From its beginning, Iraq was a different kind of war, its benchmarks difficult to measure. The long war’s end comes with no more certainty. In the nine years since the war began, The United States has sacrificed greatly: 4,485 American lives lost and $1 trillion of treasure spent with little return. No one has sacrificed more than those who fought it.

From its beginning, Iraq was a different kind of war, its benchmarks difficult to measure. The long war’s end comes with no more certainty. In the nine years since the war began, the United States has sacrificed greatly: 4,485 American lives lost and $1 trillion of treasure spent with little return. No one has sacrificed more than those who fought in it.

American and coalition troops bravely toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, and in the many years since President George W. Bush declared “Mission Accomplished,” the troops have built roads, schools and infrastructure. Their mission was to bring stability to a chaotic, divided and dangerous nation — all while trying to take down insurgents and dodge deadly roadside bombs. Their goal was to sow the seeds for democracy, all while preventing the outbreak of civil war and unrest.

President Barack Obama this month finally pulled the last of the troops out of this seemingly losing proposition, but we are left facing the dire consequences. There seems to be greater instability in the Middle East in the wake of a power vacuum and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties that have been left behind.

Tragically, there seems to be much greater instability here at home, too. Our own nation and its “leaders” seem more divided than ever, suffering from deep-seeded instability and unrest being further inflamed by politicians for selfish political gain. While our troops have rebuilt infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan (where the War on Terror rages on) our own infrastructure on the homefront crumbles. In this context, “victory” seems elusive. There hardly seems reason to celebrate.

The Iraq war veterans are part of the collateral damage. Thousands of young American lives were lost. Many of those who did survive have come home with lost limbs only to discover changed lives. The psychological scars may not be quite as visible, but they can last a lifetime. As a result of the strain put on these brave men and women, families suffered, too. Even jobs that these veterans once held may no longer be there for them.

It was not the troops' place to question the war. They followed the orders that their two commanders in chief and their commanding officers asked of them — many serving multiple tours of duty overseas. Many of our soldiers had signed up for the National Guard, where they envisioned a tour of duty that involved occasionally responding to natural disasters on the homefront, not manmade disasters in a far-off land.

Fortunately, unlike Vietnam, Iraq war veterans are being welcomed home as heroes by a grateful American public. But many of our leaders are silent, more concerned about political calculus than doing the right thing. The troops have quietly returned home, receiving hugs at airports by their families and small celebrations at their home bases. The Iraq veterans are caught in the middle of the bitter divisions that did not exist when they began to deploy.

A volatile mix of politics, defense policy and international diplomacy seems to be forcing hesitation for a large-scale celebration of the troops’ return. Sure, it seems there is little reason to celebrate the war in Iraq. But there’s no reason that the troops who have sacrificed so much should not be honored with a celebration of their selfless service.

Now, two New York city councilors have proposed a ticker-tape parade through Manhattan’s “Canyon of Heroes,” as the troops received after World War II and Operation Desert Storm. As the Pentagon, Washington and New York play political football deciding who will take the lead, maybe the American people should carry the ball.

Why not raise the money and have a ticker-tape parade right here in Fall River to welcome our hometown heroes? A celebration of our heroes’ service and sacrifice is not just for their sake; it’s for the sake of our nation.

As the sickening political wrangling continues over a parade for our returning heroes, let’s hope that in cities and towns across America, our troops can be welcomed home as the heroes they are by a grateful nation. Let’s remind our leaders in Washington that the return of our troops is an occasion for this broken nation to reunite.

Let’s rekindle the patriotism that we desperately need to rediscover. If we, as a nation, have the wisdom to do the right thing and welcome our troops home with honor, dignity and respect, maybe we can finally find a reason to come back together. Perhaps that would be the ultimate “victory” that America can truly celebrate.

The troops have returned from one deeply divided nation to another. Let’s take this opportunity to come together and proudly wave our flag. The yellow ribbons so prevalent at the war’s beginning have long since faded, but let’s re-tie them for the troops who have returned and those that remain overseas.

Our troops bravely fought for America’s interests, now it’s our responsibility to bravely fight for their’s. That does not just begin and end with parades. It involves giving them support: Providing them with the housing, medical and educational benefits they were promised to get back on their feet. It also means that employers have a responsibility to hire our returning troops and give them a chance to get their civilian lives back in order.

It is time to welcome our heroes back home to the United States of America that they left nearly a decade ago, not the divided states they have returned to. If ever there was a time for a big ticker-tape parade through the “Canyon of Heroes,” this is it. As we were all so proud to proclaim a decade ago: United we stand, divided we fall.

Herald News of Fall River, Mass.