Great need, foreign and domestic

Two sobering statistics were released this week. One is that in Iraq, an estimated 2.3 million people have been displaced by the war and occupation. The other is that here at home, over one-quarter of homeless persons are military veterans.

2.3 million is roughly three times the number of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Given that (aside from violence by insurgents) the Iraqis’ displacement is from OUR doing and not Mother Nature’s, serious amends need to be made. Services and infrastructure need to be restored, and the Iraqi government needs to figure out how to function.

I would love it if our troops could be withdrawn immediately, but it’s just not possible, practical or safe to do so. If they could wiggle their noses and teleport home, sure! But removing thousands of people and tons of equipment is a slow process, and large convoys are far too vulnerable as targets for terrorists. Likewise, infrastructure and buildings cannot be rebuilt unless a site is safe enough to do so. So we’re in a Catch-22 situation of not being able to rebuild and leave until the country is stable and safe, but it won’t be stable and safe until the destruction is rebuilt and people can get back to a somewhat normal life.

A vigorous and ambitious rebuilding plan for Iraq is needed. Today.

If some of the 2.3 million see progress and a return to normalcy, and if resentment gets replaced by cautious optimism, and they can foresee a better future for themselves and the country, then our soldiers can return home, and do so more safely than they can now. It would be in American’s best interest to replicate and surpass the outpouring of generosity that was shown after Katrina, and direct it to displaced and wounded Iraqi civilians. Fixing what our policies have broken is the only proper and respectful course. Therefore, anyone who truly cares about freedom for Iraq, and is in a position to make charitable gifts, could help by donating to the International Red Cross/Red Crescent for their relief efforts. Meet the needs of the people and the needs of the country will follow.

Nevertheless, some would argue, we have problems here, and we take care of our own.

Oh, really?

That’s not the impression given by the disgraceful services—or lack of them—our veterans receive. Whether it’s deplorable hospital conditions, denials of claims, or lack of resources for mental and physical health problems, our vets get a slap in the face that’s far worse than the disrespect shown by some antiwar yahoos who blame the soldiers along with the Commander in Chief, or who think to be in the military is to be against peace. One would think that volunteer military service would deserve rewards, but if one in four people waiting for a free meal is a veteran, we know that is not the case.

USAToday ran an excellent opinion piece (http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2007/11/a-veterans-day-.html) on various ways to honor and help veterans and their families, but it can be as simple as showing up for a parade, or simply saying “thank you for your service” to any veteran you meet. It also—rightly—points out that we Americans are incredibly disconnected from our military and the current conflicts because others have volunteered for the job.

Seems to me those of us who haven’t been affected by war, especially by not having it remove us from our homes to flee it or fight it, should do something, ANYTHING for those who have endured those things, both at home and elsewhere. Otherwise, the freedom we enjoy just means we’re free to be the most ungrateful, ignorant, forgetful slobs we can be.