Casualty of Capitalism

Exiled into Wilmington, Delaware by virtue of corporate layoffs. (Note: Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this blog are Copyright 2005, Michael Collins, and cannot be used without permission.)

Location: Wilmington, Delaware, United States

Graduate of University of Maryland School of Law; University of Maryland, College Park (Economics/Political Science).

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Price of War

My fiance laughs about how much I can't stand Bob Herbert of the New York Times, especially when attempts to write about foreign affairs. As America's most atrocious writer on foreign policy in any newspaper above the college level, Herbert continually embarasses himself, usually exploiting the wounded or the families of the dead for his anti-war cause.

Today Herbert writes about civilian casualties of war. Since the beginning of time, civilians have endured harsh times when they are in a war zone. Many of us in this country, I hope, will never have to know what it is like. Unfortunately, war is an inevitable fact of life in places around the world, especially those areas with historically corrupt, inept or simply violent governments make destruction and death a way of life. When actual war finds its way to those places, the powerless, the civilians, tend to get the short end of the stick.

The U.S. is in the midst of a war in Iraq, as we seek to stabilize the Middle East and bring a better day to people who have the unfortunate fate of living in one of the world's traditionally violent places. What makes the U.S. in 2005 unique in the history of warfare is our utter regard for civilians, rather than disregard, and the pains we take to prevent civilian casualties. In fact, we go so far as to help the civilians rebuild what we have destroyed.

Another unfortunate fact of war is that warfare is designed for killing and it is carried out by human beings, each one of us imperfect. Mistakes are made. Bad intelligence is received. Ruses are successful. And civilians often die as a result. In the short view, with each and every life on this earth valuable, every death is a tragedy. In the long view, every person's life on this planet is brief, and most of us are here living and toiling to make things better for future generations, whether we realize it or not. Every death, tragic as it may be, can also be part of a greater good. Part of progress towards a better day for a greater number of people. That is what we are hoping for in Iraq. That is why people like me who supported the war for its future social positives as much as any other reason continue to support it, even tragedies continue to occur and some lose their lives before they get to see the result.

I'll give Herbert's column today this: it gave me pause to offer some more prayers for those trying to get by in war zones around the world. Thanks, Bob, for inspiring one more prayer.

Per usual, however, Herbert drives me crazy with his dishonesty, ineptitude and predictability. As a column about Iraq, Herbert highlights only tragedy, as is his MO. He explains nothing about the good Americans soldiers and civilians are doing in-country, or the extra risks U.S. soldiers take to ensure to the best of their abilities that only the bad guys die. No balance. Here's the opening paragraph:

In a horrifying incident that occurred in the spring of 2003, an Iraqi woman threw two of her children, an infant and a toddler, out the window of a car that had been hit accidentally in an American rocket attack. The woman and the rest of her family perished in the black smoke and flames of the wreckage. The toddler, whose name was Zahraa, was severely burned. She died two weeks later.

An awful, awful situation. I understand the point that Herbert wants to make in this article, civilian deaths are occurring and nobody wants to talk about it. I also understand that Herbert (thankfully) only gets a few paragraphs per column. But really, is it fair to write a blame piece like this without giving the reasons for the accidental attack? What is the context? Where did it happen? Was it during a time of intensified conflict? Certainly a full explanation would be tough to give when your writing space is so small, but context is important. I'll explain why in a moment.

The vast amount of suffering and death endured by civilians as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has, for the most part, been carefully kept out of the consciousness of the average American. I can't think of anything the Bush administration would like to talk about less. You can't put a positive spin on dead children.

Here we move into the meat of Herbert's misleading column. Take note of this phrase: " a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq..." I'll return to that.

It's true that the deaths of civilians are uncomfortable to talk about. Had we targeted them, like Saddam with his nerve gas, wood-chippers, and mass graves, it would be especially uncomfortable. Thing is, our goal on the whole is to give these people the means to live their lives free from massive violence. It will take time, and lives, but we will get there.

There's been hardly any media interest in the unrelieved agony of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq. It's an ugly subject, and the idea has taken hold that Americans need to be protected from stories or images of the war that might be disturbing. As a nation we can wage war, but we don't want the public to be too upset by it.

I'm sorry to be facetious, but the reason there isn't much attention paid to it, is because the media thinks the only thing that sells papers and TV advertising space are stories about dead American soldiers. The anti-war left, highly represented in the "journalistic" community, wants this war over because they hate George Bush and they hate the U.S. military. Lefties want egg on the U.S.'s face, Bush's in particular. And here is where Herbert loses his argument: the reason the media is not focusing on the "unrelieved agony of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq" is because the Americans are the ones assisting them, while the insurgents are the ones killing them on a daily basis.

