The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars
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Americans are greatly concerned about the number of our troops killed in battle--33,000 in the Korean War; 58,000 in Vietnam; 4,500 in Iraq--and rightly so. But why are we so indifferent, often oblivious, to the far greater number of casualties suffered by those we fight and those we fight for?
This is the compelling, largely unasked question John Tirman answers in The Deaths of Others. Between six and seven million people died in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq alone, the majority of them civilians. And yet Americans devote little attention to these deaths. Other countries, however, do pay attention, and Tirman argues that if we want to understand why there is so much anti-Americanism around the world, the first place to look is how we conduct war. We understandably strive to protect our own troops, but our rules of engagement with the enemy are another matter. From atomic weapons and carpet bombing in World War II to napalm and daisy cutters in Vietnam and beyond, our weapons have killed large numbers of civilians and enemy soldiers. Americans, however, are mostly ignorant of these methods, believing that American wars are essentially just, necessary, and "good."
Trenchant and passionate, The Deaths of Others forces readers to consider the tragic consequences of American military action not just for Americans, but especially for those we fight against.
have mitigated that trend, according to the mid-2010 UNAMA report. At the same time, however, special operations squads had apparently been killing or detaining thousands of Afghans, with many mistaken identities and the consequent, often lethal, disruptions. 24 “After an incident, it is common for Afghan families to seek out international military to ask after family members who have been detained, to seek an apology or compensation, or simply to get answers for why their family was attacked,”
civilization into the Muslim hinterland—is rapidly closing. CHAPTER 9 Three Atrocities and the Rules of Engagement All wars produce atrocities. Some are enormous and infamous for their scale and brutality. Since 1945, these monsters of war have occurred in Congo, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur, scenes of genocide and widespread rape, so the scale and infamy of mass killing has not been vanquished. As noted earlier, the United States had its rendezvous with evil in its own genocide of
population studies—such as these household surveys—contend with these data-gathering difficulties and other possible sources of inaccuracy. Recall bias is frequently cited, although the fact of death is vivid and likely accurate for these relatively short periods. Survivor bias is another hazard: if a selected household is empty, its inhabitants may have been killed or have fled because of death or fear of violence and thus never become part of the estimate. The massive displacement of Iraqis—20
the ubiquity of violence in popular entertainment—they rarely earn much scrutiny as socially constructed attitudes of long standing that brace, for example, aggression by the state. The roots of this set of attitudes about violence and its utility, necessity, and morality are found in the earliest period of the European “settlement” of America. The original Puritans and their immediate successors faced a daunting and threatening environment: both the vast and wild wilderness that even in the
sway of the Western powers to assure its fealty during the war; Islamic militancy was a barely discernible curiosity. FDR was not favorable to the growing case for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and thus could not foresee the reverberations of his successor’s decision to support the founding of Israel in 1948, a decision that united and gave new meaning to the Arab umma, or nation. But Roosevelt’s compact with the Saudi king was merely the culmination of thirty years of growing involvement and