More than four years after the invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation of a formerly sovereign–albeit corrupt and dictatorial nation–the United States has lost more than 3,100 soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors in the conflict. Compared to the numbers of my father and grandfather’s conflicts, Vietnam and World War II respectively, the totals of American dead are much less. In comparison to the the combined combatant deaths of the American Civil War (1861-65), the amount of armed forces personnel is miniscule, less than 1 percent, in fact.

Taken into consideration that the total loss of American life in Iraq, which includes armed forces personnel, private contractors, public officials and journalists,  is relatively low, Americans who support the war tend to write off the sacrafice that is paid in life.

On their syndicated radio programs, both Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have used the comparatively low armed forces deaths as a rebuke towards the anti-war movement.

Limbaugh cites scurilous statistics to conclude that an Army soldier is safer in Baghdad than he or she is in the streets of crime-plauged American cities such as Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Not only does this reasoning cheat Americans of a fair analysis of the War in Iraq, it is also wholly irrelevant. Our is a nation based upon the Enlightenment principles of reason and intellect, not simply emotion. Our joy and tears should take a back seat to the objective measurement of cost and benefit.

Wars are not fought with the consideration of the soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines fighting them, but of the compelling national interest that would motivate Congress to pay to send people into harm’s way–the Constitution in particular.

As long as a war in Iraq is fought the troops will and must be a consideration. The problem is however, that both sides treat armed forces personnel like children and until they stop doing that an objective analysis of the war and its costs will scarcely be considered.

Recently I observed an anti-war rally and procession that began on the steps of the New York State Capitol building in Albany. Among the speakers were various anti-war activists, union representatives, religious leaders and former military personnel.

Although I am personally in agreement that the war is unjust, immoral, inhumane and an unconstitutional attack on our sovereignty, I’m relatively unmoved by the manner in which the anti-war movement is handling the deaths of our armed forces personnel.

At the Albany rally, hundreds of demonstrators wore the names of individuals who have been killed in Iraq. In all there were less than 1,000 demonstrators (by my powers of estimation), so the 3,100 hundred persons killed were not all represented as was hoped. I personally did not partake in the rally, despite clapping a few times to recognize a valid point. I was certainly not going to wear a sign either.

What may seem like my coldness is not really a disconnect from the life of an person but of the way in which they died. In our nation no one is forced to join the armed forces; there is no draft and some scholars debate whether our founding fathers intended for there to be a standing army.

Simply put, every man and woman who has worn the uniform and perished in the deserts and cities of Iraq has done so of their own conscience. In my view, and in the view of any Christian, conscience is a gift from God. It is a guiding force for righteousness. To date, no American armed forces member has been forced to fly to Iraq to fight. There are repurcussions for refusal to fight which include prison time, but knowing that one will have to kill or be killed against their wishes, it hardly seems worth it to me for a man to forfeit his soul instead of heading to the brig. Someone may call you a coward or a wimp or a traitor, but in the end all things fall away and only God judges man.

By carrying signs, painting the soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors out to be victims of either radical liberalism or bellicose hawkishness, both sides are treating them as if they aren’t able to make decisions for themselves or aren’t worth making decisions for themselves. They become like those nameless, faceless storm troopers in the Star Wars movies who fall to sleep with the zap of a laser.

I shutter often when I hear war-lovers say that they support the troops. Not only is the saying hyperbolic, empty and insincere, it is also irrelevant. Wars are not fought to support the troops. Troops are supported to fight a war. Wars are fought to uphold narrow, relevant national interests. In my view, unless one is fighting by their side, providing them comfort before and after their deployment or tending to their wounds, no one is really supporting the troops.

Just as much as I recoil and cringe when I hear rightwing war-lovers say they stand with the troops, I shiver when the leftwingers say it too. It wreaks of the same condescension, insincerity and hyperbole. It seems to me that people only say “I Support the Troops” in order to qualify themselves and their ideas.

I suspect that the majority of armed forces personnel in Iraq support the mission–whatever the Administration says it may be. Military members rarely challenge the President as they are prohibited from speaking out. That said, if one really has a problem with something, he or she must face the consequences. In the end, God vindicates us, right? Maybe not here, but certainly in the next world.

If people really care about the loss of life, than the relatively small amounts of American dead should not effect them so much as those of the Iraqis.

Whatever that number is, it is certainly much more than the allied deaths and casualties combined. 

Some estimates put the total as high as 600,000.

It’s sad to hear our “compassionate Christian” president write this number off as he did recently: 

“I stand by the figure a lot of innocent people have lost their life. Six hundred thousand – whatever they guessed at – is just not credible.”

It’s sad not because George W. Bush disagrees with the total–I may be inclined to do myself–but because lost in the debate is the affect civilian deaths are having on the Iraqi peoples’ collective conception of America.

Do we really think they should love us? I don’t. It seems that people are tribal. They only care about their people. It’s a sick type of bigotry on par with eugenics and ethnic cleansing and we’re all guilty of it. If we want to be startled by a number than we should examine how many Iraqis have died. After all, Iraq is their country, not ours.

Before all is said and done, more soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines will die. Eventually, when Americans for whatever reason say it’s over, we’ll “redeploy” them and bring them back.

Until then, we’ll stare at that number–3,100–and, and miss the point entirely.