Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A tragic milestone

(Now that Christmas is over, we can get back to our customary doom and gloom...)

According to the AP, the number of American combat deaths in Iraq has now officially exceeded the death toll from the September 11th terrorist attacks.

The Iraq war is now officially a greater tragedy for the American people than the largest terrorist attack in human history.

Now, lots of people will insist that this is comparing apples and oranges: that the death of innocent civilians cannot be compared to the deaths of soldiers in the line of duty. Or that the fact that the soldiers died for a "noble" cause somehow makes their deaths less tragic. As a commentator at the loathesome Ann Althouse's blog points out, American casualties in the Pacific theater of World War II greatly outnumbered the deaths at Pearl Harbor, yet we don't generally think that these deaths somehow undermined the case for war against Japan.

The trouble with this last line of argument is that it assumes that comparing these numbers must constitute a weighing of this kind at all: that those who compare the two death tolls must be trying to say that some utilitarian calculus shows that the Iraq war is now more trouble than it is worth, since it has led to more deaths than it was intended to avenge in the first place. But this is transparently absurd. The war in Iraq and the 9/11 attacks have nothing to do with each other. Everyone who thinks otherwise at this late date must be either dishonest or utterly detached from reality.

As for the distinction between military and civilian deaths, I think that this can only be relevant when the military deaths in question occur in the line of legitimate duty. The soldiers in Iraq are and have been operating without a coherent military, political or diplomatic strategy, without a clear set of objectives, without a Congressional declaration of war or UN sanction, waging an agressive war of conquest and occupation at the whim of a deluded President whose case for war was based on lies. They should not be there at all. As such, I see no moral difference between them and civilians.

I see no way of getting around the fact that we have inflicted a worse tragedy on ourselves than the supposedly epoch-defining tragedy of five years ago. (Not to mention the tragedy we have inflicted on the Iraqi people, which is orders of magnitude greater.)

This by itself, of course, has no bearing on whether the Iraq war is "worth it". It was already clear that it wasn't "worth it". To borrow a line from the young John Kerry, we have asked nearly three thousand of our fellow citizens to die for a mistake. But even one would have been too many.

2 comments:

Lee said...

Oh come on you are beating a moot point/horse... now all of these deaths are no longer "tragic" because Saddam Hussein is going to DIE die die... woo! It was all worth it for that. That makes everything supremely non-tragic. It's just a bizaar history play with a bunch of bodies strewn about the stage before the final climatic hoopla doing in of the thoroughly unraveled villain.

PS: Real voice: Just read a wonderful short story in the best of american SSs... about how boys with fathers in Iraq in a small town in Oregon near Bend deal fight-club style with the loss of masculinity (the reserves of the town) in their town. The title "Refresh, refresh" captures a brilliant ongoing image/action in the story...

Lee said...

On another note: Should I name my unadopted future cat "Sasha" or "Lola"? I like Sasha because it is gender neutral... but Lola is cute too.