Counting in Iraq: Update III
|In my continuing series of non-Renaissance posts that do not belong on this blog, I offer this last installment of my "Counting in Iraq" series.|
On March 4, 2006, I wrote that "U.S. military deaths in Iraq should surpass ... the grand total for 9/11 [i.e., 2,986] sometime in late January 2007."
Unlike in my previous two updates, this deadline arrived earlier than I had projected, as U.S. military deaths now stand at 2,987 here in late December [actually, they're now up to 2,996; nine more soldiers have died since I started this post on Wednesday night] .
And since Bush will not be pulling out any troops before he leaves office--he is instead set on a policy of escalation--we can and should expect at least another 1,650 U.S. soldiers to die in Iraq in the next two years (plus another 100 or so Coalition military deaths). And tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Iraqis will die. And there's nothing I can do about any of this.
Really, I can't believe my rather simplistic projections from nine months ago were so accurate. And I can't believe that Bush is ok with sending thousands of more young men and women to die in this war.
This grim milestone makes me think of that scene in Shakespeare's Henry V set during the night before the battle of Agincourt (Act IV, Scene 1, which Josh Marshall, it turns out, quoted almost three years ago). Talking to the disguised Henry, the soldier Bates says that "we know enough if we know we are the King's subjects; if his cause be wrong, our obedience to the King wipes the crime of it out of us" (4.1.132-35). The soldier Williams then argues that, "if the cause be not good," the King will have to answer on Judgment Day for the deaths of his soldiers:
But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in a battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all, "We died at such a place," some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in battle; for how can they charitably dispose of anything when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the King that led them to it; who to disobey, were against all proportion of subjection. (4.1.136-49)Henry, understandably, bristles at this idea, and I've increasingly found Henry's subsequent logic-chopping, shall we say, unsatisfying.
He first responds that "the king is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of his servant; for they purpose not their death when they purpose their service" (4.1.158-62). In other words, when Kings (and presidents) go to war, they do not intend for their soldiers to die, and they are therefore not to blame if soldiers do ultimately die (because, as everyone knows, some wars do not result in death).
He continues, "War is his [God's] beadle, war is his vengeance; so that here men are punished for before-breach of the King's laws in now the King's quarrel" (173-76). Put differently, the sinful soldiers had it coming; or, from a more Rumsfeldian perspective, "you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want." According to this logic, a sinless army would be invincible.
And, finally, the King offers this concluding thought, "Every subject's duty is the King's, but every subject's soul is his own" (181-82). Henry's argument here is, of course, right. Williams will not be sent to Heaven or Hell on the basis of what the King has done. But this argument also removes any responsibility from Henry for his soldiers' deaths--he has given himself and other kings a blank check to send as many soldiers as they like to die, especially because they do not intend for their soldiers to die when they start wars. I have to confess to not knowing the precise theological arguments that would support or counter the King's argument, but I do think we, the audience, are supposed to find it sophistic and morally problematic, even repugnant. Do kings bear no responsibility for starting wars that kill thousands and thousands of soldiers and civilians? Everyone except a king would say yes.
And in fact, Henry never directly confronts Williams's main point. Judgment Day may still "be black matter for the King that led them to it," even if the king's ultimate fate will not absolve the soldiers of their own sins. If I were the president and believed in Judgment Day, I would be nervous, very nervous.
Update: Oops, my bad. It appears that Iraq, much like the capture of bin Ladin, might be better described as "a success that hasn't yet occurred."
Update II (12/31/2006): There are now an even 3,000 U.S. military casualties.