Sunday, May 21, 2006
Baghdad ER – The Cost of War
Here is last Friday’s On Point radio program, hosted by Tom Ashbrook, on the HBO special Baghdad ER, which will be broadcast tonight and on Memorial Day. It’s a documentary about the doctors and medics working on American and Iraqi casualties in Baghdad.
The On Point program was powerful and very difficult to listen to (for example, a prayer by a chaplain over a marine that the doctors had labored to save for over 13 hours), but I feel that more Americans need to listen to it, or to see the HBO program. Almost 2,500 American troops have been killed in Iraq. Almost 18,000 have been wounded. The deaths and injuries suffered by Iraqi civilians are much higher and difficult to calculate. It’s important to note that the number of dead would be much, much higher if not for the expert care at the trauma units. Over 90% of the casualties delivered to them survive.
I’m currently in the process of struggling with the Just War Theory, and whether a just war is even possible with today’s weapons and technology. I have close friends who support the war in Iraq. In all honesty and candor, they haven’t known me over the years as a dove. I also have close friends who do not support the war. I think that most of the people who’ve been looking at this blog are emphatically and unequivocally against it. I bought into the WMD and Al Qaeda-connection hype. I supported the action against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I have admiration for those serve in uniform. I admire their discipline, their dedication, and their ethos of selflessness and loyalty. I hate to see them ill-used, as when they are driven around Iraq in humvees like ducks in a gallery, waiting for IED’s to take them out. I look at the Honor the Fallen casualty list every day. It is an endless litany… “So and so was killed in Anbar province when an improvised explosive device detonated under his vehicle”. What a waste.
Although I have always admired the principle of non-violence, I have not always held to the position that it was a practical ideal in reality. I've always believed that although war is never a good thing, it sometimes is regrettably necessary to protect the innocent. I've also held that fascism needs to be actively resisted whenever it arises.
I am starting to wonder however, if the time has come to change my views on that. The world cannot continue going the way it is going, both in economic terms and with the consensus on non-proliferation falling apart. We cannot kill our way out of the current problem. I'm a bit conflicted right now.
For those who support the war in Iraq, I think they should at least accept this fact if there is a necessary war on terror: Iraq was a tactical mistake. The neo-con team, and Dick Cheney in particular, were sold on taking a big risk on Iraq by academics like Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami. The president seems to think that all you have to do is introduce elections and free-trade zones into a region like this, and that inside every one of these people a red-white-and-blue-born-again-christian will struggle to get out. Generals and politicians always fight the last war. This team did not realize how much the Middle East has been radicalized since 1991.
We went into Viet Nam with a good army and came out with a bad one. Even if you support the war, you have to admit that we are running the same risk here. We are going to use these wonderful men and women up. They are bearing this burden alone. The president does not have this country on a war footing. No sacrifice has been asked of anyone other than to keep on shopping. In the meantime, men who’ve lost feet or taken shrapnel behind their eyes have been returning to combat duty for another tour. It isn’t right.