30,000 Iraqi lives lost
The headline above will generate skepticism. Some will be upset American casualties aren’t mentioned. Some will even feel satisfaction at the size of the figure.
The 2,000th American military death in the Iraq war was front-page news all over the United States last week. The Iraqi death toll was a page-five headline in The Courier-Journal. The article could be found adjacent to the continuation of the front-page story, ‘2,000 American lives lost.’
Any satisfaction gleaned by those who associate enemy body counts with victory will hopefully fade at the realization that this figure does not include insurgents. It does, however, include Iraqi police and military.
But there is another, much larger category.
‘The Iraqi public has taken the brunt of the casualties,’ Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a U.S. military spokesperson said in an Associated Press report last week.
That assertion has been echoed by every group offering an estimate that this journalist could find. It accounts for all manner of violent death that could be attributed directly to combat or to the breakdown in security resulting from the war.
The number of Iraqi dead is not an official figure. No official figures exist. But, 30,000 is the one accepted by U.S. military brass and human rights watchdog groups alike.
On the high end of the scale, a study published by famed researcher Les Roberts made a claim of 100,000 deaths. Roberts said the risk of death by violence for civilians in Iraq was now 58 times higher than it was pre-invasion. He discarded information from Falluja, where the death rate is now so high that it would have skewed the results.
Yet we are told the people of Iraq are much better off.
Having cautioned my more liberal friends against Vietnam comparisons, pointing out that American casualties were reaching 500 a week at the height of that war, I was now faced with another Vietnam parallel: war carried on the backs of the indigenous, non-combatant population.
(Incidentally, 2,000 Americans lost in a country where roughly 130,000 have been dedicated to the war effort strikes me as very significant. And the deaths of 30,000 friendly Iraqis approaches the number of U.S. military dead for the entire Korean War.)
What didn’t we learn from Vietnam?
I wasn’t born until 1975, but when reading about Vietnam, I can’t help but think that much of the commentary could be applied to the war in Iraq as well.
How close is the connection? I asked my former journalism professor, Jim St. Clair, who teaches at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. He was a sergeant in Vietnam in 1968.
He asked for some time to think about it, and in half an hour he called back with a laundry list of comparisons.
‘I think you can carry an analogy too far, and it breaks down at some point,’ he cautioned.
‘Not a clear mission in either case. Not a clear rationale or justification from the president, Johnson or Bush, going into these wars. Plus the mission, the goal, the aim is constantly changing,’ he said.
‘If you look at and read some of the things Bush says about staying the course and finishing the mission, it’s so reminiscent of things Johnson was saying. And continual promises that things are getting better when actually they are not,’ St. Clair said.
‘There was the quote from Westmoreland, ‘The light is at the end of the tunnel,’ and a few weeks later we get the Tet Offensive.’
St. Clair said that there were obviously a lot of differences. Even in some of those, similarities can be found. In both cases, we wanted to make a nation into a democracy. The hope in South Vietnam was to prevent a ‘domino effect’ of communism spreading throughout southeast Asia. In Iraq we hope to spark a domino effect. South Vietnam eventually was absorbed into the communist rule of the North, but there never was a domino effect in other countries.
‘There has been a lack of understanding from both administrations of really what they were dealing with, a misunderstanding of the culture and the people. We would’ve understood exactly what was going to happen when the Shiites got into power and kicked out the Sunnis. It was apparent to anybody who understood the nature of Iraq what kind of hostilities that would create,’ St. Clair said.
‘In terms of who is doing the fighting and dying, there are a lot parallels there, too. The level of mayhem has greatly escalated, and the civilian population is taking the brunt. Before America escalated Vietnam, innocent Vietnamese were killed, but not to the extent they were when we got there.
‘I just don’t want to see any more death. On the other hand, we created the situation. We need to fix it,’ St. Clair said.
I agree. And I hope we’ve learned to never create such a situation again.