Participants in a parade to honor Iraq war veterans make their way through St. Louis on Jan. 28. Thousands turned out to watch the first big welcome-home parade in the U.S. since the last troops left Iraq in December. (Jeff Roberson/AP)
February 10, 2012

The Iraq war is over. Should we throw a parade?

After all, the Super Bowl champion New York Giants got one this past week, complete with 30 tons of confetti falling from the Manhattan sky.

The event made many wonder whether a similar celebration should be held in honor of our soldiers who served in Iraq. Some veterans groups started asking, hey, wait a minute, where’s our confetti? But the top brass smacked the idea down: “We simply don’t think a national-level parade is appropriate while we continue to have America’s sons and daughters in harm’s way,” said a spokesman for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I’m not all that concerned with parades, not in a big city or a small town, at halftime or any other time. What concerns me is the day after the parade, the day after the Sept. 11 anniversary events, the day when the flags are put away and America stops cheering and it’s back to business as usual. That’s what scares me.

Less than 2 percent of Americans serve in the military, and for them, a parade would be just another superficial acknowledgment of a sacrifice that has not been shared and certainly not celebrated. Some people argue that it’s a way to show support for the troops, some argue that it’s premature since there’s still a war in Afghanistan, and others argue that Iraq and Afghanistan are different fights.

While all this arguing is going on, veterans are struggling. In this country, an average of 18 veterans commit suicide every day. The jobless rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is as high as 15 percent. They are trying to find work despite having been labeled ticking time bombs, unable to assimilate back into society, plagued with post-traumatic stress.

Later this month, on an evening like any other in America, nearly 70,000 veterans will spend the night on the street while President Obama and the first lady host a special White House dinner to honor 200 or so hand-picked Iraq veterans from a war that produced more than 30,000 wounded in action. Across the country, on any given night, nearly 5,000 dinner tables have an empty place where a loved one who never came home from the war used to sit.

But maybe a parade would be a nice, quick way to thank our troops for doing what so many chose not to do and for volunteering so that there wouldn’t be a draft. We’ve had a decade of war in which almost everyone received a deferment.

The question, then, is when to throw the party. Will it be appropriate to have one when we finally pull out of Afghanistan, as expected, in the summer of 2013? Will there be a parade then? Who knows and who cares.

The victory parades after World War II were iconic, and they were celebrations for a whole nation touched by the war. It made perfect sense to have them.

If you think about it, in a twisted way, not throwing them for the Iraq war makes perfect sense as well. It reflects the attitude Americans have had toward this conflict. A parade honoring Iraq veterans would be nothing more than lip service to the very small minority of people who fought to keep the majority entirely unaffected by the war.

We’ve gone from a country that threw sincere and lavish victory parades after both World Wars to one that saw no similar celebrations for troops returning from the Forgotten War in Korea and the Vietnam War. The 1991 Persian Gulf War sparked some celebrations, but in 2003, when some cities wanted to mark success in Iraq a second time, the Pentagon urged them not to call anything a “victory” parade. The events should be “recognition for the troops — and to say thanks to the American people for supporting them.’’

And now, almost a decade later, we still have no victory parades. (Except, of course, for sports teams.) Instead, we have these pseudo, maybe, kinda parades, such as the one in St. Louis last month, where those who “supported the war,” as well as those who “support the troops but not the war,” can publicly come together to honor our post-9/11 veterans. These parades shy away from the word “victory” and are given to those who have sacrificed as a way to say thank you — something the families and loved ones of service members have been silently doing since the beginning of the war.

Like many who served in Iraq, I’ve had my parade; the Iraqi people kindly threw it for me back on Aug. 4, 2004. While driving down “Route Tampa” in Mosul, my entire infantry platoon was ambushed by heavy AK-47 and rocket-propelled grenade fire coming from all directions. As we made it through our own “Canyon of Heroes,” I remember thanking God for surviving the ambush. More than a dozen soldiers in my unit received Purple Hearts on that day. I remember telling myself that after that, nothing in the world could remotely come close to a bad day again.

Colby Buzzell served as an Army infantryman in Iraq from 2003 to 2004 . He is the author of “My War: Killing Time in Iraq” and “Lost in America: A Dead-End Journey.”