A firsthand look at the terror of war as visited on noncombatants exposed to American fire.
Civilians are always hurt and killed in war, collectively deemed “collateral damage” with all due regret. As McDonell (The Civilization of Perpetual Movement: Nomads in the Modern World, 2016, etc.) writes, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and other American theaters of operation, many of them have become “excess mortality,” a grim and Orwellian term that would seem to mean those killed beyond the actuarial numbers that enter into the calculus of “acceptable” death: If a sniper is on a roof and 100 civilians are slated to die in the bombardment required to eliminate that threat, then the 101st gets a whole new category. By any measure, according to a well-quoted epidemiological study, “at least 650,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the first three years of the war”—a figure, notes the author, that George W. Bush dismissed, saying that it was “only” 30,000. As to numbers, McDonell—who began his career as a teenager as the author of an undercooked but popular coming-of-age novel but hardened up as a roving journalist—does the math to show “information about innocent death in foreign wars is most accessible to America’s cosmopolitan wealthy, even though it’s mostly the working classes, domestically and abroad, who become casualties.” The statistics he turns up, working at the fringes of classified military information, are ugly, and they tell stories that speak to those working-class experiences—a pair of young Iraqis, for instance, who, braving fire to recover the body of a relative, court death by Iraqi or American fire, a choice that “is not their own, precisely.” The author concludes, with righteous anger, that “killing innocent people to increase our own security is cowardly.” That it also seems to be accepted military doctrine puts the lie to any notion of moral superiority that we might bring to the enterprise.
Grim indeed and sometimes gruesome—and a brave work of investigation.