Tirman, John, The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in Americas Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. (Dr. Tirman will speak in Lancaster Mar. 4-5, 2015, sponsored by LIPW and the International Studies Program of Franklin and Marshall College) By Urbane Peachey
Americans are greatly concerned about the number of our troops killed in battle, says John Tirman, “But why,” he asks, “are we so indifferent, often oblivious, to the far greater number of casualties suffered by those we fight and those we fight for?”
“The apathy is…puzzling in view of a prominent, normative counterclaimant (Christian ethics), the dominant cultural influence on Americans’ thinking; given Jesus’ teachings about compassion, one would expect deep sympathy in American for those who suffer in these wars.” p. 14
Tirman explains that six to seven million people died in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq alone, the majority of them civilians. He posits the destructiveness of America’s wars in the culture of violence with which America began which then morphed militarily into the expanding frontier far before the land borders of the United States. The American campaign in the Philippines, for example, at the end of the nineteenth century which resulted in the death of 200,000 to 400,000 Filipinos, was depicted as a struggle to bring civilization to the savage islands and as a bridge to Asia, especially China for American interests. The use of massive violence like the saturation bombing of German population centers in WW II and the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in Iraq is rarely scrutinized.
With respect to the firebombing of Japanese cities, General Curtis LeMay said,
“ ‘If we’d lost the war we would have been prosecuted as war criminals,’ and I think he’s right,’ said one of his top aides, Robert McNamara. ‘He and I’d say, I, were behaving as war criminals.’ “ (p. 54)
Tirman includes chapters on World War II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, The Twenty Years War in Iraq, beginning with the Gulf War, and the Afghanistan War. In each war, Tirman describes massive fatalities and destruction in the country involved. Operation Iraqi Freedom unleashed an orgy of violence that caused hundred’s of thousands of Iraqi deaths, millions of displaced people and society in shambles.
The residual anger and hostilities unleashed between Iraqi civilians as well as the hostility toward Americans was very different from the propaganda given by the Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz troika. Rumsfeld sacked General Shinseki for telling congress the invasion would require several hundred thousand troops. “Rumsfeld sacked the general and asserted the force size, about 150,000, was more than adequate to the task, particularly as the Iraqis would…welcome U. S. troops as liberators.” p. 226
Tragically, the culture of diverting and forgetting is institutionalized by things like haggling over Ben Ghazi. American policymakers and media related institutions and think tanks disregard the deaths and shambles of others as a matter of war policy. Human suffering and material destruction is “sanitized” with the euphemism known as “collateral damage.”