Monday, January 16, 2006

Body Baggage

Search "body bags" on Google and you might come up with this.Note the tag line--"what will you put in yours?"It's clever, it's sexy and yet it makes me want to vomit.
Clearly I'm not the cynic I thought I was.

Does anyone remember the fuss over the number of body bags ordered for the 1991Gulf War? It was in all the papers.

Both pro- and anti-war citizens alike were alarmed at the number, even though the count represented just 3% of the total number of mobilized US personnel.
Whilst the vast majority of Americans supported kicking Iraq out of Kuwait, even the staunchest were troubled by the fact that the DoD had ordered 16,000 body bags for a force of over 500,000 deployed

But no matter; the Pentagon prepared once again for deaths in the thousands.

Employing the sometimes dubious but sometimes illuminating tool of comparison, the 2003 order of a mean of 9,000 body bags for a force of 140,000 suggests an anticipated "attrition" of not 3% (as in 1991) but 6% of total forces.

This doesn’t mean that the US soldiers in this instance were being regarded more as cannon fodder in 2003 than they were in 1991.
In 1991 over 500,000 US personnel were supported by an additional 160,000 Coalition (and significantly NATO) forces. They faced an Iraqi opposition nearly equal in number. However the Iraqis as a whole were decidedly less equal in training, equipment and logistical support and the wholesale desertion of the Iraqi airforce left the remainder in an untenable position.

In 2003 the forces were again almost equal in manpower but the Iraqis had even less equipment and support. In the Iraqi’s favor however was some knowledge of the forces they would face and particularly that they wouldn’t be fighting on some foreign battlefield but in their own country and for their own land.This is something that any general with a clue factors into his planning.
When attacking someone on their own turf it is important to give the defender a couple of extra aggression and determination points as a rule of thumb, hence the comparative doubling of body bags ordered relative to 1991.Nonetheless the expectation was clearly still in the thousands. What a relief when Baghdad was entered and so few US troops had been killed! Mission accomplished!

So far over 2,200 U.S military have been put into body bags, as have nearly six dozen journalists. Just recently Bush estimated 30,000 Iraqis dead. Bush has no credibility but if one adds "at least" to the claim it’s probably closer to the truth than anything he has ever uttered. I wonder has the excess U.S. inventory of body bags been provided to the Iraqis? Somehow I doubt it (and come to think of it I’m not sure the Iraqis would want to accept them, however practical they might be).

I watched my eldest brother being zipped up into a body bag and it was the first (but not the last) I’d ever seen.I was 15 and he was 24. He died at home from complications of a hole in the heart, not on a battlefield far away serving some great "cause". The last I saw of him was his pale serene face before it was replaced by a black impenetrable shroud sealed by metal teeth. One of the policemen present put a comforting hand on my shoulder as the medics loaded the suddenly anonymous black sack into the ambulance.

He was but one amongst tens of thousands who die every day as a part of the cycle of life over which we have little or no control.
But given the choice would we not all prefer to die individually in peace rather than collectively in the thousands or hundreds of thousands, by war?
And given the choice, wouldn’t we all prefer to die as we had lived, as recognizable individuals rather than as contents of an indistinguishable black bag?

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