Abraham Lincoln referred to the "terrible arithmetic" of war, meaning that sometimes a general or statesman would have to accept large numbers of casualties in fighting that would bring the conflict to an end and thereby save even more lives. Whether Lincoln’s war really needed to be fought at all is debatable, but most Americans would accept that war has sometimes been necessary throughout history for a nation to survive when confronted by enemies. When a war must be fought, the key objective should be to end it as quickly as possible and with a minimum loss of life. We Americans of the twenty-first century are now experiencing our own "terrible arithmetic," but an arithmetic that goes on and on without end. Worse, we are engaged in several conflicts that have nothing to do with national survival and did not have to be fought. At least Lincoln hoped that his bloody battles would lead to an end to killing. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama appear to have had no such expectations and instead have been and are accepting of permanent American engagement in the Middle East and Central Asia. Both have contrived the necessity of fighting a long war against an enemy they can hardly identify and repeatedly have failed to understand.
Americans should realize that they have come 180 degrees from the views of the Founding Fathers about the dangers of a standing army when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen can call a sinking economy the nation’s greatest security threat because it does not generate enough money to support the Pentagon’s "needs." America’s political culture, increasingly on a permanent war footing, is fueled by the fact that the status quo is painless for the country’s elites, almost none of whom have children in the military and many of whom actually benefit personally from the military industrial complex that exists symbiotically with the unending conflict. They are immune to the consequences of their bad decisions. But the rest of us, who do not sit on the board of Grumman or Boeing, perhaps are able to see the war in more personal terms as it is our dead children and neighbors who are returned home for burial. As I watched the funeral of a young soldier who went to high school with my daughter last year I had to wonder what his life might have been like if it had not ended in a senseless war fought in a godforsaken corner of the globe. All his hopes and dreams vanished in the time it took to be killed by a bullet fired by a tribesman who was quite possibly fighting to defend his home. Our young American will never marry, never hold his firstborn. Never grow old surrounded by his grandchildren.
"Somebody’s daughter" is a phrase used sometimes in the media to remind the reader that when a woman is on the receiving end of abuse or violence one should personalize the tragedy by remembering that the victim was once a child, full of hope, who was loved and cherished by those around her. That way a horrible event does not become just a statistic or a line in a newspaper and the reader is better able to relate to the loss, identifying personally with the loved ones who remember the daughter they once held in their arms. Nor should one forget that she is also, quite likely, somebody’s wife or mother or sister. "Somebody’s son" or husband or father or grandson should likewise be on our lips every day as we read about the death toll from the never ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, apparently soon to be joined by increased American military engagement in Yemen and Somalia.
"Somebody’s daughter" speaks to our better angels, reminding us that everyone’s life is precious and that we should treat every man or woman we meet with respect and caring, just as we would our own children and grandchildren. Those sons and daughters that Washington has sacrificed in a series of wars that have no meaning have names, they are not just numbers in the tally of 5,678 American dead in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are Sergeant Ronald Rodriguez, Sergeant Stephen Deluzio, Corporal Christopher Boyd, Lance Corporal Kevin Oratowski, Specialist Jamal Rhett and Specialist Faith Hinkley, all among the fifty-five Americans killed in Afghanistan during the month of August. They all leave family and loved ones behind to mourn them and a community that should increasingly be pondering why they have died.
Is there anyone in either the Obama Administration or in the lickspittle mainstream media who really believes that more killing in Afghanistan and, increasingly again, in Iraq, will turn out well? Do they actually think that five years from now there will be a stable, non-corrupt, and pluralistic regime in either place that will be thanking Washington for its help? Or in Yemen? Or in Somalia? Do they really think that Rodriguez, Deluzio, Boyd, Oratowski, Rhett, and Hinkley have died for some kind of glorious cause or to defend the United States? They should understand that, on the contrary, all the killing in faraway lands makes Americans less secure. It leaves scars and one of those scars will be a visceral hatred of the United States and all it stands for, anger that will fester for generations. When a US drone blows up a wedding party the survivors will want revenge. This is called "blowback," a desire for retribution that breeds terrorism. If President Obama is truly interested in ending the scourge of terror he would issue orders immediately to begin America’s departure from east of Suez. Leaving other nations to their own devices is immeasurably better than the United States as regional hegemon and policeman. There is no way to bring the dead back, but remembering that each one of those who has died is somebody’s daughter or son will perhaps help Americans come around to the view that there has been enough of preemptive war, targeted killings, and predator drones. Most of all, there has been too much bloodshed and hatred. We Americans are not safer, we are much poorer, and we have become much more callous and uncaring as a people. And our sons and daughters are dying. That, in the final analysis, will be the only real legacy of the Bush and Obama presidencies.