A powerful piece by Jim Gourley, a former military intelligence officer, about whether any service members ever die in vain. According to Gourley, they sure do. It’s written in Foreign Policy, and titled: “Yes, Marcus. They did die in vain.”
“Marcus” is Marcus Luttrell, a former NAVY Seal who fought in Afghanistan. But more on that in a moment.
The notion that any American service member has ever died in vain is a sentiment that’s accurate, and dangerous to admit in America. Some Americans, usually Republicans, pride themselves on using the troops, and their supposed support thereof, as a political cudgel to beat the opposition on any issue even vaguely dealing with the military. If you don’t agree with the Republicans (or with every soldier’s opinion), then obviously you hate the troops, and thereby America.
In this case, Gourley is weighing in on a topic I covered the other day. Former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s book, and new movie, “Lone Survivor,” about a failed mission in Afghanistan that took 19 lives. Luttrell was the sole survivor of his four-man team. During an interview last week with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Luttrell got visibly agitated because Tapper began to speak from the heart about his mixed feelings on the war in Afghanistan, and the “senseless” American deaths that have taken place over the past 12 years of fighting.
Here’s some of what Tapper said:
One of the emotions that I felt, while watching the film is first of all the hopelessness of the situation — how horrific it was and also just all that loss of life of these brave American men.
And I was torn about the message of the film in the same way that I think I am about the war in Afghanistan itself. I don’t want any more senseless American death. And at the same time I know that there were bad people there and good people that need help. Was that intentional?
Luttrell became upset at the suggestion that the over 2,000 Americans killed in Afghanistan died senselessly.
Gourley did an amazing job responding to Luttrell’s comments, and explaining, far better than I did, or could, why it’s not just patriotic, but absolutely necessary, to question American deaths in wartime.
Here’s a snippet of Gourley’s piece in Foreign Policy – do read the entire thing, it’s not that long, and worth the read:
Throughout history, our nation’s greatest leaders have understood on a deeply personal level that however honorably a soldier acquits himself, he can die in vain, and that it is the responsibility of the leaders and citizenry to see to it that they don’t. Our country has lost its sense of that responsibility to a horrifying extent. Our generals have lost the capability to succeed and the integrity to admit failure. Our society has lost the courage and energy to hold them accountable. Over the last decade, our top leaders have wasted the lives of our sons, daughters, and comrades with their incompetence and hubris. After each failure, our citizens have failed to hold them accountable, instead underwriting new failed strategies as quickly as their predecessors with our apathy and sense of detachment. And then we use the tired paeans of “never forget” and “honor the fallen” to distract ourselves from our guilt in the affair. When we blithely declare that they did not die in vain, we deface their honor by using it to wipe the blood from our hands.
We have lost our collective ability to win a war as well as the strength of character to accept defeat. And in the end, it is those who represent the epitome of that character we lack that pay the price. Can there be a death any more in vain than one that secures for us freedoms that we hold in such low regard as to not even use them on behalf of those that protect us? If there is, I cannot think of one.
It is my greatest hope that Luttrell’s response opens a national dialogue on this subject, and that people finally embrace the true, terrible nature of our self-inflicted losses. Let us as a nation finally feel the guilt we ought to for failing our civic duty. And let that be what we remember before we send the next servicemember to battle. For surely, there will be a next war. When it comes, let us be a nation of people who are as faithful to our principles and considerate of our obligations as those who fight for us. Let us be worthy of their sacrifice. That is the only way to prevent them from dying in vain.
Seriously, you have to read the entire piece. It was extremely difficult to excerpt. Gourley just hits the nail on the head, repeatedly, in terms of how we actually fail our troops, and fail the nation, by not considering if and when we have sent them to war to die in vain.