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Dead Soldiers and the Antiwar Movement

So last night I was in a planning meeting for the local protests to mark the 5th Anniversary of the start of this stupid war. We were discussing our plans for a memorial to the fallen GIs and Iraqis that we’re planning on leaving at someplace of political significance.

This one older activist, out of nowhere brought up this crazy idea that the number of dead GIs must be AT LEAST 10 times bigger than what the Pentagon was reporting. What struck me the most was that about half the room seemed to at least tacitly agree with this idea.

His “logic” seemed to be based from 1) an extrapolation that previous wars had a lot more dead and 2) the Pentagon lies more than it tells the truth. Now the second point isn’t off-base, but one shouldn’t go basing an entire theory off just that.

The point about there were a lot more dead in previous wars is all too rarely taken up amongst the antiwar movement. Sometimes I get the feeling that some in the movement almost wish there were more casualties, thinking that more casualties automatically leads to ending the war. What this does however is throw up a roadblock between the civilian and soldier sides of the antiwar movement, effectively dividing and conquering our movement without the war mongers lifting a finger.

The notion that the Pentagon could hide a secret about the number of soldiers is preposterous. The National Security Agency, a part of the DoD, can’t hide its illegal wiretapping operation, the Army couldn’t hide the horrors of Abu Ghraib, how in the hell are they going to hide 27,000 dead soldiers? Wouldn’t this be something that the Iraq Veterans Against the War be speaking out on if it were actually the case?

The assumption that since past wars had greater numbers of dead thus this war should too lacks any connection to reality. In Vietnam you had significantly higher numbers of troops in-theater, with a higher proportion of those troops in combat roles. There are currently 150,000 or so US soldiers in Iraq. More than 75% of these troops are support and command personnel. The US military last I heard, had a ratio of roughly 1 officer to every 5 enlisted, which is ridiculously high compared to most military’s, past and present (the ideal ratio is theorized as being around 1:10). These support personnel are the mechanics, technicians supply clerks and truck drivers that are necessary to keep such a technologically advanced military in the field.

Infantry and air cavalry in Vietnam also spent much of their time in the field on dismounted patrols, trying to draw out the enemy into combat. The US military hadn’t yet made kevlar body armor a standard issue item to infantry. These soldiers largely went out with little more protection than their clothes and a steel helmet (which couldn’t stop an AK-47 round). Today’s troops wear advanced kevlar helmets and body armor, do a lot of their patrols from vehicles (which at the very least afford some minimal level of protection).

When US soldiers are wounded, modern communications technology allows units to call in medical support much faster than in any previous war. As any EMT can tell you, the first hour after a trauma injury such as gun shot wound, is critical. With Med-Evac helicopters and modern medical technologies, those severely physical wounded in combat are more likely able to survive their injuries, though the psychological effects are all too frequently ignored. When this war is over we will probably have a greater proportion of disabled veterans to those that died from their injuries than in any previous war.

So with modern armor, vehicular patrols, infantry portable radios, better medical technologies and fewer actual combat troops, the US military has been able to keep its casualty figures lower then ever before; which is good considering how many tax dollars went into making that possible. What it doesn’t mean is that those deaths and injuries are any less significant or that they should have even happened at all.

I think that the roots of this issue lie somewhere near the idea that there isn’t enough outrage amongst the greater population. Even though every poll shows that a majority of Americans are against the war, these dedicated activists are demoralized that more isn’t being done to stop the war. This really has less to with a sense of outrage and more to do with the lack of a coherent strategy to end the war amongst the movement, the sad state of the American Left and from being on the losing side of a 30 year brutal class war. The Vietnam antiwar movement had over 10 years of successful examples of struggle from the Civil Rights movement to draw on. We don’t. I’m nearly 25 years old, having been politically active for 10 of that and I can’t think of a sustained, successful movement during any of that.

If the left could move away from questioning the lack of outrage and get to the real work of hammering out a strategy to end the war, we’d all be a whole lot better off.

JOSH KARPOFF is an engineer and antiwar activist. He served as chair of the student antiwar group at the Rochester Institute of Technology, a founding organizer of Rochester Against War and the Northeast representative to the national coordinating committee of the Campus Antiwar Network. He currently lives and organizes in Albany, New York. You can reach him at trotskysghost@hotmail.com