Monday, February 22, 2010

Afghan Deaths are Tragedies, too

(image taken from
Yesterday NATO launched an attack that killed 27 innocent people in Afghanistan, mistaking a group of civilian vehicles for an enemy caravan. The dead include four women and a child, and twelve more Afghans were injured in the attack.

Thankfully, there is supposed to be an investigation which troops were specifically involved in this "accident" (I use quotations because I don't think the word can appropriately capture the scale of the tragedy).

The reason I thought it was important to post about this misguided attack, which has resulted in a terrible loss of life, is to point out the language we use when reporting civilian deaths in these foreign conflicts. General McChrystal condemned the NATO attack, but part of his reasoning was that "inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their trust and confidence in our mission. We will redouble our efforts to regain that trust." There were also concerns that these deaths will be used as propaganda for the Taliban.

Do we have to use that kind of utilitarian rhetoric in our regrets for a loss of life? Why can't we acknowledge the horror that is our responsibility, without downplaying its significance by relating to how the affect on our plans in Afghanistan? It is a tragedy removed from any military tactics, and how it will conflict with our plans is completely secondary at this point. Our primary focus should be prayer for the families in Afghanistan and treating those civilian casualties as the horror it actually is to those on the ground in Afghanistan.

When 30 people are killed in America (like at Virginia Tech), it is considered a "massacre". When 30 nameless Afghans are killed in an airstrike, it's a "mistaken attack" or "accident". This disconnect allows for the American public to coldly accept the inevitable facts of war, instead of recognizing the very real tragedies that should shock us.

We want to express our deep sympathy for the people of Afghanistan and regret for our nation's responsibility, as a member of NATO, in the unjustifiable deaths of innocent civilians.

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