This is where Herbert's dishonest phrase (" a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq...") is telling. He knows it is the terrorists and insurgents that are killing innocent Iraqis on purpose. He knows that we are trying to mitigate the damage to civilian lives and infrastructure and putting U.S. lives on the line to do so. But he has to blame the U.S. for the beheadings, suicide bombers, and mass executions. So he uses that weasely phrase.

There is another reason for it. Herbert needs to blame the United States for the death of star of his column:

This stunning lack of interest in the toll the war has taken on civilians is one of the reasons Ms. Ruzicka, who was just 28 when she died, felt compelled to try to personally document as much of the suffering as she could. At times she would go from door to door in the most dangerous areas, taking down information about civilians who had been killed or wounded. She believed fiercely that Americans needed to know about the terrible pain the war was inflicting, and that we had an obligation to do everything possible to mitigate it.

Ms. Ruzicka is Marla Ruzicka, an aid worker. Aid workers are the champions of liberals because they don't carry guns and get to help the people caught in a bad situation. More power to the aid workers, I say. Anybody with the guts that our aid workers, be they secular, religious, Republican or Democrat, deserves praise and hero status.

But our military is unrecognized as one of the world's foremost and highly effective humanitarian organizations. The incredible work in the aftermath of the tsunami a case in point. No other outfit in the world could have done as much as our Armed Forces did during the weeks after the waves destroyed so many lives. Even though they carry guns and look scary, they do great work. Not all aid is supplied in medical kits and bags of grain. Some is provided in dangerous security and law enforcement work. Does not the U.S. training of Iraqi troops and police officers count as aid?

Not for Herbert. Herbert's column is eleven paragraphs long, each dedicated to the proposition that the U.S. military is out there shooting up the place, civilians be damned. In his words:

So the public doesn't even hear about the American bombs that fall mistakenly on the homes of innocent civilians, wiping out entire families. We hear very little about the frequent instances of jittery soldiers opening fire indiscriminately, killing and wounding men, women and children who were never a threat in the first place. We don't hear much about the many children who, for one reason or another, are shot, burned or blown to eternity by our forces in the name of peace and freedom.

That's some powerful imagery. Children, women, children, men, and children (don't forget the children) getting turned to toast by "nitwit" American soldiers who can't control their fear. You would think that after all of this, the star of his article would also have been returned to her Maker by the guns, bombs, or missiles of the U.S.'s keystone cop soldiers. The typically dishonest Herbert, of course, spends only half a sentence speaking about the context, the circumstances of Ms. Ruzicka's death.

Ms. Ruzicka "was herself killed a little over a week ago in the flaming wreckage of a car that was destroyed in a suicide bomb attack in Baghdad." Not by a nervous, trigger happy Marine. Not by a misguided airstrike. Most importantly, not in any way intentionally or otherwise by an American.

(CNN describes the direct targeting of her convoy of civilian vehicles:

The U.S. Embassy is investigating and hasn't been able to determine if the attack was a suicide mission or a bomb that was remotely detonated, the official said.

It's also unknown whether Ruzicka's vehicle was associated with a three-car convoy of a U.S. nongovernmental organization, National Democratic Institute, that was traveling along the same road, the official added. That convoy may have been the target of the attack.)

Ms. Ruzicka was killed by a cowardly suicide terrorists targeting civilians, whether they were aid workers or consultants. Yet Herbert spends eleven full columns slamming the United States' inadvertant and admittedly tragic killing of Iraqi civilians. The terrorists have shown no quarter to civilians and have deliberately targeted them throughout our two years in Iraq. This has never been the policy of the United States (in fact, quite the opposite), yet we are the enemy according to Herbert in today's column.

Towards the end of the column, Herbert starts wrapping things up with this observation:

War is always about sorrow and the deepest suffering. Nitwits try to dress it up in the finery of half-baked rationalizations, but the reality is always wanton bloodshed, rotting flesh and the lifelong trauma of those who are physically or psychically maimed.

Apparently, there is no situation where the use of military force is acceptable for Herbert. War is "always wanton bloodshed"? What side would he have been on during the Revolutionary War? Would he have been content, as a black man, had the Civil War never been fought? How dare we deny Hitler the right to his vision of a Third Reich by force of arms! I can't wait to read his column on how we approach the situation in Sudan.

There is a difference between "wanton bloodshed" and fighting for a cause. Our soldiers are doing their best to rebuild Iraq and give the people back their country. Herbert is content to vilify anyone who would fight for their rights. I hate to see civilians die as much, if not more, than the average person. But I am also not so naive or politically clouded as to believe that our men and women are incapable of fighting bravely and honestly for the future of a people they don't even know. I grew up in the military culture, and I know what kind of outstanding, principled people we have leading, fighting in, and supporting our Armed Forces.

Herbert should stick to writing about domestic social issues and leave the foreign policy punditry to the experts.


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