In war, it’s often those who have never fired a shot who pay a terrible price. This could be anything from death to becoming a refugee. But you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet, as they say.

Sure, there are those rare moments in war, like the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where civilians have to be sacrificed for the greater good, but war is mostly just between two or more military forces. Right?

What many people don’t realize is that the nuclear attacks in Japan were not an exception to our rules of fighting. Earlier, the allies had carried out Operation Meetinghouse, the most lethal bombing in human history, against the Japanese. It was only one raid in a years-long campaign of bombing Japanese cities, but reports that over 100,000 people died. And those were just the people killed on purpose.

War is not just the exchange of fire; it is the disruption of the economic and social order of the besieged country. Take the Second Congo War, which was a late twentieth-century conflict in Central Africa. According to Reuters, the war caused the deaths of 5.4 million people within a decade — the deadliest conflict since the Second World War.

Why the massive loss of life?

Mainly, famine and disease took people’s lives; only a small percentage died in combat. After the war had devastated the economy and infrastructure of the already poor region, people could no longer make a living or get basic medical care.
Perhaps it’s easy to shrug this off and say that those African countries are deeply unkind and the wars that we wage are much more humane. But this is missing the point.

Poverty and disease were not the objective. Most nations don’t go into a war planning on creating a humanitarian catastrophe.

The Iraqi Body Count project uses hundreds of primary sources and is one of the few attempts made to quantify human loss in Iraq. It estimates that over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have perished.

Many believe that that is an underestimate, but it can be very difficult to calculate these statistics when nobody was trying to keep track. True, the majority of Iraqi noncombatants died at the hands of our enemies; I’m not placing all of the blame on us.

What matters is that a vote for war is always a vote for extreme human suffering. There are no righteous wars, only justified ones.

When General Tecumseh Sherman, a Union general during the Civil War, said that “war is hell,” he was not resigning himself to perpetual warfare but rather saying that war must be brutal and short. The Civil War was in our backyard, and Sherman oversaw it.

However, when we send our troops across the ocean to kill and die, that may be hell for a moment, but then we leave.

When we’re done, we build monuments to our fallen, and we talk of the courage that our troops had and the terror they faced.

And all the while, a piece of the third world that we threw into turmoil has not yet stopped being hell.

I am not a pacifist. Sometimes, war should happen. At the same time, I try to always remember that human beings, no matter where they live and whether or not they will be getting their names engraved on a monument, are still human beings.