'The Man He Killed'

Now that the war in Iraq is won, I’ve been thinking about how it was fought. Operation Iraqi Freedom had its setbacks and breakthroughs, but one constant was the massive discrepancy in casualties, with American troops inflicting hugely disproportionate losses on the enemy. In their April 3 capture of the Baghdad airport, U.S. Marines killed three hundred Iraqi soldiers while sustaining no losses. Two days later, the first big incursion into the city left one U.S. soldier dead-and an estimated two thousand Iraqis. In encounter after encounter, as NBC News put it, the U.S. Army prevailed by "completely overwhelming all opposition."

Watching these reports, I found myself feeling vague qualms about the overwhelming superiority of American military power. I remembered the first Gulf war, when a TV commentator described our obliteration of retreating Iraqi troops as "a turkey shoot," and I’d felt similar unease. Should it make us uneasy that while our battlefield losses remain in the dozens, enemy deaths reach the thousands? Or should we feel precisely the opposite-namely, relief that war can now be waged at such a reduced risk to our troops?

As a matter of foreign policy, overwhelming superiority may allow a nation to undertake war too lightly. (Would we have taken on Iraq if we thought ten thousand Americans might return in body bags?) At the personal level, meanwhile, this superiority challenges our...

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About the Author

Rand Richards Cooper, one of Commonweal's film critics, is the author of two works of fiction, The Last To Go and Big as Life.