Friday, June 16, 2006


A number of events suggest the consideration of death, particularly death in battle: Memorial Day was followed in quick succession by the anniversary of D-Day, the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in an American air strike, the Soul Saturday on which Orthodox Christians pray for all the departed on the day before Pentecost, and the announcement of the 2500th US battle death in the current campaign in Iraq.

A great deal has been made of the last by the American left. They would have us believe that this event--2500 deaths--has some great significance to American policy, a significance borne of the notion that death in battle, or indeed any death, save perhaps of old-age, is a ‘tragedy’.

Warriors and Orthodox Christians alike know that the equation of death with tragedy is shallow, facile pap. There is a tragedy--the tragedy of the Fall, that death is at all. A death may be tragic, but a death may also be heroic. The death of a soldier who saves his squad from death by throwing himself on a grenade is heroic. The death of the martyrs, from St. Stephen the Deacon, and St. Thekla, the first woman martyr, down to St. Peter the Aleut and St. Lidia, murdered in a Chekist basement torture chamber, to the latest Christian, whose name is now unknown, and may never be known, to spit in the face of some jihadi or North Korean prison guard and refuse to renounce the faith, is not tragic, and raises personal heroism to a cosmic level-- ‘how long?’ cry the martyrs under the throne of God, St. John tells us in his Apocalypse.

While enlistment involves an eight-year commitment, including the individual ready reserve commitment, the active duty part of that commitment lasts at most five years, usually two to four. At very least, the last 500 or so of those battle deaths were the deaths of young men (and the occasional young woman) who knew that they were joining the military in time of war, who enlisted or reenlisted for active-duty status since the Afghan campaign began, and believed in a cause--our county, the (admittedly ill-named) ‘war on terror’, or perhaps even the campaign of that war being waged in Iraq--believe in it enough to risk the death which found them.

Sorrow at their death must be tempered with the honor due their sacrifice, the knowledge that they died in a cause to which they were devoted, and a bit of historical perspective.

2500, the politicians intone without even a name to attach to the number. But the 2500th soldier slain is no more nor less worthy of grief, no more nor less worthy of honor than Michael Estrella, number 2498 (the last name published by the DoD at this writing) or Kyle Thomas, whose place in the numbered toll I do not know, but whom I knew in life.

If we used octal numbers, would we get somber faces every 256 deaths? If we used hexadecimal would the sanctimonious hand-wringing of our defeatists have only surfaced once when 2048 was reached? The absurdity of faux grief at neat packages of 500 dead is all the more seen to be a sham when put in historical perspective:

On Omaha Beach on D-Day the U.S. lost 2374 men--not much shy of the three year total in the current campaign in Iraq. 2374 out of the 292,131 killed in World War II. In the three years of the Korean campaign of the Cold War, we lost 33,686 men. In our War of Independence, 4,435.

I can hear the indignation now: but World War II was serious! Nazism and Japanese Imperialism were real threats!

Pearl Harbor killed fewer Americans than 9/11. Pearl Harbor, while a ‘sneak attack’ in contravention to the norms of declarations of war, was an attack on a military target.

But Iraq is a distraction! Saddam Hussein didn’t attack us!

Nor did Hitler. The first American action in World War II was the invasion of Nazi-held North Africa. There were no cries that it was a distraction from the ‘real enemy’ in the Pacific to fight the Nazis. There was no constant drumbeat of casualty statistics from the North African and European theater, no constant complaint that we should withdraw from Europe because our casualties were too high. No hand-wringing in Congress over the toll on the beaches of Normandy. D-Day was hailed as a triumph.

Al Qaeda’s boast that they will win because they love death, while we love life, may ring true if one stands in the halls of Congress, when the Democrats have the floor, or visits the press room of the New York Times, but al-Zarqawi’s death replies echoing the words of George Patton: “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

Documents found in al-Zarqawi’s not-so-safe house suggest his organization was coming to the same conclusion a bit late.

When we think of our dead, be it American battle dead, or the Holy Martyrs, whether now, or the next time politicians are excited by a number divisible by 500, or next Memorial Day, or this Sunday, which for the Orthodox is All Saints Day, let us remember another thing Patton said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”

Wars and Campaigns.

Clear strategic thinking is a must for free people when liberty is under threat.

“The Vietnam War,” the phrase itself, leave aside the misconceptions it conjures up in many minds, betrays muddied strategic thinking. The American engagement in Vietnam was a campaign in a larger war, the Cold War, just as the ‘Korean police action’, the ‘Cuban missile crisis’, the Berlin blockade, the ‘Contra War’, and a variety of other events were campaigns in that larger war.

The conceptual separation of a campaign from the larger war of which it is a part serves only the interests of one’s enemies.

Whether the Iraq campaign was the optimal second campaign in the present war, after our victory in the Afghan campaign may be debated. But, portraying the Iraq campaign as a separate war is at best strategically naive, and at worst a deliberate lie in support of the enemies of America. liberty and the people of Iraq.


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