The Deaths of Others
John Tirman's new book explores the fate of civilians in America's wars
Video interview with John Tirman
Watch at MIT Tech TV
An unasked question
Americans are greatly concerned about the number of our troops killed in battle — 100,000 dead in World War I; 300,000 in World War II; 33,000 in the Korean War; 58,000 in Vietnam; 4,500 in Iraq; more than 1,000 in Afghanistan — and rightly so. But why are we so indifferent, often oblivious, to the far greater number of casualties suffered by those we fight and those we fight for?
This is the compelling, largely unasked question that John Tirman, a principal research scientist and executive director at the MIT Center for International Studies, answers in The Deaths of Others (Oxford University Press, 2011).
How does the U.S. conduct war?
Between six and seven million people died in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq alone, the majority of them civilians. And yet Americans devote little attention to these deaths. Other countries, however, do pay attention, and Tirman argues that if we want to understand why there is so much anti-Americanism around the world, the first place to look is how we conduct war.
The scope of civilian casualities
We understandably strive to protect our own troops, but our rules of engagement with the enemy are another matter. From atomic weapons and carpet bombing in World War II to napalm and daisy cutters in Vietnam and beyond, we have used our weapons intentionally to kill large numbers of civilians and terrorize our adversaries into surrender.
Americans, however, are mostly ignorant of these facts, believing that U.S.-driven wars are essentially just, necessary and "good." Tirman investigates the history of casualties caused by U.S. forces in order to explain why the United States remains so unpopular and why U.S. armed forces operate the way they do.
Trenchant and passionate, The Deaths of Others forces readers to consider the tragic consequences of American military action not just for Americans, but especially for those we fight. Features include: a passionate and sweeping account of the impact of U.S. wars on U.S. opponents; a critical account of the American way of war will be controversial; and a highly readable narrative history that covers all of the United States's modern wars.
Looking deep into American history
"This sad and gripping record of crimes we dare not face, and the probing analysis of the roots of indifference and denial, tell us all too much about ourselves. It should be read, and pondered," said MIT Institute Professor Noam Chomsky.
"John Tirman has not only written a profoundly important, revelatory work about something that most people in this country ignore; he has looked deep into our history and the American mind to see why we ignore it. I wish I could give this highly readable book to everyone, from general to private to the civilian bureaucrats who send them off to kill, who shares the illusion that war mainly involves soldiers," said Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars.
John Tirman is Principal Research Scientist and Executive Director of the Center for International Studies, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His books include Terror, Insurgency, and the State: Ending Protracted Conflicts and 100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World.
Center for International Studies
Video interview with John Tirman about his book
Watch at MIT Tech TV
drawing by a Hiroshima survivor; the Hiroshima Museum