With each breathless news report of the fall of the city of Ramadi in Iraq to the deviant ISIS/ISIL super warriors, the US right-wing ramps up the “Obama lost Iraq” war chant. Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed strategic military experts, aided by messianic past warriors, come out of the woodwork to tell tales of the formerly peaceful and progressing Iraq that the US should never have left behind. However, no element of the predictable war chant seems to attract as much attention and as little meaningful analysis as that associated with US soldiers who previously died fighting for that which is now lost. [See Ramadi links below] Those poor dead souls were sent to an early grave by leaders who believed then and continue to believe that America can kill its way to a better world.
For historical context, this same Ramadi was a hard fought battleground during the US counterinsurgency effort from 2004 – 2007. Like any good battleground, it is viewed by some as hallowed ground on which brave and honorable US soldiers died trying to save someone or another from themselves. Because they fought and died for a perceived “cause” that has now been lost, there seems to be some insatiable national need to ensure that they did not die in vain. To achieve this end, our leaders leap at the opportunity to send more fodder (generally not their own children) to the killing fields to try to regain what has been lost.
Unfortunately, in Iraq and many other recent US military adventures, our soldiers really did die in vain. Coming to grips with this sad reality could begin the long road to stopping the warrior bandwagon and stopping the parade of wounded and dead warriors whose real or imagined accomplishments quickly vanish in the chaos left in their wake.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the only contemporary legacy of American intervention is the byproduct of the killing fields themselves – more strife, more dead children, more weapons, more blighted infrastructure, poisoned agriculture, unexploded ordinance, and now drones. Quite a legacy for a nation to contemplate, amid a sorry effort to continue the myth that something heroic was accomplished by those wounded and dead US warriors.
If the nation could only grasp that so many have died for so little, repeating the same mistakes yet again would be utter foolishness. Yet over 58,000 US military personnel died in vain in Vietnam without the lessons learned. We lost that war, and Vietnam is today a developing country with a communist government and 20 years of full diplomatic relations with the US, all of which almost surely would have been true without a single US soldier dying there in battle. [ http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/4130.htm ]
In Ramadi, the maudlin “dying in vain” chorus adds a wrinkle that goes beyond rewriting history in order to snatch some fictional victory from the jaws of real defeat. There, it seems America has a chance for a do-over, avoiding past dying in vain by adding “dying to ensure that others didn’t die in vain” to the vocabulary of nonsense that enshrouds American military intervention all over the globe.
Just to round out this discussion of dying in vain and to give the concept a domestic feel, here is something to think about – black men aged 20-34 died at a higher rate in Philadelphia in 2002 than in the military in Iraq from 2003 – 2006 at the height of the US war there. [University of Pennsylvania, Population Studies Center, 2006 – link below] Now that is real dying in vain and a dying in vain that seems to grind on every day in America’s urban areas.
It is a dying in vain that produces no parades, no flag draped coffins, almost no heroes, and surely no medals of honor. It is a dying in vain that will not stop at home even while the nation pauses to celebrate a day for so many others who died in vain in far off lands.
So now, as our politicians line up for a Ramadi redo and talk turns from "no boots on the ground" to "how many boots on the ground,” try to remember that dying in vain in the future is no better than having died in vain in the past. While you are at it and with the same passion seemingly reserved for warriors, start demanding that our politicians answer for those continuing to die in vain at home.
Recent Ramadi Coverage:
Univ. of Pennsylvania, Population Studies Center, 2006:
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