Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"willing to see some of their countrymen die"

The AP is running a story this morning from a Quinnipiac University poll (Quinnipiac's in Hamden, CT). From the AP:
A solid majority of Americans are willing to see some of their countrymen die to achieve a terror-free Afghanistan, but US misgivings about sending more troops remain, a poll released Wednesday said.
No one is naive about war, but this phrasing is troubling.

The poll determined that, "American voters are willing to have American soldiers "fight and possibly die" to eliminate the threat of terrorists operating from Afghanistan." It has a game show quality to it, an eerie detachment.

I won't debate policy here, but I do want to break down the notion in this story, briefly, that Americans are willing to see their countrymen die.

First, unless they are soldiers themselves, they'll never actually see anyone die. Semantics, splitting hairs? No. We use this sort of language a lot and we should be careful because it's a phony commitment. I served for four years in the military and I never even saw someone die. The closest any of these "voters" will come to actually seeing their countrymen die, whether or not they're willing, is an evening TV news broadcast.

What sort of willingness is that? What sort of sacrifice? A willingness for someone you never met to die on the other side of the planet. Who wouldn't be willing to sacrifice theoretical lives? I'm willing to sacrifice Mario to King Koopa an infinite number of times in order to save the equally unreal princess because none of it matters.

Second, who cares if these voters are willing? I bet if we polled third graders, we'd find that "a solid majority" are willing to let their parents go to work each morning to achieve a poverty-free home. The only thing more illusory than these voters' connection to the soldiers is their affect on public policy.

Third, the objective "to eliminate the threat of terrorists operating from Afghanistan," couldn't be more nebulous. We're not discussing a nation, an army, or even a specific terror group, but rather "terrorists" in general.

What's sad is that these soldiers are very real. There's nothing theoretical about their presence in Afghanistan, for them or for the Afghanis. The most painful acclimation, for me, to military life was surrendering all the prevailing nonsense I'd come to believe about military capabilities and missions. I was shocked to learn that a US victory was anything but certain, that failure was a very real option--regardless of American voters' willingness to see their countrymen die.