Friday, February 16, 2007

The Charge of the Light Brigade Seemed a Good Idea at the Time. And Have I Mentioned Little Bighorn? (As for Dunkirk? Better They Died on the Beach.)

Here's where the reporters embedded with our troops in Iraq could make themselves useful.

Barack Obama made news by suggesting the deaths of U.S. troops in Iraq were a waste. Of the many questions that could be asked in the aftermath of that comment, this is the one that interests me:

In the minds of the troops on the ground, would they consider any deaths in or around combat operations in Iraq an example of “waste”? Given their knowledge of the operations of the U.S. military from its inception – which, of course, would date from before there actually was a United States of America – are there any examples of the death of troops as “waste”?

Certainly, we can find examples of tactical or strategic stupidity, starting in the ranks but extending up through five-star generals to the president himself, that resulted in troops dying in ways and in places the did not advance U.S. self interest. The cupidity of those outside the military chain of command who supply equipment to the military certainly has resulted in deaths that need not have happened.

An example leaps to mind: Was the death of Custer's troops at Little Bighorn a waste or was it an excellent excuse to murder more Indians?

I speak as one who thinks the deaths in Iraq are a waste if the criterion for “not wasted” is advancing our nation’s interests and promoting our nation’s safety in the world. But I understand that some might answer that in any war missteps are inevitable, given human fallibility. Since waste is inevitable in the exercise of the human condition, perhaps there is no way a soldier might die that would be deemed a waste …?

(Though that might suggest that an acceptable motto for the "war on terror" would be: Don’t just stand there. Do something!)

All this may be subtle to the point of duplicity. But I am genuinely curious if our soldiers think that any combat death could be seen as waste. It might add dimension to the debate.

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