A man in our church has loaned the book “Flags of Our Fathers” to me, and it’s a compelling read. The record is simultaneously heroic and tragic. It recalls the victory of U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima that culminated in the perfect picture of the American heroism of “the greatest generation.” Though it focuses on the stories of the six flag-bearers, it is the story of an entire Corps–an entire generation.
The book and the reminder of the sacrifices of WWII are especially striking to me as the media keeps broadcasing–and almost celebrating–the 3000th American casualty in Iraq. It’s big news–in the NY Times, the Boston Globe (which also provides several charts breaking down the casualties), CNN, etc., etc., etc.
Three thousand people is a lot. It’s more than were lost in the World Trade Center bombings. It’s a tragic number of lives to be lost.
But how about a bit of historical perspective?! Americans suffered 6140 casualties and almost 18,000 wounded in achieving victory on a tiny island called Iwo Jima. And they died not from car bombs, but from landing on beaches and charging gunners buried in a maze of tunnels and bunkers. The method of combat was sometimes to charge into the teeth of the battle, hoping someone would survive to stop the gunner and disable the Japanese artillery. And while even 6140 soldiers killed is a terrible number to ponder, it is small portion of the American losses. According to Wikipedia, the United States suffered 407,300 military casualties in winning WWII. Four hundred seven thousand. That’s a mind-numbing number. It dwarfs the 2400 lives lost at Pearl Harbor. Yet, the fact that our casualties in Iraq now outnumber the number of deaths on 9/11 is reported by media outlets as though it were an inconceivable and pernicious thing.
The point is, as sad as it is to lose even one American soldier, our losses in this war have been minimal compared to other wars and even battles in our glorious history. I don’t doubt that today’s soldiers are as brave as those who sacrificed to win WWII. I’m certain, however, that today’s citizens, politicians and media-types are weak-kneed compared to the citizens who mourned staggering casualties to achieve an essential victory over the Axis powers. Imagine the modern media’s response to Iwo Jima or Normandy–or Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for that matter. And you think our military hasn’t planned well for Iraq? There were times when we were absolutely flummoxed in the South Pacific. Yet, we persevered, and we won.
I understand that war is terrible. I also understand that the validity of this war is questioned by many–most of whom were “gung-ho” when it began, if you’ll remember. Most importantly, I understand that it’s easy for me to sit safely in my home in Ohio saying “it’s not so bad.” Of course it’s bad. Terrible. But war is always bad. And our soldiers deserve the citizens they are defending to be as determined and courageous in our safety as they are in harm’s way.
Our military has the stuff to endure and win a difficult war; our public doesn’t.