Earlier this month marked four years since President Bush issued the following brazen pronouncement about our presence in Iraq: “There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring ’em on. We’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.” U.S. troop casualties at that time were about 200; now they stand at over 3,600, with thousands more injured and estimates of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties, many of them children. And there is no end in sight.
One of the troops who knows all too well the real security situation in Baghdad is Capt. Jon Powers. As an artillery platoon leader in the Army’s 1st Armored Division, and later as the Battalion Commander’s Adjutant in Baghdad and Najaf, Capt. Powers led his soldiers through one of Baghdad’s most volatile sectors. It was there that he saw four friends die, and it was there that he “witnessed firsthand the devastation and lost opportunities that resulted from the Bush Administration’s mismanagement and lack of planning for post-invasion Iraq. He saw how his and his fellow soldiers’ idealism, dedication and patriotism were dishonored by a government that sent them to war without proper equipment, training or forethought.” It was also there that he saw, all too closely, the effects of this war on its most vulnerable victims—Iraqi children.
Rather than remaining paralyzed by inaction or apathy, Capt. Powers decided to do something about what he saw. He founded War Kids Relief, a non-profit dedicated “to help the children of war-torn nations recover from the disruptive effects of war and give them hope for a better future.” They seek to do this through a variety of initiatives, including creating a network of safe havens with existing orphanages, launching a family program to reintegrate children into family programs, improving education and training, and empowering the children’s caretakers. And they are also focusing some of their efforts here at home by “developing a curriculum on Iraqi culture and youth that will be based on the current national standards for geography to be introduced into American schools this fall.”
Jesus confounded his disciples in Matthew 19 by calling for the children to be brought unto him despite the disciples’ rebuke of those who brought them. Capt. Powers models this in his work with War Kids Relief, and I hope that we as a nation also model this when we draw up our budgets to help rebuild and repair what we have destroyed in Iraq. This is the sort of “bring ’em on” that we need from our highest leaders—bring on the hurting, the broken, the forgotten, the injured. We don’t need pronouncements of arrogance—we need to ask for the needy and damaged to come, and then we must do what we can, responsibly and respectfully, do to make things right.
Say what we will about the justifications or lack thereof for this war, we must acknowledge that many innocent lives have been damaged and lost. Make no mistake: We have destroyed much, and it will be on our heads as a nation to repair and heal much, just as Capt. Powers does in his own small but powerful way.
It is refreshing to me that Jon is taking responsibility for the damage that our nation has done and trying to bring healing, hope, and a future to kids caught in a war they did not start. But what’s more, Capt. Powers has also taken personal responsibility: “If I can go back there and I can make a positive influence on a country that I helped partially destroy, then maybe I can sort of regain the whole reason that I went.”
So much in Iraq has already been tragically undone, but may we follow Capt. Powers in our efforts to make right. His example of honesty, humility, and healing action is one our administration would do well to imitate.
Bob Francis is the organizing and policy assistant for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.