"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived."
Gen. George S. Patton
While he was not without foibles, General Patton had keen perspective on human nature and the nature of war. Along with his knowledge of history, these qualities were probably the key ingredients that made him the legendary leader and strategist he became. One need only read his quotes to be awestruck with his economy of language and his incisive and inimitable grasp of hard, cold reality.
In reviewing the above quote, I cannot help but wonder what he would have to say about the media's morbid fascination with the "body count" in Iraq. I wonder what he would say about how they tend to focus more on our dead soldiers than they do the live ones and the incredible job they are doing against daunting odds. I have no doubt that his verbal riposte would be swift, devastating and, no doubt, very colorful indeed.
But on the subject of perspective. My cousin wrote me the other day and brought up a very interesting point. In 2002, there were 17,638 murders in the United States. Yes, in the most prosperous nation in the history of mankind, a nation enjoying domestic "tranquility" nearly 18,000 people were murdered in just one year. In Iraq, over a 2 year period, we suffered 1,900 combat deaths in the midst of a war. Certainly one could mathematically make the case that 18,000 among a population of 280 million is a far smaller number than 1,900 among some 120,000 Americans in Iraq, but then again you are contrasting a nation at peace versus a nation at war. I don't know how one would mathematically weight the war and peace factor in order to obtain a more valid comparison, or if that is even possible. I must say though, it does provide perspective.
But let's look at a comparison that provides even more perspective. John Hinderaker at Powerline wrote a fascinating piece about another 18,000 deaths. These were the deaths of military personnel suffered in accidents and training exercises between 1983 and 1996. He writes, in part:
We are conducting an experiment never before seen, as far as I know, in the history of the human race. We are trying to fight a war under the auspices of an establishment that is determined--to put the most charitable face on it--to emphasize American casualties over all other information about the war.
Sometimes it becomes necessary to state the obvious: being a soldier is a dangerous thing. This is why we honor our service members' courage. For a soldier, sailor or Marine, "courage" isn't an easily-abused abstraction--"it took a lot of courage to vote against the farm bill"--it's a requirement of the job.
Even in peacetime. The media's breathless tabulation of casualties in Iraq--now, over 1,800 deaths--is generally devoid of context. Here's some context: between 1983 and 1996, 18,006 American military personnel died accidentally in the service of their country. That death rate of 1,286 per year exceeds the rate of combat deaths in Iraq by a ratio of nearly two to one.
That's right: all through the years when hardly anyone was paying attention, soldiers, sailors and Marines were dying in accidents, training and otherwise, at nearly twice the rate of combat deaths in Iraq from the start of the war in 2003 to the present. Somehow, though, when there was no political hay to be made, I don't recall any great outcry, or gleeful reporting, or erecting of crosses in the President's home town. In fact, I'll offer a free six-pack to the first person who can find evidence that any liberal expressed concern--any concern--about the 18,006 American service members who died accidentally in service of their country from 1983 to 1996.
The point? Being a soldier is not safe, and never will be. Driving in my car this afternoon, I heard a mainstream media reporter say that around 2,000 service men and women have died in Afghanistan and Iraq "on President Bush's watch." As though the job of the Commander in Chief were to make the jobs of our soldiers safe. They're not safe, and they never will be safe, in peacetime, let alone wartime.
What is the President's responsibility? To expend our most precious resources only when necessary, in service of the national interest. We would all prefer that our soldiers never be required to fight. Everyone--most of all, every politician--much prefers peace to war. But when our enemies fly airplanes into our skyscrapers; attack the nerve center of our armed forces; bomb our embassies; scheme to blow up our commercial airliners; try to assassinate our former President; do their best to shoot down our military aircraft; murder our citizens; assassinate our diplomats overseas; and attack our naval vessels--well, then, the time has come to fight. And when the time comes to fight, our military personnel are ready. They don't ask to be preserved from all danger. They know their job is dangerous; they knew that when they signed up. They are prepared to face the risk, on our behalf. All they ask is to be allowed to win.
It is, I think, a reasonable request. It's the least that we--all Americans, including reporters and editors--can do.
None of this is to say that we should take the deaths we have suffered in Iraq lightly, but the endless clicking of the abacus of death to which we are being subjected by the media is not only unhelpful - it is dangerous. It weakens our will as a nation and, sadly, I cannot help but believe that this is exactly the point.