A Nation With PTSD


The Iraq war is still defended in some circles. And the fact that Saddam Hussein no longer terrorizes his people and the world is a real gain. But the losses – human, financial, moral, strategic – vastly outweigh this welcome fact. And by loss, I don't just mean fatalities or money. I mean the devastation of the thousands of wounded vets, men and women saved by miraculous medicine who deal with PTSD, and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians either dead or traumatized beyond my understanding by the years of murderous chaos unleashed by Bush and Cheney. How damaged can the psyche be of an Iraqi child who grew up in 2004 – 2006? How traumatized would you be if your brother or father or relative showed up one day beheaded at the end of your street? Or your cousin returns from brutal torture session? These things have a real cost and carry a heavy toll. One reason I remain a pessimist about the fractured country is that human beings simply cannot recover easily from that kind of massive trauma. It is a country with PTSD.

But it is also a country of serious, long-term war-related sickness. A 2010 study from Iraq found that "42 sites that are contaminated with high levels of radiation and dioxins—residue, the study claims, from three decades of war." Kelley Beaucar Vlahos reports that there could be hundreds of other similar locations:

The pollution of Basra dates back to at least 1982, when Operation Ramadan, the biggest land battle of the Iran-Iraq war—in which the U.S. was supplying Saddam Hussein with billions of dollars worth of weapons, training, and support—shook the desert. In the 20 years since the first Gulf War, Basra has seen a marked increase in childhood illnesses. According to researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health, the rate of childhood leukemia more than doubled in Basra between 1993 and 2007.

Since 2003, “congenital malformations” have been recorded in 15 percent of all births in Fallujah. The worldwide average for major birth defects is 6 percent.

(Photo: Zahra Muhammad, age 4, who suffers from a birth defect, is held by her father on November 12, 2009 in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. Birth defects have soared in the city, which was the site of two major battles between the U.S military and insurgents after the invasion of Iraq. By Muhannad Fala'ah/Getty Images)