The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars

The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars

The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars

The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars


Americans are greatly concerned about the number of our troops killed in battle--100,000 dead in World War I; 300,000 in World War II; 33,000 in the Korean War; 58,000 in Vietnam; 4,500 in Iraq; over 1,000 in Afghanistan--and rightly so. 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?

This is the compelling, largely unasked question John Tirman answers in The Deaths of Others. 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. Americans, however, are mostly ignorant of these facts, believing that American wars are essentially just, necessary, and "good." Tirman investigates the history of casualties caused by American forces in order to explain why America remains so unpopular and why US armed forces operate the way they do.

Trenchant and passionate,The Deaths of Othersforces readers to consider the tragic consequences of American military action not just for Americans, but especially for those we fight.


A friend and I were walking across the National Mall in Washington, D.C., one day in the spring of 2009 and happened upon the Korean War Memorial, which I had never seen closely. It commemorates the Americans who died protecting South Korea from an invasion by North Korea; some three million people died in the three-year war, more than 30,000 of them U.S. soldiers. the memorial was striking in design, with its platoon of bronze-cast soldiers, frozen in time, making its way through the mud and cold, and the eerie photographic images on an adjacent marble wall. But one thing was missing—any mention of the Korean people. Even the South Korean forces were lumped together with all the countries that served under the un command. We then ventured across to the Vietnam War Memorial, which I had visited before and which had always struck me powerfully, probably because the 58,000 names of the dead on the Wall were men and women of my generation. But I noticed that here, too, there was no reference to the people these memorialized men and women were there to protect. It was as if, in these two conflagrations, only the Americans could be cited, only their deaths mattered: not even the place or the call-to-arms merited more than a glancing note.

One of the most remarkable aspects of American wars is how little we discuss the victims who are not Americans. the costs of war to the populations and common soldiers of the “enemy” are rarely found in . . .

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