Sunday, January 2, 2011

Underestimating the Costs of War

A few days ago, this article came out, documenting the costs of one of Canada's worst days in Afghanistan.  It both replicated and undermined one of the basic tendencies when it comes to modern war--that we measure costs in terms of killed in action when far more people are hurt than killed.  This is a political reality and a journalistic one.  The article reports:
In late 2008, the Department of National Defence chose to stop publicizing battlefield injuries, in a stepped-up effort to deny mission intelligence to the Taliban. As a result of this – one of multiple restrictions that bind reporters who embed with the Canadian Forces there – precious little is known about many of the wounded.
The cynic in me wonders with this is due to a concern about battlefield intelligence or about domestic politics.   Given that the enemy can see the wounded in front of them being airlifted out, it would seem that the only folks left out of the loop would be the publics back home.  We know the exact number of Canadians killed in Afghanistan (154 soldiers, one diplomat, one journalist) but not the numbers of Canadians (or Americans or Brits or Danes or Aussies or Dutch, etc) who come back home alive but severely wounded.

In my research, I have come across information that suggests that countries may be imposing restrictions on their troops that are aimed more at limiting KIA (soldiers killed in action) but not so concerned about WIA (wounded).  This restrictions may be honestly imposed to reduce risks overall and to benefit the soldiers, but I cannot help but think that the focus on deaths rather than lives that are irreparably damaged might be a product of the narrow attention spans of politicians and journalists.  Not everything that counts can be counted as a smart man once said or was misquoted.

Oh, and I am aware that I am ignoring for now the damage caused to the Afghans and others in the neighborhood.

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