The price of ‘freeing the oppressed’

How do you propose an acceptable number of dead American military personnel? How do you justify losing even one American life.  Are there acceptable deaths?

My inability to answer these questions is probably why I did not have the character to serve my country while many of my family members did.  Maybe I could never grasp an understanding of necessary loss of life.  But spend a few minutes with military personnel.  They aren’t confused.  They understand.  They know the risk. They love their country and are willing to “ruck up and close with the enemy.”

I am not trying to minimize the value of lost human lives.  I cannot because I have relatives who were in harm’s way or will be in harm’s way soon.  My father was in the U.S. Navy in combat during World War II and my son is in Special Forces training. 

If your loved one is killed in combat the fact we are losing fewer lives now than ever before is irrelevant. In your family the casualty rate is 100 percent. 

Roughly 3,800 men and women in uniform have been killed in Iraq, leaving an even greater number of mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and children with a permanent void in their lives.

It is difficult for me to understand this loss of life.  I believe it will be years before we can accurately look back objectively and determine if the price we are paying was worth it.

I would like to look to other times, other wars, and the human cost of those wars. What was the human cost of removing the “Hitler’s” of history? 

In World War II we lost over 300,000 military personnel during the same time frame we have been in Iraq. At Normandy over 1,500 U.S. soldiers died on D-Day alone.

At Iwo Jima 6,800 Americans were killed in four weeks while 12,000 died on Okinawa in 82 days. 

During the three days of the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg there were over 50,000 casualties.

Compare this to Iraq where we have lost roughly 3,800 military personnel in four years.

Closer to home, consider traffic deaths on our highways. About 50,000 Americans die each year in automobile accidents.  In the 1980s, facing an oil crisis, we lowered the interstate speed limits from 70 mph to 55 mph.

An unanticipated bonus was 5,000 fewer people killed each year on the highways with the lower speed limits.  Now the speed limits are back to 75 mph.  We are opposed to lowering the speed limits to save 5,000 American lives each year but speak with shock of 3,800 military personnel lost in four years.

We must be realistic about what is occurring.  We are at war.  During war military personnel die.  During war innocent people die.

And sometimes we wonder if the price is worth it.  We wonder if we are in the right place for the right reasons, the right place for the wrong reasons or the wrong place for the wrong reasons.  But we are there, appropriately or not.

What can we do?  We must always question our government.  We must expect our nation’s leaders to convince us the price is worth it whether it is the millions who died in past wars or the thousands who have died in Iraq.  Each human life is a gift.

Admire those questioning the government, asking if the loss of life in Iraq is too high.  I believe they should do this even though I agree with our presence in Iraq.  We have soldiers dying and that questioning keeps our political leaders aware of the bloody price of their decisions.

I still cannot comprehend “acceptable losses.”  How can you view as good news that “only” 10 Americans were killed today because in past wars that number would have been 1,000?

There must be a way to appreciate each human life, while understanding the loss of life.  There must be a way to grieve the loss of each life while realizing it could have been so much worse.  There must be a way to make sure those lost lives, whatever the number, are never in vain. There must be a way to determine the value of “freeing the oppressed.” There must be a way to comprehend what we owe the world but also how to determine when enough is enough.

I wish I had the answers, but I don’t.  One of the Army’s “mottos,” referring to a sword says, “draw me not without reason, sheath me not without honor.”  

We can debate whether we drew our sword with reason but our sward is drawn and we need to sheath it with honor.  Our dead military personnel, our military, the citizens of Iraq and our country deserve nothing less.

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