A great war leaves a country with three armies -- an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves.-- GERMAN PROVERBPeople either love war or they hate war, but even people who hate war understand that war is sometimes necessary. You can include me in the latter group, which means that my reaction to the fulminating surrounding the release of a graphic video of a 2007 helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed about a dozen people, including two Iraqi journalist, goes something like this:
Duh! What did you expect?
This kind of unfortunate thing happens in just wars and unjust wars, and if ever a war was unjust it has been the fool's mission in Iraq, now in its eighth year and certain to still be going for at least a ninth.
James Fallows aptly calls what happened over Baghdad that day "a failure of tragic imagination."
Taking his lead, my big takeaway has been that the war lovers who beat the drum so vigorously -- from the neocon brain trust who put George Bush up to invading Iraq to the Cheneys and Rumsfelds who prosecuted the war -- never paused to consider the consequences: Tens of thousands of dead and maimed, including several thousand Americans, a budget surplus blown, a trillion dollars or so spent, and the result a country that only faintly resembles a democracy and remains a hiccup away from chaos.
War lovers argue that the video -- titled Collateral Damage -- is being taken out of context, the context being that U.S. troops were coming under heavy fire from insurgents when the two Apache helicopter gunships fired on what were believed to be insurgents. That does not forgive the incident; it merely explains its inevitability.
War haters are comparing the video to the 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers, which revealed in devastating detail another fool's mission -- the Vietnam War -- but the video is no such thing. It is yet another reminder that bad things happen in all wars, especially one in which the rules of engagement have been so frangible.
Video became the coin of the combat realm in Vietnam, where for the first time the carnage of a war in a faraway place could be seen in American living rooms within hours. But it should be remembered that this 17-minute video in all its horror was not photographed by sentient beings, and as callous as it seems the seemingly cruel voiceovers from the Apache crews are essentially exercises in overcoming the fear of killing others.
Finally, there will be the temptation among both war lovers and war haters to blame the perps, but the responsibility rests not with them but with the powerful, blindered men who guaranteed that Collateral Damage occurred.