I-Team Report: The cost of lives and lessons

March 20, 2008 2:54:44 PM PDT
Five years ago, American military commanders were beginning a blitz on Baghdad.On this night in 2003, a little after 9 p.m., President George W. Bush announced the start of the onslaught that he said was aimed at disarming Iraq, freeing its people and defending the world from grave danger Now 2008, all of those goals have apparently not been met.

It was the start of a mission that has yet to be accomplished after five years.

First the American toll:

  • nearly 4,000 killed, including 143 from Illinois.
  • estimates of dead Iraqis range to 223,000.
  • wounded: 29,000 U.S. soldiers, more than a thousand from Illinois
  • an estimated one million Iraqis wounded

    When the war began, ABC7 was on the ground in the Middle East with soldiers from metro Chicago, from Kuwait to camps on the Iraqi border.

    We convened a town meeting in the desert to talk about the invasion. Today, five years later, the I-Team met with two from our original town meeting. John Casillas, a Chicago Park District electrician who is still a major in the Army Reserves.

    "Over the last five years, my size has increased because I've aged, but not much else has changed," he said.

    And Katherine Miskell, who returned to work as a paralegal at a downtown law firm after her service ended almost three years ago.

    "Since then, I got married, continued school at UIC and I recently had a baby," said Miskell.

    She began dating her future husband while they were both stationed in Iraq. A deployment, now estimated at up to 160,000 as many as 8,000 from Illinois. It began with an invasion most Iraqis and even more Americans say was wrong according to an ABCNews poll, detractors that now include former Army sergeant Katherine Miskell.

    "The leadership, our chain of command in Washington, I'm sure they knew a lot of things we didn't and they sent us there for a reason and I don't agree with those reasons," she said. "I don't want to say it's a sense of resentment. I do think that a soldier has an obligation to serve the country if you sign up. Not resentful, but maybe it just didn't have to happen."

    Most Americans favor withdrawing the troops. Sixty-four percent say do it now or within a year. Nearly as many military families agree. Regardless, Major John Casillas says much has been accomplished.

    "The people (Iraqis) have a lot more opportunity and are living a better life than they were five years ago. There is more to it than what the stats show. There are more positive things that aren't always looked at, we need to focus on the positive, it outweighs the negative," he said.

    Asked if their daily lives are going well, more than half of Iraqis polled say yes, but that is far fewer positive answers than a few years ago.

    "It's important to get the government security up and running and functional but to maintain a presence there in such large numbers I don't think it will be right," said Miskell.

    Independent security by Iraq will take more than a year, according to a senate report, and require future us military support for ten years. The war cost: so far this fiscal year is $608 billion. The total war tab is $2.8 trillion.

    "There is only so much money you can throw at the problem before people will fix it them themselves," said Miskell.

    "I don't know where the presence will be in five years but if it's required, the troops will be ready to go," said Casilla.

    After five years, progress in Iraq is undeniable. Schools, businesses, hospitals and public utilities are all being rebuilt. The government has been reconstituted. The Iraqi air force doubled in size the past year. Civilian and sectarian deaths are down. The pentagon even points to the return of Iraqi chicken farms. After five years, the question for many is not whether there has been progress, but whether it has been worth it.

    Viewer comment on story:

    I have been in 3 wars and my sons have been in two each.

    War stinks - and the old adage is true - no one hates war more than the soldiers who have to fight it.

    Worse - is when political decisions bring and end to the war too soon, the country defended falls back to tyrants, so all the pain, sacrifice and cost is for nothing.

    That was the deepest sorrow of Viet Nam - all that pain, suffering and loss - and the country fell back to the Communists.

    If we leave Iraq or Afghanistan before they can defend themselves against Islamic radicals and terrorists, and it falls back to them, then all the pain and cost was for nothing.

    That tells the world we are not a nation of our word. We start but not finish, shout then whimper, and cannot be trusted.

    That tells our enemies they can win if they start a fight and just hold on. We will fold over time - our government does not have the stomach to stay in for the long haul, to make the tough calls and win.

    That tells our military - go fight the good fight - but don't expect it to mean anything.

    You will have no honor to your sacrifices; you will find no nobility in your fight. We will let you bleed until our spineless politicians lose to much popularity and fear a loss at re-election time, and then we will bring you home to lick your wounds.

    But will not allow you that part of healing that come from looking in the mirror and knowing you did a good thing, made the world a little better, a little safer and a little more hopeful.

    Every time a politician says they will bring the troops home right away - win or lose - is a spit in the face to every soldier and their family who had a loss, lives with a disfigurement or missed the joys of life and family while deployed.

    If we had the politicians in the 1940's that we have today, all of us living west of the Mississippi would be speaking Japanese and those living east would be speaking German.

    The book "The Greatest Generation' should be mandatory reading in every classroom. It defines a generation who stuck it out with bold leaders who would not roll over to tyranny.

    It defines a people who made the sacrifice and won. How many Americans today would not whine about rationing food and fuel and tires for the war effort? How many soldiers today would deal with 4 years non stop overseas - hell, they whine about 2 deployments in 3 years.

    And when these people came home, they went to school and to work and created and invented and made us in to the greatest nation on the planet.

    They did not whine when it became a struggle - they overcame it.

    They did not stick out their hand to the government and say "...gimme, gimme, gimme' like Katrina victims. They worked for what they received and gained pride from that.

    Bring the troops home when the fight is won - not before.

    It should not take 10 years, or even 5 years - if we tell the Iraqi leadership that they had better make their government work or we will replace them - Oh and most importantly - the money will stop.

    I guarantee that will get them moving.

    Respectfully,

    Robert Tracy


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