In the waning hours of Memorial Day, a US holiday evidently devoted to the beginning of barbecue season, I sit awake, thinking about the war dead. It is traditional to commemorate those who fought and died for their county, and surely they deserve their due. But I have to give you another perspective.
Because the soldiers who die in “modern” warfare are in the minority. Most casualties are civilian. Women, children, old people. Dying in their beds, on the street, at the market, at school. In the US wars of my lifetime, several million civilians have been slaughtered. In Viet Nam, some 60,000 US soldiers died, bringing untold grief to their families and loved ones. But anywhere from 2 to upwards of 6 million Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian civilians were killed. In the current Iraq war, we will soon have over 3,000 US troops killed, and tens of thousands more badly disfigured. A statistical survey by the Lancet last June found 654,000 excess Iraqi deaths due to the US invasion and occupation.
Memorial Day has a way of distracting from the brutal reality of warfare. Can we honor fallen soldiers while questioning their mission? (I say yes.) But maybe the best way to honor their memory is to also remember the vastly greater number of fallen civilians. Maybe if we can see war for what it really is — extreme violence against the very weak — we can finally put an end to it. What political goal is so noble and righteous that the wholesale slaughter of children is warranted? To honor the war dead, combatants and noncombatants alike, we must reject war and shun those who sell it and profit from it. How many more children must be sacrificed before this is clear?