Research Paper: War and Death

Pages: 10 (3476 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Drama - World  ·  Buy This Paper

War and Death

When considering the causes and outcomes of war, oftentimes it can be helpful to compare and contrast seemingly disparate cases, because this comparison can often reveal underlying processes, strategies, and assumptions that would have remained hidden otherwise. This is why, for example, one may consider the United States' more recent occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan alongside its actions in the Korean War; though these cases are separated by a substantial expanse of time, examining the causes behind these conflicts as well as the effects reveals that the conception of warfare as a means of statecraft has not changed substantially in the intervening time. This leads one inevitably to reconsider the state of South and North Korea's relationship today, because these two actors appear to be locked into the same belligerent, militaristic mindset that has characterized American military and international policy since at least the Cold War and all the way up till today. In light of the evidence, it becomes clear that the only successful path towards reunification of the Korean peninsula must depend on reciprocity and openness, rather than belligerence, restriction, and fear.

One may begins by considering the United States' occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, because although at first glance these two wars appear to represent a twenty-first century evolution of war in terms of justification, strategy, and tactics, in reality one must recognize that they in fact represent the continuation of a military mindset that has remained largely unchanged since the Korean War. The war in Afghanistan began as a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, and depended upon the Bush administration's decision to consider the attacks not as criminal acts, which had been the case with previous terrorist attacks (even orchestrated by the same people), but rather as an act of war. As such, the American government did not solely go about attempting to capture or kill the people responsible, but rather indited the government of Afghanistan for allowing these individuals to reside there relatively unmolested. Beginning with the administration's decision to consider the attacks as an act of war rather than criminal conduct, the United States ran straight towards a military option, largely ignoring any other potential means for bringing the guilty to justice. (to see just how effortlessly the American government began the war in Afghanistan, one need only consider the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, which authorized the war; out of the entire Congress of over five hundred people, only a single person voted no.)

While the justification for the war in Afghanistan was in many respects defensible, even if it depended on an unprecedented interpretation of the proper response to terrorism, the justification for the war in Iraq turned out to be partially or wholly fabricated, based on intelligence provided by a politicized Intelligence Community more interested in providing the information desired by the administration rather than the most accurate intelligence. While there are still choose to disagree with this characterization, overwhelming evidence has demonstrated that the Bush administration's reasons for going to war with Iraq (weapons of mass destruction and supposed collusion between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda) were not only unfounded, but were based on selectively edited and interpreted intelligence. To see why this is the case one need not even consider the arguments put forward by those in opposition to the war or the Bush administration, because the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (under the Bush administration) actually admitted as much; in its Intelligence Community Directive 203, published in 2007, ODNI provided a set of guidelines and best practices for intelligence analysts that were explicitly designed to avoid the intelligence problems that permeated the Intelligence Community's National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq in 2002, the document ultimately used to justify the war in Iraq.

While the United States' occupation of Iraq ostensibly ended December 15th, 2011, the country is still home to serious violence, and the United States' maintains a substantial military presence, due both to its ongoing training and support mission as well as the private militaries hired by the State Department to defend its embassy in Baghdad. The Afghanistan war has not yet ended, and although there have been suggestions that it might as early as next year or as late as 2015, the actual conclusion of the war remains a distant proposition. Though the Iraq war lasted less time that the ongoing war in Afghanistan, as of 2012 it has see far more casualties. For example, while only 1,940 American service members have died in Afghanistan, 4,474 died in Iraq ("Faces of the Fallen" 2012). Of course, this pales in comparison to the number of civilians who have died as a result of both wars.

The most conservative estimates of civilian deaths as a result of the United States' occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan put the number of deaths at around 132,000, and even then this only includes "direct violence that killed civilians," such as "bombings, gunshot wounds, [and] missile strikes" (Ackerman 2011). This number does not include "indirect deaths, as occur when war crates refugees that can't find food, clean water or adequate medical care" (Ackerman 2011). The upper range of estimates put the number of civilians dead closer to a million (including direct and indirect deaths), but as with all estimates of civilian wartime deaths, these numbers can only be confirmed in general, both because war itself makes it difficult to access victims accounts and other corroborating evidence, and because the United States (seemingly intentionally) does not keep a tally of civilian deaths it has caused (Ackerman 2011). Whichever set of numbers one accepts as the most accurate, it is clear that the United States' occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in a staggering number of civilian deaths, one of the many things that have contributed to a negative perception of U.S. policy and practice throughout the world.

This negative perception largely stems from two undeniable facts. Firstly, that the United States' justifications for going to war were misguided at best, and intentionally dishonest at worst, and that these justifications served to support a military endeavor interested not in doling out justice or liberating oppressed peoples, but rather with securing American military and economic goals in the Middle East (regardless of any stated intentions). The second off-putting fact is the realization that despite whatever nominal movements are made towards securing the population and aiding civilians, the high number of civilian deaths forces one to consider that the United States and its military as a whole does not care about civilian deaths, or cares only as much as reports of civilian deaths can simultaneously erode public support for the war while inspiring new generations of dissidents, insurgents, and terrorists (Ackerman 2011). Taken together, these two facts have eroded the United States' international standing. However, it must be noted that the international perception of the United States as a result of its military action has not been entirely negative, because a number of countries have supported the efforts, either materially or ideologically (for the most part this support stems from the United States' usual allies, such as Israel and the United Kingdom).

While the causes and effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars might appear to be exclusive to a particular moment in American history and a particular administration's foreign policy goals and practices, in reality they demonstrate a contiguity with the American approach to international relations since at least the Korean War. Firstly, just as the United States' actual interest in Iraq had little to do with its stated interest, so too was the Korean War not simply a war between North and South Korea, but rather a kind of semi-proxy war fought between the United States and the Soviet Union as part of their Cold War. The Korean War began in 1949, "on the remote, inaccessible Ongjin Peninsula," and "the absence of independent observers has meant that both Korean sides have claimed ever since that they were attacked first" (Cumings 5). Although the animosities which precipitated the Korean War can be traced back even further, over the course of 1940-50, both sides began amassing their forces, with the United States assisting the South and the Soviet Union assisting the North (Cumings vii, 6). The war then progressed through three largely distinct phases: "the war for the South in the summer of 1950, the war for the North in the fall and winter of 1950, and China's intervention, which soon brought about a stabilization of the fighting along what is now the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, even though a form of trench warfare went on for another two years" (Cumings xviii). The war ended in 1953, but only with an armistice, and not an official peace agreement, so the two countries remain technically at war to this day.

The Korean War was important to both the United States and the Soviet Union, because it represented the first real conflict of their respective political ideologies following… [END OF PREVIEW]

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