The death of a human being—whether a soldier or a child—is a regrettable event. To try to minimize the death toll in wars is futile. Journalists and armchair activists can afford enlightened neutrality, but soldiers have to hate their enemy. No American soldier could schizophrenically respect the Iraqis but hate the Iraqi guerrillas, or save the Iraqi civilians and pursue the militants. In moments of extreme danger, in the moral area beyond familiar peacetime ethics, when rifle triggers elevate common men into judges with power of life and death, when every move makes the difference between death and survival, when everything the soldiers were told in school or in church is proven wrong, people have no luxury of rational thought and moral deliberation. The world becomes black and white, and the white part narrows to the company or brigade. A human body in crosshairs makes so huge a break with common morality that it does not much matter whether the face belongs to a soldier or a civilian. The difference is often artificial, and close to nil in guerrilla wars. A teenager today is a terrorist tomorrow; a woman is a terrorist’s encouraging mother; a house is a weapons warehouse. In wars, an enemy population is presumed guilty until proven innocent, but soldiers breaking into hostile houses have no time to judge even according to that standard.

Human lives have a price on them, and it is not high price. Firemen risk their lives for moderate wages, and often enter burning buildings to save property, not other lives.

The US has materially assisted in murdering more civilians in Afghanistan since the 1980s then could credibly have died in America in an Afghan-sponsored attack. Lives, especially the lives of other people, are a commonly accepted price for many odd goals: opium, oil, or democracy.

All wars, in all times, killed many people, including non-combatants. Wars are not inhumane, but all too human. Throughout history, people who were decent in peacetime have committed atrocities in wars. Nothing has changed. Soldiers take off the clothes of morality when stepping into the bloodbath of war.

To save lives, do not start unnecessary wars. Once wars are started, do not hypocritically decry the death toll.