Fell On Black Days

I post the Pentagon’s death notices from the Iraq war as a dual memorial/protest. It all started at the pre-Attackerman blog, when I found I suddenly had an outlet for the fatality announcements that Pentagon reporters have emailed to them. Nearly no news organization has a running feature that puts, at the least, a name to the constant four soldiers died in an explosion south of Baghdad…reports, and I find that obscene. But just letting them sink into the morass of my inbox seemed disrespectful; and not silently contextualizing them with a point about the iniquity of the war they didn’t choose felt like a compounded betrayal.

My feelings on the Afghanistan war, though, are far more conflicted, fluid and sympathetic. So what to do with the death notices from Operation Enduring Freedom?

As you might have read, May 2008 was the first month when U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan exceeded those in Iraq. June is likely to be the second consecutive month with that awful designation. I’ll tell you: from 2004 to summer 2007, you’d get those Iraq death notices like every day or every other day. Often they’d come several times daily, and the emails would contain multiple names. It would start off turning your stomach and then would become a dull pain that would unexpectedly intensify — as if to say, yes, this still happens, and no, you won’t get used to it. In 2004, Tom Ricks wrote an eloquent account of what it’s like to receive them that shaped my decision to post the notices when I launched my first personal blog, so read his piece for a better description than I can offer.

Happily, death notices from Iraq are farther between than at any time since the war started. But the Afghanistan fatality announcements are coming now with the frequency that the 2004-07 Iraq ones came. Multiple names on multiple e-mails. All the deaths are combat deaths — landmines, IEDs, small arms fire, convoys ambushed, prolonged engagements. On Tuesday for instance, Spc. Ryan J. Connolly, 24, of Vacaville, Calif., died in Khogyani, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when his vehicle struck a suspected landmine. He was assigned to the 173rd Special Troops Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Bamberg, Germany.

What should I do with these notices, FDL community? I don’t oppose the Afghanistan war. I support with my dying breath the effort to destroy al-Qaeda. But I have no idea what the Afghanistan war’s purpose, duration, force structure, strategy and prospects for success are anymore, nor, really, what they should be. I’m currently working out an embed to go to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border — such as it is — for, insh’allah, later this summer, and will hopefully return with greater clarity, though I doubt it. Seeing the volume of these notices makes me think that I’m acting irresponsibly by not posting them — that it lets the Afghanistan war remain faceless, unfamiliar, detached, adrift. Not only does that dishonor our Afghanistan dead, it enables the Iraq war by implicitly obscuring the opportunity-costs of continuing that ceaseless astrategic horror. So what should I do? Is there a lyric-headline you can think of that can simultaneously be respectful of the fallen and express ambiguity about the cause? What do you want to see?

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman