and bodily danger for no reason; they witnessed their comrades die a meaningless death: they too killed and maimed many others. We can’t expect them just to callously shrug, forget and “get a life.”
Perhaps the saddest moment of the Maddow presentation was when a reporter asked President Bush if he had ever considered apologizing to America and to the world for causing the carnage of the Iraq war. His response was an emphatic no! He said an apology would be an admission that the war was a wrong decision, and he still believes it was the right decision. Most know it was a tragically wrong decision that resulted in unfathomable death and suffering. That’s why it is so important for “the decider” to offer an apology and ask forgiveness for himself, for all others who blindly accepted his call to arms. Such a facing of the truth, and openly expressing sorrow for wrong decisions, would express a humility and honesty that would lead others into a similar contrition and forgiveness, especially toward themselves. I believe that self-forgiveness can be the key to choosing life over death. Honesty and humility from the decider could model and motivate such self absolution to many a warrior who is still haunted by battle nightmares fighting an immoral and meaningless war.
Page 3 of 3 - Americans are a forgiving people if given the opportunity. Absolution, however, needs to be sought no matter how high the transgressor. Honest contrition and confession from their leader could begin the process of healing for many a wounded soul and perhaps even assist a choice for life rather than death. It takes a big man to admit his mistakes, and such an admission might truly save some suffering lives. It would give some true redemption to the President. It would help lift a great burden of lies from the American heart.
Father Bob Layne is a retired Episcopal priest living in McPherson.