Bayou Calvinist

A Somewhat Eclectic Discussion by a Law Student Concerning All of Today's Major Topics, as well as, a Few Not So Major Topics

Thursday, September 08, 2005

How to justify?

Since the beginning of the Iraq War there have been approximately 1500 American servicemen and women killed in combat, and almost an additional 400 non-combat fatalities. Regardless of one's personal opinion concerning the justness or intelligence of the invasion, all should find the loss of life saddening. Often times I am left with the uncertainty of how we, as a country, should respond to their deaths and what needs to be done in order to comfort their loved ones in this time of greatest grief. The members of the United States military are not a homogeneous group. They are individuals as diverse as the citizens of most U.S. cities. Their loved ones, as well, do not all share the same views concerning life, values, country, and the current conflict. How are we to comfort those who are left behind? What actions can we as a society and our government, in its official capacity, carry out that will console the majority without engendering great anger in the minority?

I believe that for a certain number of family and friends, who have lost loved one's in Iraq, no justification would ever be sufficient to temper their anger. For this group it may be that nothing done in honor and thanks for their loss will ever be accepted. Nonetheless, they deserve our honor and thanks. The same approach is most probably best for those loved one's who disagree with this particular justification (i.e. the need to invade Iraq for American security/spread of democracy). Obviously those who are in complete (or near complete) agreement with the war aims will more likely see their sacrifice as a necessary evil in an imperfect world.

I know the military spends a good deal of time preparing for the eventuality of informing the family members of a serviceman death. In many ways these efforts are effective. The family members often times separate in their mind the thanks of their loved one's comrade from the thanks of a political representative with whom they might disagree.

Are those who promote the very conflict in which a disapproving person's loved one was lost, incapable of easing the suffering of that loss? Not necessarily, but depending on the degree to which someone disagrees with said conflict it may be nearly impossible. Such, I feel, is the situation that President Bush finds himself in with Cindy Sheehan. Nothing he does nor says will ever be taken as sincere nor lead to any type of meaningful recovery on her part. Mrs. Sheehan's personal opinion about the decision to invade Iraq is such that she is unwilling to listen to any reason given. Of course that is her right...and what's more because of her loss it is difficult to begrudge her public use of her loss to promote her personal views.

(An interesting article on this particular case is found at National Review Online today)

But at the heart of all these problems--what makes such losses so unacceptable to so many (not just those who have lost loved ones)--lies the question: what is a human life worth? what, if anything, are we willing to potentially sacrifice our bravest and brightest for? In the present climate of the West the answer seems often to be very little or, closer to the truth, absolutely nothing. I do not know for sure if this opinion has always been as strong as it seems today, but I presume it has not. It seems to me there are several reasons for this opinion to be more popular today than at many times in our past. First, the free(er) flow of images of combat casualties has made us all very aware of just how great a sacrifice warfare is. Second, removal from lives that witness suffering on a grand scale almost daily, the modern westerner's relative view concerning how desperate military conflict is has tilted noticeably to the pessimistic. Finally, the loss of a central absolute or goal to which society and her citizens pursue, has left us incapable of ranking our sacrifices against our wants. If we (modern westerners) are no longer seeking to do what is good, holy, democratic, are we suppose to justify the sacrifice of the near universal constant...that my life (and the lives of those I love) is to be preserved?


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