“The Deaths of Others” review

“The Deaths of Others” review

The Deaths of Others

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.