* some general feedback as well as any spelling or grammatical errors would be greatly appreciated.The Unintended Consequences of War
Mark Twain once said of war, "Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities war. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for the universal brotherhood of man with his mouth." While war has many justifications, such as the liberation of a people or the overthrow of a tyrannical government, it also has many adverse effects. Perhaps the most adverse is the loss of innocent civilian life. Unchanging through time, this aspect of war can be seen in WWII, Vietnam, and the Iraq War, as well as through Vietnam: What I Remember and The Things They Carried
Possibly the two greatest losses of innocent civilian life in WWII was the United State's firebombing campaign throughout Japan and the atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While both campaigns effectively put an end to WWII, they resulted in dire effects to the country of Japan. One of the worst firebombing attacks was in the city of Tokyo, Japan. According to William W. Ralph, author of Improvised Destruction: Arnold, LeMay, and the Firebombing of Japan, "on the night of 9 March 1945, 325 Superfortresses attacked residential Tokyo... dropping 1665 tons of incendiary bombs on the Japanese capital" (Ralph 513). The region under attack encompassed 103,000 people per square mile; furthermore the Asakusa district of Tokyo encompassed 135,000 per square mile (Ralph 513). The city was bombed for almost three hours and resulted in the loss of 100,000 lives and 16 square miles of Tokyo (Ralph 513). The ways in which many people died were horrifying. "People who were not immediately consumed by the fire spontaneously combusted, died inhaling heated air, or were trampled to death in the panic. Many of those who found cover in shelters and canals met similarly gruesome fates, and were baked, drowned, and boiled" (Ralph 513). Similar to the effects of the firebombing campaign, the dropping of the atomic bomb resulted in massive loss to innocent civilian life. On August 6, 1945 the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. People in the closest proximity to the bomb at the moment of detonation died within a fraction of a second (Department of Energy). Ninety percent of people located within a half mile of the point of detonation were dead (Department of Energy). It is estimated that Nearly 200,000 residents died as a result of the bombing (Department of Energy). Many of these deaths came days after the bombing due to radiation sickness (Department of Energy). Radiation sickness occurred in many of the survivors and did not manifest itself until three or four weeks after the bombing, furthermore, countless victims also dealt with amplified risks of cancer for the remainder of their lives, as a result of radiation exposure (Department of Energy).
In Vietnam: What I Remember by David W. Powell, the author recalls memories from Vietnam that creep into his conscious memory. In one such memory he recalls watching a marine shoot a young girl. "Observed a marine intentionally shoot a girl four or six years of age, watched the girl's grandfather carry her into our line of fire, sobbing" (507). Akin to Powell witnessing the death of a young Vietnamese girl, many such incidents occurred in Vietnam, as the tolls of war blurred the boundaries of morality for many. Perhaps the most famous such occurrence was the My Lai incident. "On March 16, 1968 the angry and frustrated men of Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, Americal Division entered the Vietnamese village of Mai Lai" (PBS). The commanding officers sent the soldiers on a "search and destroy" mission (PBS). The mission rapidly evolved into a massacre as Lt. Calley instructed his soldiers to begin firing at the village (PBS). Victims of the massacre included every spectrum of human life, from male to female, to the young and old, and resulted in the death of more than 300 defenseless villagers (PBS). The following was reported by witnesses of the event. "Several old men were bayoneted, praying women and children were shot in the back of the head, and at least one girl was raped and then killed" (PBS). Lt. Calley was also said to have participated himself, as he supposedly gathered up villagers and instructed them into a ditch and began firing on them with his gun (PBS).
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien chronicles the journey of Alpha Company and the physical objects they carry, but more importantly the emotional burdens they carry as soldiers. O'Brien also depicts the routine like aspect and emotional detachment war can have on soldiers "Their principles were in their feet. Their calculations were biological. They had no sense of strategy or mission. They searched the villagers without knowing what to look for, not caring, kicking over jars of rice, frisking children and old men, blowing tunnels, sometimes setting fires and sometimes not, then forming up and moving on to the next village, then other villages, where it would always be the same"(491). Similar to the way Alpha Company lost any emotional attachment as to the damage they were causing to the village, only following orders to the point where it was "biological", leaders of war lose sight of the fact that war is more than just strategy and numbers, to the point they are numb, as if it is "biological", not aware of the ramification war has on the individual level. Most recently this has taken place in the Iraq War. While the justification for the United States presence there has been that of liberating the Iraqi people, their presences has also taken a great toll on the civilian population. A study done in 2006 estimated that 655,000 people had died from the beginning of the insurgency to 2006 (Brown). "601,000 resulted from violence and the rest from disease and other causes, according to the study" (Brown 1). "According to the survey results, Iraq's mortality rate in the year before the invasion was 5.5 deaths per 1,000 people; in the post-invasion period it was 13.3 deaths per 1,000 people per year" (Brown 3). The study also found that "gunshot wounds caused 56 percent of violent deaths, with car bombs and other explosions causing 14 percent, according to the survey results. Of the violent deaths that occurred after the invasion, 31 percent were caused by coalition forces or airstrikes" (Brown 3).
It's my personal belief that no person wants to go to war, but sometimes it is necessary. Without war, this country would not exist. However the problem is when is it right? When is it right to say the lives of innocent people are a justifiable loss for the greater good? Wars such as WWII, Vietnam and the Iraq war have shown us its dire consequences. When will we learn? When will we learn that war goes beyond numbers and strategy, but that the decisions that our leaders make in war go beyond the battle field and effect humanity.