This is a large number of deaths and injuries, and whether we are in favor of or against the Iraq war, we wish that none of them had to occur. But I am struck by how little those numbers are when compared to conflicts of the past. For example, in all the years of the Vietnam war, 56,000 American troops were killed. The Vietnamese war lasted two to three times as long as the Iraq war has so far, but even if you triple the number of Iraq deaths, the number killed in Vietnam dwarfs them, although the calculus gets a little complex when you realize that many of the soldiers seriously wounded in Iraq would have died in Vietnam.
It's when you move on to other wars of the past that the numbers really get staggering. In World War I, a war that the U.S. was in for only a little more than a year, 116,000 American soldiers died, and we lost 400,000 soldiers in World War II. Losses of other countries in World War II were far greater, with Russia losing 7,500,000 casualties and Germany 3,500,000.
I in no way mean to be minimizing or downplaying the losses of the U.S. in Iraq. Every one of those 3,200 dead left behind loved ones and potential unfulfilled. Rather, I am blown away by how horrible it must have been in World Wars I and II when the casualty reports came in. I remember as a preteen during the Vietnam war reading about the troops killed, which seemed to average about 100 to 200 per week, more, of course, during times like the Tet offensive. Nearly every family knew of another family, perhaps only peripherally, that had lost a loved one in the war. But think of the World Wars, with so many more casualties concentrated into shorter time periods. The psychological burden must have been incredible.
I recently read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Personally, I didn't think it was that great of a book, although I know many others don't share that opinion. It pointed out some horrible statistics about one day losses during World War II. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima killed 70,000 to 100,000 people, the Nagasaki bomb about 40,000. But what many people probably do not realize is that earlier in World War II the fire bombing of Dresden by the Allies, the central event of Slaughterhouse Five, killed 130,000 people in one day, more than were killed by either atomic bomb. And these bombs were all dropped by the good guys, us, on predominantly civilian targets.
I think of the sorrow I see in a family when one baby dies. Anyone who reads the comments on my blog knows that these single losses change the parents' lives forever. When you multiply that sorrow by the numbers of casualties in wars, it becomes truly unfathomable. War must always be a last resort for solving conflicts.