Oct 18, issue Tirman argues that the majority of Americans largely ignore the realities of modern war, including the disproportionate toll that military actions take on noncombatants. The American Civil War and World War I were extremely bloody conflicts, to be sure, but they were typified by exchanges between military forces on battlefields, and civilian deaths were the exception. As has been the case with recent conflicts in which the United States has been involved, population centers are increasingly becoming the ground zero of modern war. The United States is far from the only culprit in this changing calculus of war. Tirman does not deny this fact.
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Oct 18, issue Tirman argues that the majority of Americans largely ignore the realities of modern war, including the disproportionate toll that military actions take on noncombatants. The American Civil War and World War I were extremely bloody conflicts, to be sure, but they were typified by exchanges between military forces on battlefields, and civilian deaths were the exception.
As has been the case with recent conflicts in which the United States has been involved, population centers are increasingly becoming the ground zero of modern war. The United States is far from the only culprit in this changing calculus of war. Tirman does not deny this fact.
The United States, however, is his focus in this volume for at least two reasons. First, Tirman argues that American politicians, military leaders and media have made a concerted effort to mask the toll suffered by civilians as a result of U. Second, Tirman concentrates on the United States because he believes that Americans exhibit a large and troubling gulf between perception and reality when it comes to war.
Americans see themselves as the protectors of the innocent and the defenders of freedom. At least publicly, every 20th-century war that the United States has engaged in has been defended by means of just-war principles, often on overtly Christian moral grounds.
Americans see themselves as the good guys. Why, then, are so many innocents dying as a result of American military actions? Part of what makes the United States distinctive, according to Tirman, is a pervasive indifference to the deaths of noncombatants that has been bred, in part, by a particular feature of U.
The attacks of September 11, , provided Americans with a shocking, if momentary, glimpse into the realities of civilian death and suffering, but the number killed in those attacks—and the number directly affected by the loss of loved ones—pales in comparison to the number of civilian deaths caused by the subsequent U. Americans have the luxury of ignoring the horrible impact that war has on noncombatants because so few Americans have ever experienced the ravages of war. Another part of what makes the United States unique when it comes to attitudes toward civilian deaths, Tirman explains, is a powerful myth about our national origins that still shapes the perceptions of millions of Americans including many national leaders.
Unlike the complexities and ambiguities of Christian sectarianism in the Europe they had left behind, what the settlers found in the new world was a crystal-clear dichotomy between Christian believers and unchristian indigenous peoples. In this mythical context, conflicts with native peoples inevitably assumed a religious significance.
Whether fighting communists in Vietnam and Korea or Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, "the necessary conditions of regarding the native populations as savage. Tirman explains, "The hope of vanquishing the communists and the Arab terrorists was more than mere defense or imperialism; it was a morality play in which the protagonist is triumphant physically safe, secure, prosperous and renewed morally through the completeness of triumph.
The myth mitigates the psychic terror of death by valorizing American military casualties as justified sacrifices to and for God, and it minimizes the significance of the deaths of others by casting the victims as heathen, savage and godless.
As Tirman writes, "These powerful psychological constructs prospectively demonstrate how large majorities of the American public as well as the political and information elite could ignore the scale of mayhem that occurred in American wars in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. The victims of American military actions do not view our acts through the lens of the myth of American exceptionalism. Rather, they experience the civilian deaths caused by U. A difference exists between these two cases, though: the American acts of war do not last for a few hours and result in the deaths of thousands; in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, they have lasted for years, with hundreds of thousands of civilians losing their lives.
Admittedly, Tirman presents a very harsh account of American foreign policy—one that many readers will contest. The power of The Deaths of Others, however, is its ability to get even the skeptical reader to confront a disturbing question: If, as a nation, Americans have indeed managed to forget the reality of our own military actions, is this an act of empowerment or is it a tragic delusion?
The Deaths of Others
His friendship with Zinn and his wife Roz lasted for nearly 40 years. Zinn told his biographer Davis Joyce that Tirman was one of his best students. Tirman edited two books on "star wars", the strategic defense initiative started by President Ronald Reagan; one of them, The Fallacy of Star Wars Vintage, , was the first important critique of strategic defense, and brought together leading scientists like Kendall, Hans Bethe, Victor Weisskopf, and Richard Garwin, among others. For 12 years, beginning in , he headed the Winston Foundation for World Peace, a charitable foundation created by Robert Winston Scrivner, which provided grants to NGOs working on nuclear disarmament and conflict prevention. He also headed the Henry P. Kendall Foundation and the CarEth Foundation in the mid- to late s, and was editor of the peace movement magazine, Nuclear Times.
The Deaths of Others, by John Tirman
But why are we so indifferent, often oblivious, to the far greater number of casualties suffered by those we fight and those we fight for? Between six and seven million people died in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq alone, the majority of them civilians. And yet Americans devote little attention to these deaths. Other countries, however, do pay attention, and Tirman argues that if we want to understand why there is so much anti-Americanism around the world, the first place to look is how we conduct war. We understandably strive to protect our own troops, but our rules of engagement with the enemy are another matter. From atomic weapons and carpet bombing in World War II to napalm and daisy cutters in Vietnam and beyond, we have used our weapons intentionally to kill large numbers of civilians and terrorize our adversaries into surrender.