BY SHIRA KIPNEES
David Kieran, visiting professor of American studies, organized and moderated a panel entitled, “When the Wars End: Healing & Justice After a Decade of War in Iraq” last week. The discussion centered on the after- effects of the Iraq War on both Iraqi civilians and American veterans and featured members of the Right to Heal advocacy group, which is an organization dedicated to publicizing continuing issues with Iraq War-related consequences.
Kieran organized the panel in connection with a seminar he teaches, “After War.” The class takes the position that people need to think about what happens to veterans and refugees after wars end, and that people often talk about what happens during the war, but not its aftermath. In fact, as part of the class, students must prepare digital stories of Iraqi civilians or soldier’s experiences from oral histories.
“Thinking about veterans’ and refugees’ experiences has been important, and the Right to Heal folks give us both concrete examples of what those experiences have been and also an opportunity to study how different groups are responding to the needs of people living with the effects of war,” Kieran said.
While many people want to help the veterans, Kieran explained there is also significant evidence showing that veterans are not getting the care they need for various reasons: cultural stigma surrounding mental health issues, the availability and costs of proper treatments, and the redeployment of mentally or physically ill personnel, which creates even more trauma in the military.
Kieran also explained that, while many Americans want to think of the Iraq War as over because of media influence, there are many lasting issues that continue beyond the end of active military engagements, including continued violence in Iraq.
“Wars don’t simply end and everyone carries on with their lives as they did before people have to live in the aftermath of the conflict, and that includes living with long-term physical wounds and psychological issues, living in an environment that has been devastated and permanently damaged by years of war, and, for many people, being displaced or orphaned by of the violence of the war,” Kieran said. “It’s natural to want to think of wars as having a clean beginning and end, but the effects of war last a long time and continue to affect people’s lives for a long time.”
The issues of U.S. veterans are not better publicized because many Americans are sick of the war and
want to think of the war as done, according to Kieran. Also, the U.S. avoids discussing and confronting the issues around damage done to both Americans and Iraqis.
“I think that there is a lot of silence around the damage that this war has done to Americans and Iraqis, and to confront that damage would lead to a kind of reckoning with larger questions about the war that the nation seems, at least at the moment, determined to avoid asking,” Kieran said. “There’s even more silence about the impact of the war on Iraqis, of course, because Americans tend to focus more on the war’s impact on veterans and less on what the actions of the U.S. military have meant for people living in the country that the United States invaded and occupied.”
Kieran noted there are ways for college students or average Americans to help veterans or bring awareness to the issues facing both Americans and Iraqis after the war, such as staying informed on the issues and thinking critically about what the issues mean. College students can also help by choosing which organizations and causes to support, for which political issues to advocate, and how to vote.
“The most important thing is raising awareness and not allowing the issue to fade into silence and obscurity,” Kieran said.
Junior Shira Kipnees is a staff writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.