In the previous century we watched Europe self-destruct twice, then clamber out of the ruins and put itself back together again, sort of like the Scarecrow after his near death experience at the hands of the Wicked Witch of the West, reconstituting himself with fresh straw. Of course it was painful; of course it took time. But not that much time. Not really.
Why is that?
Well, for one thing, we could have jammed both world wars into the better part of a decade that we have been in Iraq and, although part of the legacy of those wars was the dissolution of European-based empires, the countries that had given their names to those empires were established entities with relatively intact institutions. They could be right-sized, the fat trimmed, the belt tightened without too much attendant angst. Winging, yes. Bleeding out, no.
Not so the Middle East.
Saddam Hussein was a nasty piece of work. Tyrannical dictators usually are. But let’s not forget that our opprobrium towards him has far more to do with his nationalization of Iraq’s oil fields than any cruelties he perpetrated on Iraqis, Kurds, et al. After all, we have given ample proof of our tolerance of corruption and bad behavior from Heads of State, provided they align themselves with our objectives. What was unforgivable about Hussein (besides testing nerve gas on dogs) was his attempt to keep Iraq and Iraq’s oil for himself/his cronies, not the atrocities to which his regime gave rise nor the fabled Weapons of Mass Destruction he was rumored to have stockpiled.
I’m not sure what we expected when we marched into Baghdad in 2003. . . . Oh, right — to be hailed as liberators. Well, those whose job description includes administering lipstick to sows point to some improvement seven years down the line. However, far as I can see, Iraq remains war-torn, ravaged, occupied by a loathed foreign power (us), and swarming with mercenaries, Al Qaeda infiltrators, tribes with genocide on their minds and suicide bombers lining up for the chance to blow the whole shebang to Kingdom Come. Not a place I’d want to live in, but the place in which we, in large measure, have condemned the Iraqis to live.
The use of heroin and other hard drugs, virtually unknown in Iraq under Saddam’s regime, has increased dramatically since the U.S. led invasion; even more disturbing has been the spike in use among children. To be fair, this is partially due to Hussein’s draconian drug laws (it was pretty much “Off with her head!” if you were caught changing your mind) and the presence of troops along Iraq’s various borders, now porous conduits for hashish and heroin from Iran and Afghanistan and cocaine from Turkey. That the Iraqis are lighting up, that they are turning on and tuning out, that they are hopping aboard the white horse should come as no shock, given what they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. As I said in a previous blog about Afghanistan – who can blame them? I’d take drugs too. So would you.
And, so, it turns out, do our troops, only in their case, it may not be so much a case of abusing drugs as it is of using them — prescription drugs, that is, although I’m quite certain that some of our troops are up to some type of less quantifiable psychotropic shenanigans in their down time. On the record, however, are Department of Defense statistics showing that, from 2005 to 2008, there was a 400% increase in the prescription of antidepressants and other drugs used to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia among our troops and that, as of 2007, 12% of combat troops in Iraq took antidepressants or sleeping pills. Do they need them? Hell, yes, and don’t you be thinking of taking them away from them! In 2009, 160 active-duty Army suicides were reported – a 15% increase from the previous year — and a whopping 1 in 10 of the men and women who serve in this theatre of war will return home to wrestle with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome – our Evil Fairy’s gift to them that keeps on giving and giving and giving, year after year, one shitty thing after another. And, by the way, “Thanks for your service. No, really.”
In the immortal words of Edwin Starr: “War! huh-yeah/What is it good for?/Absolutely nothing.”
Praise the Lord and pass the pipe!