by John Tirman
Oxford University Press, 2011
This book, written by an American, and addressed to Americans, asks a highly uncomfortable question: why do Americans care so little for all the civilians they have killed in every war they fight? And before we all get into America-bashing, we should remember that all countries with an imperial past have also been guilty, though without justifying their behaviour in a way that allows for massive ‘righteous’ killing.
Tirman demonstrates how the American myth of ‘conquering the Frontier’, civilising the savage and bringing ‘freedom’ was born, and moulded into a belief in a grand manifest destiny. Sadly, as in the case of the Native Americans, civilising the savage meant killing him. With a brief look at the Philippines War, he examines in detail three wars, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. The death toll is horrendous – anything between 1 and 3 million, mostly civilians, died in each, mostly unrecorded because “we don’t do body counts”.
Tirman’s approach gives a comprehensive historical background, the politics and interests at play that result each time in apparently uncaring slaughter. This is not a comfortable read – how can you really comprehend that in one day, 23,000 gallons of napalm were dumped on Pyongyang? But it is a must-read for campaigners against war and all the appalling damage that entails.