Back during Vietnam, one of the features of that war was the body count. The US military issued a running estimate of the number of enemy combat deaths, which was considered by some to be bloodthirsty, exaggerated, and a misplaced measurement of the progress of the war. Criticism was so intense that in recent years the military has stopped the practice, although others have taken it up for their own (and often suspect) reasons.
The body count of American dead in the Iraq war goes on, however. It is based on statistics supplied by the US military–apparently it’s still okay to count our dead. The recent publicity given to the 2,000 American death can seem to give off an aura of ghoulish celebration clothed in solemn mourning, just in time for Halloween.
I’m not saying the MSM’s emphasis on this body count doesn’t contain an element of sincere sympathy for the sorrows of the families of the fallen, at least in some instances. But I believe that, all too often, observations such as the following one highlighted approvingly by Dymphna–from a commenter on her blog writing on the death of #2000–are quite correct:
I’ve been thinking about the cries that he is being victimized by the left–and how ignoble a title “Victim” to bestow upon a warrior. Instead, he is, with his family, a warrior whose service goes beyond merely his life, and includes bearing the weight of fools.
In honor of the 2000th death and all the other US military deaths–and lives–in Iraq and elsewhere, I thought I’d recycle a portion of a post I wrote around Memorial Day on the subject of the liberal attitude towards the military. Here is the excerpt:
It’s not my impression that liberals/leftists necessarily even focus on the courage of the military. It’s my impression, from talking to liberals/leftists and reading what they write, that many primarily see the military (as I wrote previously) as either bloodthirsty–or, much more commonly and condescendingly, as unintelligent lower- or working-class pawns of a cowardly and exploitative ruling class (thus, the “chickenhawk” accusation against that ruling class, especially towards those who didn’t serve, or whose service is deemed inadequate)…
In my experience, liberals don’t necessarily even think very often in terms of concepts such as physical courage–it’s an old-fashioned word for an old-fashioned value. They think in terms of the values of kindness and/or tolerance and/or intelligence, which they feel that they themselves demonstrate. Or, if they do think of courage and admire it, it is more often the courage to speak out, or to stand up for a cause (to “speak truth to power,” for example).
Remember the old slogan, “Better Red than dead?” The people who said it meant it. And they weren’t all Communists, not by any means. They were people who believed that almost nothing–no abstraction, anyway, including freedom–was worth fighting for in the physical sense, and especially not worth dying for. Therefore anyone who does believe in fighting for something so abstract must be deluded in some way, or oppressed in some way, or both…
I also think that the template for the liberal/leftist view of the military was set during Vietnam, when the draft was one of the main ways to enter the service…People whose attitudes towards military service were based on that era are sometimes unable to understand the changes that have been wrought by the all-volunteer military. They continue to see those in the service as victims, although now they are not seen as victims of the draft, but as victims of coercion and class via economic incentives for joining the military, and/or as victims of the self-serving lies of politicians. It stands to reason that the class interpretation would be especially common on the left, since it fits in quite nicely with a socialist or Marxist viewpoint. And, if the enlistee is viewed as a pawn of economic circumstances, and his/her motivation is seen as economic, then it’s easier to circumvent the whole topic of personal courage.
This idea of the dead soldier as victim, rather than courageous hero, is often cited by the left for propaganda purposes against the administration and those “ruling classes.” Here’s a recent and very typical example of this type of thinking (found here in comment #80–supposedly it’s taken from Michael Moore’s website, but I looked and couldn’t find it there, so I can’t swear it’s a proper attribution):
Bush and the Crime Cabal in power sent 26 more soldiers to their graves this week and 26 more families to lives of living hell. 26 more lives and families devastated and destroyed for absolutely nothing. We will see the hypocritical mobsters of the state at their events today and tomorrow spewing filth from their mouths, such as: “Freedom isn’t Free,” and “We must stay the course in Iraq to honor the sacrifices of the fallen…Then the morons who killed our children will happily go back to their homes and have a nice Memorial Day dinner secure in the fact that their children will never die in a war and their children will have nice, wealthy, long lives because of the incredible riches this misadventure in Iraq has brought their fathers and mothers.
Then there is the idea of those who serve in the military as the “other.” Here’s an interesting article from the LA Times that discusses the change of heart a father experienced when his son, a Marine, went to Iraq. The father had never served in the military himself, and seemed to have never even considered what might motivate someone to serve. He writes:
Before my son unexpectedly volunteered for the Marines, I was busy writing my novels and raising my family, and giving little thought to the men and women who guard us…
But later, when his son returns from combat, the father writes:
I found myself praying and crying for all the fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands and wives of those who were not coming home. For the first time in my life, I was weeping for strangers…. Before my son went to war I never would have shed tears for them. My son humbled me. My son connected me to my country. He taught me that our men and women in uniform are not the “other.”
Prior to his son going to war, this man was almost dissociative in his ability to tune out the military. They simply did not exist for him as people–or, if they did, they were the “other.” What he means by that I’m not sure–were they the “other” in his eyes because of perceived class differences, personality differences, or merely a failure of imagination on his part? One might say he seems to lack the ability to put himself in someone else’s shoes–and yet it turns out he is an author, and a novelist! Very perplexing indeed.
I can only conclude that people like the author, Frank Schaeffer, are operating with blinders on. The motivations of people in the military are not understood by them, and they are not curious about those motivations. Schaeffer’s change of heart occurred for one simple reason: a military man finally became “real” to him, because that man was his son. He could no longer regard this particular Marine as the “other,” because he knew him and loved him, and that ended up humanizing all military personnel in his eyes.