Or any of our sons? or daughters? on any side of this incredibly reckless escapade in Iraq?
Boston University Professor Andrew J. Bacevich is a brave, thoughtful public intellectual who has tried — in reserved, serious terms — to challenge the legitimacy of the Iraq War. He has been one of the most articulate leading thinkers among military-policy dissident conservatives who have exposed the inanity of this war and the damage it has done. He authored the critically-acclaimed book, The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War.
Now his son by the same name who was serving in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom is dead — announced today by the Department of Defense:
DoD Identifies Army Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
1st Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich, 27, of Walpole, Mass., died May 13 in Balad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit during combat patrol operations in Salah Ad Din Province, Iraq.He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.
To get some insight into the pain Professor Bacevich, who teaches at Boston University, must now feel, read this clip from a moving and important article he wrote titled “What’s an Iraqi Life Worth?” [Washington Post, 9 July 2006]:
As the war enters its fourth year, how many innocent Iraqis have died at American hands, not as a result of Haditha-like massacres but because of accidents and errors? The military doesn’t know and, until recently, has publicly professed no interest in knowing. Estimates range considerably, but the number almost certainly runs in the tens of thousands. Even granting the common antiwar bias of those who track the Iraqi death toll — and granting, too, that the insurgents have far more blood on their hands — there is no question that the number of Iraqi noncombatants killed by U.S. forces exceeds by an order of magnitude the number of U.S. troops killed in hostile action, which is now more than 2,000.
Who bears responsibility for these Iraqi deaths? The young soldiers pulling the triggers? The commanders who establish rules of engagement that privilege “force protection” over any obligation to protect innocent life? The intellectually bankrupt policymakers who sent U.S. forces into Iraq in the first place and now see no choice but to press on? The culture that, to put it mildly, has sought neither to understand nor to empathize with people in the Arab or Islamic worlds?
There are no easy answers, but one at least ought to acknowledge that in launching a war advertised as a high-minded expression of U.S. idealism, we have waded into a swamp of moral ambiguity. To assert that “stuff happens,” as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is wont to do whenever events go awry, simply does not suffice.
Moral questions aside, the toll of Iraqi noncombatant casualties has widespread political implications. Misdirected violence alienates those we are claiming to protect. It plays into the hands of the insurgents, advancing their cause and undercutting our own. It fatally undermines the campaign to win hearts and minds, suggesting to Iraqis and Americans alike that Iraqi civilians — and perhaps Arabs and Muslims more generally — are expendable. Certainly, Nahiba Husayif Jassim’s death helped clarify her brother’s perspective on the war. “God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here,” he declared after the incident. “They have no regard for our lives.”
He was being unfair, of course. It’s not that we have no regard for Iraqi lives; it’s just that we have much less regard for them. The current reparations policy — the payment offered in those instances in which U.S. forces do own up to killing an Iraq civilian — makes the point. The insurance payout to the beneficiaries of an American soldier who dies in the line of duty is $400,000, while in the eyes of the U.S. government, a dead Iraqi civilian is reportedly worth up to $2,500 in condolence payments — about the price of a decent plasma-screen TV.
For all the talk of Iraq being a sovereign nation, foreign occupiers are the ones deciding what an Iraqi life is worth. And although President Bush has remarked in a different context that “every human life is a precious gift of matchless value,” our actions in Iraq continue to convey the impression that civilian lives aren’t worth all that much.
That impression urgently needs to change. To start, the Pentagon must get over its aversion to counting all bodies. It needs to measure in painstaking detail — and publicly — the mayhem we are causing as a byproduct of what we call liberation. To do otherwise, to shrug off the death of Nahiba Husayif Jassim as just one of those things that happens in war, only reinforces the impression that Americans view Iraqis as less than fully human. Unless we demonstrate by our actions that we value their lives as much as the lives of our own troops, our failure is certain.
Now we must add to the count of this tragic conflict another American son — and of course, more Iraqi sons and daughters and American daughters.
I had the pleasure of meeting Andy Bacevich at the home of former Congressman Dave McCurdy this last holiday season. We spoke for a bit about the Iraq war as well as the absence of American strategy and dearth of strategists in government today. I had no idea his son was serving until now.
But this young man did serve his nation — but his death is so incredibly tragic, like the others — but his even more because his well-respected father has been working hard to end this horrible, self-damaging crusade. It’s incredibly sad.
To answer my own question above. Andrew Bacevich’s son’s life was precious — and his life and his untimely death matter greatly for just waking up and realizing we are achieving nothing in Iraq today and that responsibility must be borne by the perpetrators of this mess.
My sincere condolences to the Bacevich family.
— Steve Clemons
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