post by Bill Gardner
I am trying to think through why I have been so upset about the cheering for death at the Republican debates. (It has also puzzled Paul, and our frequent and much appreciated commenter Beth Haynes.) I will write about this one more time, and then let the topic go.
What has me upset, I think, stems from my thoughts surrounding the ten year anniversary of 9/11. The ceremony at Ground Zero was perfect. What it got exactly right was the simple, solemn, and dignified reading of every name. This equal consideration of each victim was itself a resounding moral statement: Every death mattered and every death counted the same.
What I can't get past, however, is that the US government and its citizens have not conducted a comparable moral audit of our actions in the decade that followed. 150,000 Iraqis, at a minimum, and 4,000 Americans died in the Iraq war ( = fifty 9/11s). Every American death is remembered, as it should be. But Americans do not extend equal consideration to the Iraqi deaths. You would think that a war that killed tens of thousands and squandered our treasure would be the central issue of political debate. But if the Democratic leaders are thinking this through, they are keeping very quiet about it; perhaps they have delegated the task to the aerial drones. And with the admirable exception of Ron Paul, the Republicans leaders proclaim their willingness to do it all again.
It's not the US military who are responsible here. There is a wonderful quote from Harry Summers' Vietnam book:
"I don't choose the wars I fight," said the crew-cut West Point Lieutenant Colonel. "When people ask me why I went to Vietnam I say, "I thought you knew. You sent me."
Nor is it President Bush, or his staff, who alone need to account for their actions. It is the American people who have to think through their responsibility for > 150,000 deaths (including me, because in 2003 I thought the war was justified).
These reflections should start with the principle of equal consideration. Each of those dead Iraqis counts. We may well conclude that a few Iraqis -- Saddam Hussein, or Zarqawi -- were not victims, and if fact deserved to die. But we need to weigh even these lives in the balance as we think through the consequences of what we did.
So that, I think, is why the cheering for death at the debates gets to me. These crowds are not giving equal consideration to the deaths of the executed and the uninsured, not treating them as a tragic loss, not treating them as they would treat the loss of someone in their own families, which they would do even if they believed that family member deserved to die. The cheers say to me that we are blind to the deaths on our hands, and that soon enough we will needlessly go to war again.