In the UK’s war/occupation in Afghanistan, 142 military personnel have been killed. That’s tiny. There have been plenty of wars when that many soldiers died in a week or a day. For the British army, it’s been a remarkably harmless war.
Yet each casualty seems to garner more publicity than any other cause of death – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard on the news, in a very serious tone, ‘2 UK soldiers were killed in Afghanistan’. 2? Really? Of the 150,000 people who died today, of the hundreds who died violently, these two are a news story? Did they die in a strange or unexpected way? Is their death so improbable that we can be pleasantly surprised at such an unlikely occurence? No, they died fighting a war.
So there seems to be a phenomenon of greatly increased public sensitivity to military deaths, even as the actual number thereof falls. Although I may mock this slightly, I think it’s actually a very good thing.
In a way it’s inconsistent and irrational – it amounts to ‘we want to fight a war but without any casualties’. But I think this inconsistency, like ‘we want to receive more public services while paying lower taxes‘, should be welcomed because the contradiction is really in the ideology that justifies the ruling class, and contradictions in this just mean destabilising its lies.
Because there’s a huge gap between the heroism and triumph of war’s mythology and the sordid hell of its reality – between the idea that it brings out the best in people, and the reality of paranoia, dehumanisation, massacres and rapes, and PTSD. So when we get sold the idea of a heroic war, it’s very welcome to see people demanding that they receive only the heroic ideal that they bought (to the extent that they bought it) and not any of this unrelated messy reality.
Of course, at the moment the way this plays out is grotesquely racist in the way that Serious Questions get asked every time two British soldiers are killed, their faces shown on TV with tributes from family members etc., while 30 Afghan civilians killed in an airstrike are just a faceless statistic. And in many countries, and many parts of this country, this phenomenon doesn’t appear.
I don’t know how this will pan out in the long run; it may reverse as circumstances change, or it may just mean that developed countries/countries with modern culture-industries find it very hard to go to war with each other, and thus shift their aggression to those areas without so many TV stations. Or it may lead to increasing numbers of countries expelling journalists when they fight wars – as Israel and Sri Lanka noticeably did recently, and Iran when its social war became so overt.
Either way, it’s a nice example of what I like to call ‘reasonable irrationality’.