Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan

Every civilian dead means five new Taliban.
—a British officer in Afghanistan

From the outset of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq there have been recurring reports of especially horrific “inadvertent” civilian casualties — wedding parties bombed from above, countless children caught in the crossfire, innocent families assaulted in middle-of-the-night arrests and interrogations. Americans are adept at ignoring such stories, ignorance aided by a largely pro-war media.

The official position on civilian casualties is that they are caused by the enemy: first, they forced us to invade, and then they refused to fight like real-man armies, choosing instead to hide among civilians. So, it’s not our fault when our bombs land on innocents — our intention was to kill evil doers, whereas terrorists kill innocents on purpose.

Maybe this rationale helps Americans to sleep at night … yes, yes, since 9/11 we’ve killed a hundred times more innocents than were slaughtered that day … but, we’re Americans and our intentions were noble, so get over it.

Of course, the invadees never get over it. The children growing up in Afghanistan and Iraq will never forget that it was Americans who leveled their town, killed their cousins, burned their house, arrested and tortured their parents.

Ira Chernus details the problem:

If we ever have journalists who tell the story in a more complex realistic way, we’ll see that it’s the same old story: the more we take sides in a civil war, the more harm we do, especially when we rely on massive aerial bombing as our main weapon. A heavy-handed U.S. intervention in the 1980s helped to create the Taliban. Now another heavy-handed intervention seems likely to help bring them back to power — and kill countless civilians along the way. All that (and perhaps opium too) paid for with our tax dollars.

And as the Afghans bury their dead, the whole story is buried in the back pages of our newspapers, as if the people our tax dollars killed just didn’t matter very much. While we rightly denounce the immorality of the Taliban, let’s take a moment to look in the mirror.

Michael Sky