Untold and Uncounted Casualties of War

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By Jack Random
A disturbed Sergeant serving his third term of duty in Iraq picked up a weapon and killed five of his fellow soldiers.  

Sergeant John Russell of the 54th Engineer Battalion became the latest entry in the unsung casualties of war – a victim that few outside his circle of family and friends will mourn but a victim just the same.  

Sergeant Russell is one of the rare cases whose story is told on national media.  Soldiers under constant duress are frequently pushed beyond the breaking point, they frequently commit acts of violent desperation, but their stories are usually confined to the back pages of local newspapers.  

The army says some 102 soldiers ended their own lives in 2006, another 115 in 2007 and 140 in 2008.  In the opening months of 2009 the numbers continue to mount.  Suicide stories rarely draw attention, their faces are not pictured, and the essential facts of their lives are briefly sketched in obituary columns, lacking content and meaning.  They are not counted in the casualties of war.  There are no songs to pay tribute.  There are no flags buried in their honor.  Yet each of them had dreams, hopes and desires as rich as yours or mine.  Each felt a charge of patriotic fervor when they volunteered for service at a time of war.  

Each had families and loved ones who will also not be counted in the casualties of war but their lives have been altered as well.  Their tears flow as others do and their grief runs as deep in mourning.  



It is only when a violent act shakes the senses and breaks through our overfed imaginations, it is only then that we pause to wonder how and why.  

It is not so difficult really.  It is the history of every war.  It is the reason so few soldiers in past wars actually aimed at the enemy.  Killing takes its toll on the human soul.  Bearing witness to death and destruction exacts a price and someone must pay.  

The cost of war – even a righteous war – goes well beyond the official casualty report.  It is indelibly stamped in the psyche of a nation.  It is a shadow that never lifts.  It remains with us long after the last soldier dies of old age.  

The ghosts of Korea and the big war (WW II) are slowly fading now.  The ghosts of Vietnam will remain with us for decades to come.  The ghosts of Iraq and Afghanistan have only begun the haunting of a new generation.  

We have sworn as a nation to always remember our soldiers fallen in war but the greater truth is we will forget.  We will remember Sergeant Russell far longer than the soldiers he cut down.  We remember Andres Raya, the soldier who reenacted a scene from Baghdad in the streets of a central California town, but we forget the policeman he killed.  We remember the soldiers convicted of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib but we forget the hundreds who have taken their own lives.  We give a holiday each year to the thousands of soldiers who have died in this and other misbegotten wars but we forget the wounded and suffering.  

War is hell but if hell is measured by degrees as Dante Alighieri surmised, then there is a special place indeed for those who commit us to unnecessary wars.  

If that is a given as well it should be, it follows as a moral imperative that those in power, though they had no hand in creating these wars, must end them by the most direct and immediate means.  It follows that those in power now must create a structure of diplomacy that can resolve inevitable international conflicts by non-military means.  

Those of us who have opposed these wars from their inception, if we are completely honest and candid, must admit that the situation on both fronts is untenable.  Those who have supported and fought the wars from the beginning must admit that we are no closer to a successful conclusion than we were then and we are far worse off now than we were before the fighting began.  

The same divisive tribal and regional forces that tore at the seams of both artificially created nations are as powerful and inevitable now as they were before our intervention.  Whether they wait in the shadows or emerge in a flood of resurgent violence, they remain and will not be expunged by any foreign power.  

If we are concerned about the plight of women and the innate injustice of archaic religions in positions of governance (the separation of church and state) then we had better come to an understanding that we are neither god’s nor the world’s anointed power.  We cannot force the hand of social evolution; we can only encourage it by nonviolent means.  

The forces at play in Afghanistan and Iraq will be played out on their own terms whether we stay another day or the better part of another decade – only then our economic decline will be complete and our enemies will proclaim victory.  

If our concern is nuclear weapons in dangerous hands then we should begin by understanding that there are no safe hands for such a destructive power.  What in our brief but morbid history – with every glorious advance counterweighted by an atrocity of epic proportions – leads us to believe that we are more worthy than others?  We are after all the only nation to use a nuclear weapon.  

The task before us is clear and imminent:  we must end these wars and dedicate our resources (economic and intellectual) to ending all wars and dismantling all weapons of mass destruction – nuclear and otherwise.  

The world has paid too great a price for war.  It is a disease that never successfully resolves conflicts; it merely redefines them.  

If we gave as much time, money and effort to creating viable institutions of international justice as we have given to the perpetuation of war we would find that there is a growing community of nations on all continents, of diverse cultures and faiths, that are eager to join us.  There is no demand for war so great that it cannot be overcome by the dispassionate and equal administration of justice.  

Let us remember the fallen, the wounded and suffering.  Let us remember all of the casualties of war by taking the necessary steps to ending war itself.  



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