There seems to be a fragile moral distinction between the collateral damage, that is the American term for the death of innocent civilians in a war between countries, and the innocent killed by terrorist organizations. The latter seems to kill far fewer individuals, but incites panic and instills fear in not only the general citizenry but also prompts well-supported national retaliation. Intentionally, there is something more terrifying about unsuspected violence and knowingly being part of a country that is being attacked.
For example, the Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States led to more than 3,000 deaths. However, the civilians violently killed in Afghanistan in retaliation numbered 26,000 according the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University. The same report lists Iraqi civilian deaths at 165,000 for a war started after the 9/11 attacks but still without reason.
As someone who loves my country, and has nothing but the utmost respect and appreciation for our courageous soldiers, I have difficulty reconciling the amount violence and death this country has engaged in, supported or funded over its relatively short history. An unbiased review of American history is troublesome.
To understand the real story behind the country’s founding and subsequent protection of American interest, I would strongly recommend two books: A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn and The Untold History of The United States by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick. They are intense and lengthy reads but so powerful in refuting much of the propaganda in traditional text books.
“What struck me as I began to study history was how nationalist fervor--inculcated from childhood on by pledges of allegiance, national anthems, flags waving and rhetoric blowing--permeated the educational systems of all countries, including our own. I wonder now how the foreign policies of the United States would look if we wiped out the national boundaries of the world . . . Then we could never drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, or napalm on Vietnam, or wage war anywhere, because wars, especially in our time, are always wars against children, indeed our children,” wrote Zinn.
American hypocrisy started upon our arrival as colonists to this country were perhaps the original illegal immigrants. The soon-to-be Americans steadfastly took this land from the Indians though brutal wars and broken peace and land agreements.
Zinn noted the atrocities, “Angered when fellow Indians were induced to cede a great tract of land to the United States government, Tecumseh organized in 1811 an Indian gathering of five thousand . . . and told them: “Let the white race perish. They seize your land; they corrupt your women; they trample on the ashes of your dead! Back whence they came, upon a trail of blood, they must be driven.””
Obviously the white Americans were not driven from this land and with them they brought slavery and some of the most despicable forms of human treatment ever endured on this planet.
“African slavery lacked two elements that made American slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history: the frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture; the reduction of the slave to less than human status by the use of racial hatred, with that relentless clarity based on color, where white was master, black was slave,” Zinn wrote.
Perhaps the most justified war was World War II, in which the United States was brought late into the war and helped the Russians finish off the Germans and take revenge on Japan. However, the United States, for all the talk of nuclear weapons, is still the only country to drop an atomic bomb—doing so unnecessarily on two Japan cities, killing hundreds of thousands of individuals.
“Most American view World War II nostalgically as the "good war," in which the United States and its allies triumphed over German Nazism, Italian fascism, and Japanese militarism. The rest of the world remembers it as the bloodiest war in human history. By the time it was over, more than 60 million people lay dead, including 27 million Russians . . . ,” wrote Oliver Stone.
Prosperity can be fragile and United State governments, whether run by Republican or Democratic administrations, have been, and continue to be, fully committed to protecting American interests around the world. That protection has included the overthrowing of defiant governments, instilling revolution against those governments or providing arms to those already in rebellion. The amount innocent deaths in the protection of interest are perhaps incalculable.
Zinn likewise comments, “We are not hated because we practice democracy, value freedom, or uphold human rights. We are hated because our government denies these things to people in Third World countries whose resources are coveted by our multinational corporations. That hatred we have sown has come back to haunt us in the form of terrorism.”
The concerning issue for me is that the United States has been responsible, since its origin, for a terrible number of deaths, including of millions of “collateral damage.” I’ve not even included any consideration of the Vietnam, Korean or many other American conflicts. The war in Iraq has been a global embarrassment, not only by the unnecessary deaths but also the trillions of wasted tax-payer dollars. Yet American patriotism lacks perspective and behaves arrogantly, with some sort of moral superiority, projecting stereotypes and racism on others—as though killing for a distorted view of religion is worse than killing to protect economic interest.
At some point, the world—not just the United States—needs to evolve. War and terrorism just creates anger and inspires more war and terrorism. While war on dedicated terrorist organizations is unavoidable, it should not come at the expense of civilian fatalities. And wars to further economic interests, whether directly or indirectly, to preserve the greed of the wealthy at the expense of the poor in third world countries or otherwise is never acceptable.
Life is precious and should not be discarded so readily. The number of deaths on a report doesn’t tell the story of broken families and shattered hearts.