Posts Tagged ‘casualties’

Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them,
Great is the Battle-God, great, and his Kingdom –
A field where a thousand corpses lie.

–Stephen Crane, Do not weep, maiden for war is kind.

According to The New York Times, 1,000 U.S. troops have now died in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Here is this wide altar, Afghanistan, on which our empire leaves its tribute to the true god of all empires. One thousand of the young, blown apart by rough-made bombs buried on roads to nowhere, shot by snipers, or worse, by their own.  One thousand sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, neighbors, mentors, students, friends, husbands, wives, lovers. A thousand goats led into the wild to appease the spirit of the wilderness, the maker of weapons, sent to the desert for our impurities.

Often we elevate troops who die far up on a pedestal in our national mythology. I think this is a mistake. It obscures why people join the military, it obscures what we’ve lost, and it prevents us from thinking critically about the choices we make that lead to their deaths. When a thousand of our people go into the dark, we should ask what led them there, what they hoped to gain and what we hoped to gain from sending them.

In 2006, the Pentagon found that when asked their main motivation for enlisting, 61.9 percent cited a reason other than “service to country,” a figure that the RAND Corporation’s Beth Asch cautioned could actually be higher since new recruits often cast their decision in idealistic terms. While “service to country” was the main reason for the plurality of recruits, skills acquisition, adventure, money for education, benefits, travel and pay were the other top reasons, listed in descending order. We also know that when the economy is in the tank, military recruitment increases. (I note, though, that the reason for enlistment may not remain their motivation to continue in military service, and that membership in a community in danger and under pressure tends to radically alter one’s orientation toward the group. So, someone who joins for economic reasons may not remain in the service for that reason alone, or at all.)

To say that troops join the military for economic reasons is not to degrade them. Supporting a family is not a selfish cause. But that little detail – that Private Smith died in a dangerous job that she took to support a family – is fraught with human connection and tragedy, and we lose that if we over-idealize what led them to the battlefield. The same is true if they just joined the service to escape a mind-numbing routine, or to overcome a criminal record, or to cut ties with a past.

All this is to say that portraying our troops as selfless warrior monks of virtue fails to honor the truth about the lives that ended in Afghanistan. These men and women were generally not burning with a desire to suppress their hopes and dreams so that the rest of us could have our hopes and dreams. They had their own plans, their own purposes, their own desired futures for themselves toward which military service was a step, and very few of them included dying on a battlefield. Their lives had their own meaning independent of the lives and “freedom” of the survivors. Obscuring their desires in an over-bright halo also obscures the futures that we lost with them.

We did not lose sacrificial lambs, born to die on our behalf. We lost the doctors, the lawyers, teachers, pilots, writers, mechanics, all of the potential for achievement which many of them hoped to unlock through the skills and opportunities they hoped to gain from their time in the military. We lost fathers, mothers, bedtime stories and a comforting, rock-solid presence in the bleachers at their kid’s sporting events. We lost them spoiling their grandkids. We lost the entire life of the person they would have become and all the gifts they would have given the human race.

Putting these troops so high on the pedestal that they “died for you and me,” high enough where their sacrifice is just shy of a crucifixion, also conveniently obscures our role in killing them. We all know the rhetoric we can expect to hear as we whistle past this marker: “It’s up to us to make sure they didn’t die in vain.” Empty-headed exhortations to “support the troops.” Support, as in, “do not gainsay the purpose for which power-holders are willing to see them die.” Don’t say anything that would upset these troops on the way to the killing floor.

I’m reminded of the dialogue in Monster’s Ball, where Billy Bob Thornton harangues Heath Ledger for vomiting while escorting a prisoner to the gas chamber: “You f***ed up that man’s last walk! How would you like it if someone f***ed up your last walk?!” The condemned deserve a placid walk; don’t let on what’s really happening here.

Similarly, the support we’ll be urged to give today will be the kind that doesn’t disturb the walk of the 1,001st troop. But let’s be honest, here – those who will spout this kind of rhetoric are at least as concerned with our disturbing the consciences of those who set the policies for which the soldiers died (or those of their constituents). Any bets on whether these exhortations and these policies come from the same people? How convenient is the demand: silence for the sake of the victims protects those who sent them to die.

Now is not the time for silence. One thousand Americans are dead in Afghanistan in a war that’s not making us safer. One thousand people are dead, and many others are wounded and deranged, because we continue to choose military action as the solution to a political problem. Al-Qaida is long gone from the country. The arterial wealth of our nation is gushing out in trillion dollar spurts. All this is obscured behind the glow of the sacralized dead, a glow that, we are told, will vanish if we question the purpose of the ritual and the plans of those who ordered the sacrifice.

One thousand American troops are dead in Afghanistan.

Look past the false sacred glow with which the power-holders will try to cover the dead, and by association, their policies.

See the field where a thousand corpses lie.

Remember the real people who lie there, and remember the real people on their way to join them.

Defend them from the Battle-God.

End this war.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

Yesterday, October officially became the deadliest month for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since the war began. The death toll was pushed over that grim marker by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the single deadliest weapon used against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. IED deaths have increased alongside U.S. troop increases every year since the U.S. invaded.

Paraphrasing Joint IED Defeat Organization Director Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, Stars and Stripes reported today that:

IED attacks in Afghanistan have gone up along with the rising troop levels and likely will continue to increase if more U.S. forces are sent there…

That’s a real problem for the measure of success set out by General Stanley McChrystal for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan:

American success in Afghanistan should be measured by “the number of Afghans shielded from violence,” not the number of enemy fighters killed, he said.

