As Americans we are far more likely to hear about fallen American soldiers than foreign victims of our wars abroad, especially after a tragedy of this magnitude. As we think about these deaths and sympathize with victims' families, we should also think about this (from The Independent):
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) has found that the rate of civilian casualties has reached a record high, with 1,462 killed in January to June this year.
Unless we consider these other victims to be less than human, then we must sympathize for them as well. This point may be even more difficult to accept: since they are victims in a war that is not their choosing, their deaths are more tragic than the deaths of soldiers who have chosen to engage in war. Yet many Americans rarely if ever think of civilian deaths in Afghanistan but feel overwhelmingly moved by American soldier deaths.
We do tend to sympathize more with those with whom we share more in common and that includes those who speak our language, live in our communities, and share many of our cultural norms. That's one explanation for the lack of concern over Afghan civilian deaths in this country. Naturally the families and friends of the soldiers who died have every right to feel distraught and angry even as they ignore the deaths of others; they're grieving, and any of us who have lost a loved one knows it can be intensely painful. The lesson here, however, in a conflict that is so lopsided, is that Afghans have the same emotions, feel the same pain. For every lost life, there are dozens of friends, family members, and loved ones who are affected. Multiply that by thousands, and it provides a critical context to our war in Afghanistan and the reaction of the Afghan people.
Remember these are civilians, not soldiers, not terrorists; and they are civilians in an impoverished country that is currently occupied by the most powerful nation and most powerful military on earth. Their deaths are not just tragic, but horribly unjust. Our war is not justified and it is not making Americans safer. The evidence suggests that our war in Afghanistan is more likely to inspire (or enrage) future terrorists–people who might otherwise never think of using violence against the U.S. or Americans had it not been for the fact that their family or friends were killed by U.S. bombs.
While most Americans want an immediate drawdown in Afghanistan, politicians and warmongers, like Leon Panetta, continue to justify continuing our war by claiming the objective is to ensure Afghanistan is not a safe haven for terrorists. Even if you buy that nonsense, how could it possibly be worth the deaths of thousands of Afghan civilians (or if you prefer thousands of American troops)? This war is not about making Americans safer, it is about making Lockheed-Martin more profitable. It is not about stopping terrorism, it is about terrorizing an entire population for American imperialism. Simply securing cabin doors in airplanes did more to keep Americans safe than our reckless and expensive war in Afghanistan, which in all likelihood is making Americans more of a target.
Regardless of our view on the justifications for war, we all have an obligation to understand the conflict in a way that humanizes all sides and includes the context of the Afghan experience; to do otherwise is to dehumanize the victims of war. With that in mind, we should grieve not just for the families of the fallen soldiers but also for the families of the Afghan civilians our military, with our tax dollars, killed. Once we do, our reaction to such a tragedy ought to be to demand an immediate end to an immoral and unnecessary war.