The recent emergence of the WikiLeaks war diaries has served to re-spark anger about the war formerly known as terror amongst those who oppose it. Although the detail of these diaries as published in The Guardian and other places is of course, important, there has been little in the way of explanation as to why it is important. It seems to have been assumed that the importance of publishing the war diaries need not be explained; that it is obvious why we should know about the incompetencies and atrocities committed by coalition forces. This is perhaps particularly influenced by Julian Assange‘s penchant for letting facts speak for themselves. But without the assumed prior knowledge and attitudes of Guardian readers it is easy to think that the leaking of confidential military files and the accompanying PR disaster is simply playing into the hands of the Taliban.
Nine years into the war in Afghanistan, the WikiLeaks war diaries present an opportunity to remind ourselves of the principles involved; why we should not be fighting wars in the Middle East and why playing into the hands of the Taliban is the least of our worries.
The Numbers Count
On September 11, 2001, America experienced an attack on its homeland. 2,976 people died that day, not including their attackers.
On October 7, 2001, Afghanistan experienced an attack on its homeland. Approximately 17,400 people have died in the nine years that have followed, not including their attackers.
On March 20, 2003, Iraq experienced an attack on its homeland. Approximately 894,531 people have died in the seven years that have followed, not including their attackers.
No one is doubting that Saddam Hussein was a Bad Man, or that the Taliban are a medieval organisation, anachronistic to the 21st century (to say the least). However, the ostensible reason for the coalition invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan was to stamp out terrorism following the 9/11 attacks.
Setting aside tactical errors (you don’t find terrorists with a traditional army) and ulterior motives (we all know how much oil there is in Iraq), the numbers simply don’t add up. Yes, 9/11 was a terrible attack and extremely shocking to a nation who had never experienced an attack on their homeland. Yes, 2,976 civilians died that day. But the response has seen 919,976 people die with little evidence of improved homeland security (including coalition troops).
Whilst every coalition troop death is lamented over in the newspapers, and rightly told as a tragedy, the same privileges are not afforded to the ‘enemy’. Afghan and Iraqi life is cheap.
What makes these attacks different? The attacking explosives used in Afghanistan and Iraq are backed by governments.
The WikiLeaks war diaries serve to remind us that we have no moral superiority. We are perpetrating war crimes in places where we shouldn’t even be. The 2,976 people who died in the Twin Towers are worth no more, or less, than the 919,967 who have died as a consequence.
It is too late to redeem ourselves in Afghanistan and Iraq. But perhaps we can learn that a life is a life, no matter where it sprang from; and that a government has no more right to take it than anyone else.
The problem with life is…sometimes it comes cheap.