The Vietnam war officially ended almost 40 years ago, two generations in time, yet the sacrifice continues. The soldiers have all left the battlefield, but every year thousands of Vietnamese, mostly children, are maimed and killed by unexploded munitions, and thousands of babies are stillborn or deformed by the lingering effects of the insidious herbicide Agent Orange.
And so it is in Iraq. A number of studies have reported extraordinarily high incidences of birth defects among Iraqi children. For example, a recent article in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology reported that among a group of families studied in the city of Fallujah, from 2007 to 2010 almost half the children born suffered birth defects, compared to under two per cent before the war. Furthermore, from 2004 to 2006, miscarriages were over 40 per cent compared to under five per cent prior to 2000. The study further reported that in the city of Basra, which was bombed in the late 1990s as part of the no-fly campaign and again in 2003 during the invasion, the number of birth defects per live births increased by 17 times.
Nor are the victims limited to Fallujah and Basra. The study states, "reports of health problems in the Iraqi population and in the surrounding countries have continued to surface. News of increases in childhood cancers, of perinatal and infant morbidity and mortality, and of unusual increases in congenital birth defects, have continued to emerge from across Iraq."
One of the study's authors, Mozhgan Savabieasfahani of the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, told a reporter,
“There is compelling evidence linking the staggering increases in Iraqi
birth defects to neurotoxic metal contamination following the repeated
bombardments. There is no other explanation."
While we remember the soldiers of wars with wreaths, monuments and days of commemoration, the most tragic victims of war—the innocents—are quietly forgotten, even as their suffering goes on and on. Perhaps if we commemorated their sacrifice first, rather than that of those who commit the violence, we might see war in a truer light.