It is an unavoidable fact; war is always ugly and inevitably, indiscriminate.
When talking about this decade’s ‘War On Terror’ this is even more true. While the primary goal of terrorists is collateral damage it also often occurs as a the result of the west’s tactics, even if unintentionally.
In the wake of Remembrance Sunday in UK and Veteran’s Day in the United States, however, it seems that western society, especially our political leaders, have almost erased the victims on the opposite side of the conflict from their mind. In this current context I firmly believe that we as a society have a clear moral duty to recognise the fallen on all sides; western soldiers but also those of innocent Iraqis or children in Afghanistan who are terrified of the drones that circle overhead and occasionally target them instead of militants. As such I am saddened by our apparent indifference to those who are suffering, including children, partly as a consequence of the Wests military actions. Though the war on terror was a clear response to 9/11 we can’t avoid responsibility of these actions and unlike soldiers on both sides – but like the victims of 9/11 – they didn’t choose to participate in the ‘War on Terror’.
By using military approaches such as drones we are not just stripping these innocent victims from western conscience and our moral responsibility but devaluing their lives – we are basically saying the lives of troops on the ground have more worth than Afghan civilians.
Today in Iraq it is the militias who wage a war – a war on civilians – but the lack of post-war planning of western leaders in their rush to attack Iraq had profound ripples on the country’s security that many Iraqis still feel now. In US Blunders in Iraq: De-Baathiﬁcation and Disbanding the Army James P.Pfiffne states disbanding Iraq’s existing security forces, for example, fuelled the insurgency and by extension sectarian violence by: ‘(1) alienating hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who could not support themselves or their families; (2) by undermining the normal infrastructure necessary for social and economic activity; (3) by ensuring that there was not sufficient security to carry on normal life; and (4) by creating insurgents who were angry at the US, many of whom had weapons and were trained to use them’.
He further explains that this move created a security vacuum which hundreds of thousands of unemployed, humiliated and hostile armed men subsequently filled, citing one US officer in Baghdad as saying, ‘When they disbanded the military, and announced we were occupiers – that was it. Every moderate, every person that had leaned toward us, was furious’
Yet within modern conflict it is perhaps children who are the most vulnerable. In 2007 the Independent reported on the lack of basic medical equipment which cost as little as 95p that was costing the lives of Iraqi children. In a 2007 letter to Tony Blair Iraqi doctors, British doctors who have worked in Iraqi hospitals, and leading UK consultants and GPs described desperate shortages causing “hundreds” of children to die in hospitals. This is a breach of the Geneva conventions that require Britain and the US, as occupying forces, to protect human life. War Child’s statement in May 2013 that the countries who led the 2003 invasion have abandoned its children perhaps indicates that Blair has perhaps forgotten this plea as he flies around the world in his private jet to deliver speeches. The situation of children in Iraq is “one of the world’s most neglected crises”, the charity says.
According to War Child there are an estimated 35,000 infant deaths every year in Iraq – 100 every day – and one in four children has stunted physical and intellectual development due to under-nutrition. If we compare this to the UK the difference is shocking. Here infant mortality has hit a record low according to the Office for National Statistics with 4.2 deaths in every 1000 births. Save The Children also shares a disturbing fact on their website; that between one in four and one in five children die before they reach five.
Many will argue that the situation would be the same or worse if Saddam Hussein was in power today but to consign Iraq to the history books and as a consequence, its innocent victims is as shameful as any crime Hussein could commit himself. The reality of war perhaps means a large number of these deaths are unavoidable but that doesn’t mean we should forget them and therefore bypass all responsibility.
The deaths of soldiers who gave up their lives to serve what they saw as a just cause should be rightly honoured and reflected on but an equal recognition should be placed on those innocent victims who have also died, and continue to suffer in wars our own countries pursued. When our leaders wipe their hands of the blood of Afghan and Iraqi civilians it not only devalues the efforts british soldiers undertook during their service but goes against the values the west purports to represent.