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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dying is Easy When Someone Else Does it for You

Retired Army Col. Andrew J. Bacevich, now a professor of international relations at Boston University, wrote of the Iraq war in 2006:

Misdirected violence alienates those we are claiming to protect. It plays into the hands of the insurgents, advancing their cause and undercutting our own. It fatally undermines the campaign to win hearts and minds, suggesting to Iraqis and Americans alike that Iraqi civilians -- and perhaps Arabs and Muslims more generally -- are expendable. Certainly, Nahiba Husayif Jassim's death helped clarify her brother's perspective on the war. "God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here," he declared after the incident. "They have no regard for our lives."

He was being unfair, of course. It's not that we have no regard for Iraqi lives; it's just that we have much less regard for them. The current reparations policy -- the payment offered in those instances in which U.S. forces do own up to killing an Iraq civilian -- makes the point. The insurance payout to the beneficiaries of an American soldier who dies in the line of duty is $400,000, while in the eyes of the U.S. government, a dead Iraqi civilian is reportedly worth up to $2,500 in condolence payments -- about the price of a decent plasma-screen TV.

Bacevich wasn't an idle spectator -- an armchair general criticizing the occupation from afar. He had what Al Franken used to refer to as 'skin in the game.' His son, Army 1st Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich, was stationed in Iraq.

Lt. Bacevich was killed by a roadside bomb in Balad sunday -- Mother's Day. It's difficult not to give his father a certain added moral authority, the same authority we've afforded Cindy Sheehan. Those who've lost someone are those who may know best the true cost of the occupation. And it shouldn't be lost that the elder Bacevich had written that giving more importance to the death of americans than those of iraqis is a terrible mistake.

As this war goes on, we get more stories like this one. The names of the dead are never Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld or McCain. There is a ruling class and a dying class in America -- those names do not belong to the dying class.

There are other names that also come to mind -- Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Hannity. These are the names of those who sit safely in studios, thousands of miles away from the fighting, and hypocritically complain about the 'cowardice' of those who think the war's a mistake. Those names are never repeated in the roster of the fallen, either. As Lt. Bacevich proves, the names are more likely those of the critics.

When we read those names, it's easy to forget Col. Bacevich's point -- that iraqi people are just as important as american people. That their deaths are as bewildering to them as ours are to us. That the weight of this catastrophe is born by those we'll either never hear of or hear of and forget -- if we're lucky. That war is an action heavy with consequence and irreversible loss for both sides.

Who should we listen to -- those who's names will be repeated in the list of the dead or those who's names won't? It doesn't seem like much of a question to me. Those who risk nothing aren't likely to understand what they're advocating and those who've risked themselves in the past -- people like John McCain -- have obviously forgotten. Words like 'victory' and 'honor' and 'duty' are bullshit. They always have been and it's only those who get the chance to see things up close who seem to realize it.


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