1,800 ... 25,000 ... These are two significant numbers regarding the war in Iraq. They are the number of US military personnel killed and the minimum number of Iraqi civilian deaths, respectively. Liberal blogs have been mentioning both numbers lately, but for the most part they seem to have continued with a trend that has been present among the mainstream anti-war left since the beginning of the Iraq invasion. While this is obviously an overgeneralization, my impression is that more attention is paid to the number of dead soldiers than the number of dead civilians, even by those opposed to war. To hear some bloggers - especially Atrios and Kos - you'd think that the primary moral objection to the Iraq war is that it has killed too many Americans. Somewhere along the line, it seems that a decision was made to present the anti-war cause as primarily concerned with the war's toll on the men and women in the military. We
are the ones who really support the troops, the anti-war Democrats say, because we want to bring them home. But make no mistake - we do support the troops.
I don't know if I support the troops or not. The phrase is so absurdly vague that it's more or less meaningless. What, exactly, does 'support' for the troops amount to? I certainly don't support their mission. The tendency of liberals seems to be to see them as victims of the Bush administration. But I admit it's hard for me to see them this way. Bush and his associates are, incontrovertibly, war criminals, but Bush, Cheney et al. haven't killed anyone personally. The men on the ground are what make their crimes possible.
I'm thinking about this because I just read an article on this topic by Ron Jacobs in Counterpunch
A report put out last week by the Iraq Body Count project and the Oxford Research Group, stated that the war and occupation have produced almost 25,000 civilian deaths. Of these, 37 percent resulted from the actions of coalition forces, 36 percent from criminal activities, and 9 percent from insurgent action. Now, whether or not the actual numbers are accurate, the proportions tend to stay the same no matter what the source is for civilian casualty numbers. This means that the US military is doing most of the killing in Iraq. If one supports the troops without qualifications that is what they support. In addition, and more fundamentally, they are supporting the policy that put the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place. This means that they share the underlying assumption that the United States has the right to send its military anywhere in the world it wishes in order to maintain its current position in the world. Underlying that assumption is the assumption that the lives of people in those lands where the US troops are sent are less valuable than US lives and are therefore expendable in the name of US goodness.
With all due respect to the soldiers who have been convinced otherwise, their cause is not noble. What they are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan is no different than what their predecessors did in Vietnam, Korea the Philippines, and the American Indian lands. They are not making the world safe for democracy or even for their fellow Americans. Their mission is not heroic, despite the various acts of individual heroism that occur daily in battle. The most heroic act must be undertaken here at home by those of us who sent them over there. It is time that we demand these men and women come home now. There is no timetable for withdrawal unless we organize people to get into the streets and demand that the troops be withdrawn.
Anything short of hero worship when it comes to the US military is basically a form of secular blasphemy. But the truth is the truth: American soldiers in Iraq simply are not defending anyone except the Bush administration. (And no, they are not the reason I am able to write this, so fuck off.)
The lionization of the military does not help our cause; in fact, it does great damage to it. While there is an obvious (and for most of us, an easily made) distinction between praising the individuals fighting a war and endorsing the war itself, the fact of the matter is that these are often conflated.
Would we not be opposed to the war anymore if American casualties dropped off to zero? Do we really want to present our opposition as a concern for the welfare of the troops, when most of them are where they are voluntarily? It is certainly a tragedy when the lives of these men and women are cut short, but it's important to remember that the primary victims of this war are the people of Iraq. Their victimizers are the war mongers in the White House - but with an assist going to the troops on the ground.