Thoughts on War and International Conflict
A few weeks ago, President Obama announced that the war in Iraq was officially ending as far as the United States was involved, and that most of our troops would be home by Christmas. This announcement caused me to think about the 8 & ½ years of that war, and the 2 more years of the war in Afghanistan, and indeed about warfare in the modern world. But first Iraq. Here are the statistics as they are officially reported:
4499 U.S. military deaths
32,200 wounded U.S. military
110,000 estimated Iraqi civilian deaths
2.5 million internally displaced Iraqis
$800 billion in federal spending for the Iraq War through FY 2011
Estimated $3-5 trillion total economic cost to the U.S. of the War in Iraq.
In addition to those numbers, as many as 300,000 U.S. troops will return from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder, and that many or more could return with traumatic brain injuries. Official estimates are that 1000 veterans of those 2 wars could attempt suicide each month.
The Viet Nam War was the influential war to my generation of young people. 58,000 U.S. service personal were killed in that war. Their names are on the Viet Nam Memorial wall in Washington, D.C. It’s almost 40 years since that war ended. About 60,000 Viet Nam veterans have now committed suicide. We are still paying the cost of the Viet Nam War in lost or unproductive lives. How long will we be paying a similar cost for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?
One more statistic. This comes from a book by John Tirman called The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars. In the First World War, there was about 1 civilian death for every 9 deaths of military personnel. Since the end of the Cold War, that figure is reversed. There are now roughly 9 civilian deaths for every single death of a military person. Timothy Renick of Georgia State University reviewed Tirman’s book in Christian Century, and he said this: Although many Americans recognize and mourn the significant number of deaths suffered by U.S. troops in Korea (33,000), Vietnam (58,000), Iraq (4500) and Afghanistan (over 1000), far fewer can speak accurately about the civilian death tolls in the same conflicts: 750,000 in Korea, over a million in Vietnam and hundreds of thousands each in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These figures of civilian deaths make a mockery of any attempt to justify modern warfare on Christian grounds by invoking Just War criteria. In the just prosecution of a war, civilians must not be targeted nor caught in circumstances they did not create. When there are 9 civilian deaths for the death of every military person in modern warfare, there is no such thing as an application of Just War theory that could justify any war.
Yet we show no signs yet of having learned anything from these massive failures. I am afraid that in the next 5 or 10 years, when the economy is better and the public trauma of Iraq and Afghanistan has subsided, a reason will be found to engage once again in a “limited military action;” and that once again we will find ourselves bogged down in a foreign war and be surprised when veterans return from that war wounded in so many more ways than physically.
I am sorry that I do not have a positive, upbeat, hopeful ending to these thoughts. One more general call to love our enemies and engage more seriously in diplomacy and in eradicating poverty around the world does not seem helpful without some specific possibility that they might be accomplished. Perhaps it is enough simply to end with a question. As our present wars wind down, do you see any hope that our country might learn some better ways to deal with international problems?
Posted on November 8, 2011 at 11:47 am in Featured Content.