Human Death Toll in Iraq
We have just passed a tragic benchmark—4,000 Americans killed in Iraq since the war began—including more than 3,500 since the capture of Saddam and more than 3,000 since the handover to Iraqis in mid-2004, which I, at the time, referred to as the “Iraqization Scam,” predicting more bloodshed and escalation to follow. Then there are the tens of thousands wounded, whose number some have suggested has been underreported and whose severity has not been confronted by American society.
For all those American troops who wished to quit their jobs, but were forced to keep fighting under Stop Loss or just the plain threat of being tried for “desertion,” there is a moral element to their deaths rarely grasped: Under the principles of the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence, the right to liberty is an inalienable right. This was enshrined in the 13th Amendment, which banned not just chattel slavery but involuntary servitude, including indentured servitude. What this means is in America, everyone is supposed to have a right to quit his job, at any time. He cannot sell himself into slavery, even for a term of service. If he violates a contract and quits, he can be held for damages, but he cannot be forced to keep working. Except in the military, where once you sign up, you cannot change jobs, even after your nominal term expires. What this means, in terms of morality, is everyone who is fighting in a war but would rather quit, and is held against his will to keep fighting, is a slave, and should he die while fighting, he is, morally speaking, a victim of murder by his own government. We do not have a fully voluntary military unless people can quit.
However, we can at least say these people, while often manipulated by recruiters, opted to sign up in the first place. But the Iraqis—what did they do to ask for this war? Nothing. This war has been a war of aggression against the Iraqi people, and so we must sympathize with not just Iraqi civilians but also the Iraqi soldiers who were killed in a war of aggression—on top of the possibly more than one million civilians killed as a result of this war, up to three times as many Iraqi soldiers died when compared to American soldiers.
A million civilians? If you think the number sounds too big, cut it in half—or even by 90%. There is something fundamentally dysfunctional about the way Americans tend to view their government’s role in world affairs, to think that 100,000 Iraqis, by an extremely, perhaps even irresponsibly low, estimate, have perished in this war—and yet most focus, where there is any focus at all on the human costs of war, is centered on the American deaths.
There never was an excuse for this war, and there certainly is no excuse to stay. Four years ago, we began hearing the argument that if the US were to withdraw, there would be more violence and more death. There have been more violence and more death since—much more. The supposed success of the “surge” has been a return to the horrific levels of violence a few years back, back when the goal was supposedly to plant the roots of democracy and leave Iraq better than the US found it. Now the goal seems to be keeping the death toll to one or two Americans per day, while ignoring completely the mounting Iraqi death toll.
The US empire supported the horrible Saddam Hussein, encouraged his war of aggression against Iran, leaving hundreds of thousands dead, imposed through the United Nations a regime of sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands more, and now has the blood of many, many thousands more on its hands. For nearly three decades, the US has been the greatest enemy of the Iraqi people, for even when we could say it was Saddam, the dictator was being sponsored by the US government. The idea that more American intervention in Iraq is going to bring about peace and stability should seem pathologically absurd on its face by now. It is time to end this atrocity and begin the long process of reconciliation with the Iraqi people. The US government should take this as an opportunity to finally stop being the global policeman.