To preface this, I was in the Army Reserves for 7 years and was deployed 3 times; once voluntarily and twice involuntarily. I was a counterintelligence agent and did strategic intel work, including counter-terrorism analysis and tactical intel work in Bosnia as a team sergeant for a "Force Protection Team." My moral views on war and being in the army have shifted considerably since then, but I can identify with the soldiers currently deployed (to a limited extent, having never been in combat) and my experience does give me a different perspective on what is happening in the world today.
As I mentioned earlier, I was unable to vote for a variety of reasons, but I probably would have cast for Bush. That vote, however, would have been geared towards life issues and little else. I believe the war in Iraq was a miscalculation that is going to present problems for the US for years to come. The war has spurred Iran & North Korea's nuclear weapons programs since that is the only conceivable deterrent to the US. North Korea effectively holds Seoul hostage with conventional weapons - nuclear weapons is the icing on the cake allowing it to threaten Japan, as well. If Iran acquires or manufactures nuclear weapons, Israel is the obvious target. Those are but 2 of the numerous reasons I was opposed to this war, which included both moral & strategic/political concerns.
Now, comes the report from the Lancet, a British medical journal, that their research has concluded that the "excess deaths" in the 17 months after the war is in excess of 98,000 at a conservative estimate. The Lancet's exact findings:
The risk of death was estimated to be 2·5-fold (95% CI 1·6–4·2) higher after the invasion when compared with the preinvasion period. Two-thirds of all violent deaths were reported in one cluster in the city of Falluja. If we exclude the Falluja data, the risk of death is 1·5-fold (1·1–2·3) higher after the invasion. We estimate that 98000 more deaths than expected (8000–194000) happened after the invasion outside of Falluja and far more if the outlier Falluja cluster is included. The major causes of death before the invasion were myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular accidents, and other chronic disorders whereas after the invasion violence was the primary cause of death. Violent deaths were widespread, reported in 15 of 33 clusters, and were mainly attributed to coalition forces. Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children. The risk of death from violence in the period after the invasion was 58 times higher (95% CI 8·1–419) than in the period before the war.*
98,000+ deaths, which is over 6 times the count of Iraq Body Count, which as of right now, has the death toll between 14,219 and 16,352. I was thinking about this last night - 100,000 or more people dead, many killed without warning by air strikes they never saw coming. I wondered how I would feel, if I were over there and a friend or a family member were killed by coalition forces. Of course, it must be pointed out that the death toll under Saddam was much higher though spread out over a longer period, but does it make a difference to the surviving spouses, parents, siblings or children who killed their loved ones? I would hope it would, but in their shoes I don't know what I would think. Right now, safe in my office, I think all the deaths under Saddam would have felt meaningless - no hope for change, no hope for the future, no hope for a better tomorrow in spite of the present pain. But now, with Saddam gone and Iraq moving towards democracy and freedom in fits & starts, I wonder if those 100,000 deaths feel the same. Is there a sense that those deaths, while tragic and painful, happened on the edge of a brighter future and in that way, were not meaningless or bereft of hope? I don't know how I would feel if I was an Iraqi and lost a family member like that, but I have to think (and pray) that hope permeates these tragedies and feeds the as yet tiny flames of a free future. Even if that is the case, is there any guilt in those deaths? Will we have a price to pay as a nation for extinguishing those innocent lives, even in the name of freedom?
Unfortunately, I think there is a strong possibility that we will, if only because we have masked these deaths with flippant slogans and wrong thinking. Take this from a "voting guide" by John Mark Reynolds:
[Bush] wants to bring liberty to Iraq. This is difficult, but if his plan works, terrorism will end forever.
No, liberty in Iraq will not end terrorism forever. Aside from the insurgency, which is not, strictly speaking, terrorism, I don't think a free Iraq will make a significant change in the level of global terrorism. Groups in Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Africa and elsewhere are unaffected by the Iraq war. Jemaah Islamiyah knows we will not invade Indonesia, even though they slaughter hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians every year. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Abu Sayyaf know we will not invade the Philippines no matter how many hostages they take or bombs they detonate on the island of Mindanao. A free Iraq might make a difference in Palestinian terrorism, since Saddam did fund suicide bombers but that funding has already been cut off. (Arafat's coma and possible death will hopefully have a much larger impact.) What does this type of lie - that liberty in Iraq will end terrorism - say about our attitude towards those 100,000 dead? It seems to me that being unrealistic about the purpose of their deaths, dishonors and trivializes them. Maybe I'm wrong, but it feels like it empties them of that hope since our plan for what will happen is nothing but wishful thinking.
So what do we do? What should we think? How do we mourn these deaths? Should it change our actions on the ground? Should we be willing to put more of our own in harm's way to prevent the deaths of innocents on this scale?
* The Lancet believes the majority of deaths among women & children were due to air strikes. Their method is this:
A cluster sample survey was undertaken throughout Iraq during September, 2004. 33 clusters of 30 households each were interviewed about household composition, births, and deaths since January, 2002. In those households reporting deaths, the date, cause, and circumstances of violent deaths were recorded. We assessed the relative risk of death associated with the 2003 invasion and occupation by comparing mortality in the 17·8 months after the invasion with the 14·6-month period preceding it.