What’s the connection? Well, it turns out IEDs are also the single greatest conflict-related killer of civilians. The fact that the use of IEDs increases along with U.S. troop deployments explains the similarity between these two graphs:

Civilian Deaths Compared to Troop Deployments

Military officials have warned that sending more troops to Afghanistan will likely result in a “tough fight” (read: rising U.S. casualty rates). If President Obama adds more troops in Afghanistan, especially in densely populated areas, get ready to see another major spike in civilian deaths as well.

I was baffled by the cavalier attitude displayed yesterday by Richard Holbrooke about violence in Afghanistan. Sounding positively Dick-Cheney-ish, Dick Holbrooke waved away concerns about the potential of widespread violence to damage the legitimacy of the upcoming elections. Here he is during an NPR interview, emphasis mine:

Q: Wouldn’t the people, though, who can’t vote think maybe it wasn’t fair because their voices can’t be heard?

HOLBROOKE: Does that invalidate the election? If that’s true, the 2004 election in the United States should be questioned. Because a lot of the voters in Ohio stood in lines and the polls closed and they were left out there not voting. And that was in the world’s greatest and oldest democracy.

Elections are rarely perfect. This election, in unprecedented wartime conditions, is certainly not going to be without its rough spots. It’s the integrity of the voting process in the middle of a brutal war. How many countries would have had the courage to hold an election under these circumstances? But Afghanistan is, and they should be given credit for it.

Yes, Dick, obviously those are analogous situations. We all remember the Taliban planting IEDs in Cleveland and the women immolating themselves in despair brought on by widespread rape by government officials in Columbus. The press was full of reports of Blackwater guards brandishing guns at passers-by. Remember when John Edwards almost got assassinated? I totally get your point!

Or not:

Hundreds of polling stations could be closed in Afghanistan’s most violent regions, raising concerns that many ethnic Pashtuns will be unable to vote in next month’s presidential elections. That could undermine the legitimacy of the election, cause turmoil and possibly deprive President Hamid Karzai of a first-round victory.

Compare Holbrooke’s statement with this little gem from the other Dick (Cheney), coincidentally from 2004:

“Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had hal[sic] guerrilla insurgency [that] controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress. The human drive for freedom, the determination of these people to vote, was unbelievable. The terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote.”

Coincidence? Not on your life.

The timing of Holbrooke’s comments defending the legitimacy of the election, coming before the election takes place, exposes the game plan for the weeks ahead. Holbrooke is seeking to preempt questions about election legitimacy before the election takes place because the administration plans to defend the legitimacy of the election no matter what. That’s because this is what occupiers do–what Edward Herman calls “ratification-of-conquest.”  The Obama administration needs to be able to point to a “legitimate” election so they can translate that legitimacy into a perception of legitimacy for their entire Afghanistan policy.

For an example of how this works, see Dick Cheney, January 2006:

And I think we’ve had a lot of good news out of Iraq over the course of the last year. It’s hard sometimes to see through that, given the continued level of violence, obviously.

But when you look at the fact that they’ve made every political deadline that’s been set: January elections, wrote a constitution in the summer, ratified it in October, national elections in December. It’s been a — I think a remarkable success story so far.

We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I think the president has made the point repeatedly out there that the only way we lose is if we pack is it in and go home. And we’re clearly not going to do that.

Or Dick Cheney, Feb. 23, 2007:

When asked whether the Bush administration had a failed strategy in Iraq, Cheney pushed back hard, insisting there had been significant progress.

“A failed strategy? Let’s see. We didn’t fail when we got rid of Saddam,” Cheney said. “We didn’t fail when we held elections. We didn’t fail when we got a constitution written. Those are all success stories.”

But, most infamously, see Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, May/June, 2005, emphasis mine:

On CNN’s ”Larry King Live” on Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney said of the violence in Iraq, ”I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.”

This is after May became the deadliest month for US forces since the January elections, with 76 US military casualties.

At a press conference on Tuesday, President Bush was asked about the US casualties and the deaths of 760 Iraqis since the new Iraqi government was named April 28. A reporter asked Bush, ”Do you think that the insurgency is gaining strength and becoming more lethal?”

Bush responded, ”I think the Iraqi people dealt the insurgents a serious blow when they, when we had the elections.”

For the record, this month is already the deadliest month of the Afghanistan war so far.

Purple fingers, anyone?

From The Washington Post:

U.S. and NATO military officials in Afghanistan have launched investigations into three separate U.S.-led airstrikes that Afghan officials say killed at least 78 civilians this month.

More collateral damage from our obsession with violence as a way to solve our problems. If the 151 million of us Christians in the U.S. were living our faith, there’s no way policies that lead to state-backed violence could persist.

NATO protocols require high-level approval for airstrikes when civilians are known to be in or near Taliban targets. Military officials say fighters with the insurgent group commonly take up positions in civilians’ homes, mosques or schools — increasing the chances of civilian casualties. Those casualties, in turn, help the Taliban win the sympathies of locals and draw new recruits.

More terrorists being born as we ignore Christ’s commands to love our enemies and return good for evil.

Just as awful is the fact that we do not count the dead among enemy combatants on the battlefield. Not only do we not love our enemies, we can’t even be bothered to acknowledge their humanity.

This makes me so sad.