May 26, 2012
This is Memorial Day weekend, a time when we Americans remember our dead – especially our war dead. And in this decade-plus of perpetual war, which started with a terrorist act (not an act of war) that killed nearly 3,000 civilians here, another 6,500 American military personnel have died in our two wars. Add to that the journalists, NGOs and other American civilians who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have lost around 10,000 Americans to these wars. That’s a lot of deaths to remember this Memorial Day.
However, that is not the extent of the dead of our wars. Although we do not remember the deaths of enemy military on our memorial day, we might do well to at least remember the civilian deaths, since it was our own civilian deaths on 9/11 that were used to justified the two wars we were in for most of this decade. Estimates on Iraqi civilian deaths range from 68,000 to 100,000; add to that an estimated 4,000 civilian deaths in Afghanistan and, with our drone campaigns, in Pakistan and Yemen. These may not be “our” war dead, but they are most certainly the dead of our wars. And, like our own civilians on 9/11, they did not ask for what happened to them; they were ordinary mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children living ordinary lives when they were attacked. We do not know the exact numbers of these dead (as we do our own) for they are the collateral damage – the two most disgusting words in the English language, as far as I’m concerned – about whom General Tommy Franks famously said, “We don’t do body counts.” Yet their loss has caused the same anguish to their loved ones and friends that our dead have caused us.
So, why would I feel it important to remember these dead of our wars on our day of remembrance for our war dead? First, because they are fellow human beings and there is a grave danger to our own humanity when we dismiss them, as our government would, as collateral damage. I’m convinced that a good part of our own internal strife over these wars comes from our unwillingness to come to grips with this. Look deeply into the eyes of our returning combat veterans and you will see this same strife, even in those who deeply believed in these wars. This is the human cost of war – not only to our “enemies”, but to ourselves.
Second, even as we remember our own dead from these wars, the Empire is fully ready to go on to the next war with Iran. We have surrounded that unlucky country with military bases over the last few years, filled the Arabian Gulf with warships and shipped billions of dollars of new arms to Israel even though Iran has not attacked us, does not have one single nuclear bomb and does not have the means to deliver it, if they were capable of building one in the next few years. Yet, with all our angst about being “dragged” into war once again, we ordinary Americans never stop to ask ourselves how it is, that an Empire that is truly unwilling could be dragged anywhere.
Why? Because we cannot, will not, see these dead of our wars in the same way we see our war dead – fellow human beings, brothers, sisters, family. And until we do, we will be constantly propagandized to send our own into the meat grinder of the dying Empire’s wars. The toll of our war dead will go ever higher, as will the dead of our wars across the world. The human cost of war will continue to rise as the financial costs mount until –perhaps with this next war – the Empire finally collapses and we, too, have become the dead of our wars. Who will be left to mourn our war dead, then?