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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Monday, January 01, 2007

3,000 deaths - What does it mean?

One of the things that has caught my eye this morning is the very different ways the news services are covering the gruesome milestone of the death of Dustin Donica, the 3,000th US service member reported killed in Iraq.

There's not one single message. The articles all seem to try to impart their own significance to this sad marker.

The NYTimes focuses on the families' grief, blending snippets of individual stories with statistics of the deaths. The WaPo frames this death in its significance to the politics of the overall war debate. One AP article starts with Arlington and then tells the personal stories of three of the fallen.

But what really caught my eye(and made me angry,) was this AP analysis piece that portrays Americans' intolerance for the casualties in Iraq as some sort of softness of the American people comparing casualties from this war to those in WWII. (Funny, how they always pick "the good war" as the reference point.)

I think the "lower" death toll is not tolerated because Americans recognize that this war is not winnable, and yet still it drags on. Longer than WWII, Iraq has no real signs of progress this far in, and in fact, progress, "winning," seems further away each day.

So, as the steady drip of casualties continues, it simply reinforces this understanding of the war, and each casualty is greeted not so much with grief over the death, but with a sadness that it never should have happened, and, yet, still continues.

(Other theories, comments? I'd be really curious.)

Also: Notice that whenever someone writes one of these stories, they always frame this war against WWII when the reality in Iraq is far closer to Lebanon 1983 with US soldiers attempting to interpose themselves and establish order on a multisided civil war. In that case, the US withdrew after 241 deaths.

One more: Do you think Americans would be nearly as upset if the 3,000 deaths were in Afghanistan chasing Bin Laden?


  • What struck me was Time's calling the 3000 killed "a pittance" compared to "previous military operations." Right concept, but an incredibly (and I think deliberately) demeaning and cynically calculating term.

    By Anonymous abi, at 10:00 AM  

  • Oh, I didn't see that. I would have blown a gasket.

    That's the whole basis of the comparison to WWII. That's why I chafe so hard at the "Americans are softer" line of argument.

    If we had lost 3,000 in Afghanistan, I don't think America would be nearly as upset.


    By Blogger mikevotes, at 10:05 AM  

  • If I'm told that a madman with nukes is threatening the USA, I would fight and die to defend my country.

    I wouldn't be quite so gung-ho if I found out, that in reality, I was expected to die for the geopolitical ideology of the neo-cons - who want to spread democracy around the world, at the point of a gun.

    And if this is about protecting an oil supply, I would be upset that I would be expected to put my life on the line, before my country would be willing to make a change in its energy use.

    By Blogger Time, at 12:14 PM  

  • How about if it's to establish a middle eastern base for US troops who have been thrown out of Saudi Arabia? Is that worth it?


    By Blogger mikevotes, at 1:38 PM  

  • I think your analysis is correct to a large degree. Obviously we can't know exactly why this is unacceptable to most Americans. Clearly there would be more tolerance for casualties in Afghanistan for obvious reasons.

    One thing to add to might be to consider how the Administration sold the war. No one expected a long, drawn-out conflict with casualties in the thousands when the war was sold to the public.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 4:16 PM  

  • That's a very good point, that the cake walk still goes on.

    It was that short term talk that made the war more sellable because it made America, and by extension Americans, so very powerful. And now that we find out we aren't......


    By Blogger mikevotes, at 5:48 PM  

  • Exactly.

    After Gulf 1 we were lulled into thinking we could take on 500,000 strong armies and emerge victorious with barely a scratch.

    That illusion has been destroyed.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 3:26 AM  

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