I reviewed “The Battle for Marjah,” a harrowing HBO documentary about the first days of the Marjah campaign, over at the AfPak Channel.
It is easy to misinterpret these sorts of films. The Battle for Marjah captures the agonizing the Marines go through upon learning that some of their brother Marines accidentally killed a woman and several children. It follows them, through the uncomfortable meeting with the grieving family, as the patriarch complains that he followed ISAF’s demands to hide inside his own house, only to have bombs rain down on his head. There is no easy answer for that situation, and the apology and condolence payment — $10,000 a head — feels cheap. There is palpable discomfort at the exchange, an unease at how to handle such a situation with empathy and humanity. These Marines are not bad people, in other words, even if they get excited during the adrenaline rush of combat. They don’t enjoy killing innocents, and it’s obvious they’re very concerned with helping a man in the throes of grief anyway they can.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend trying to do so somehow.
UPDATE: I was actually wrong about that—the Marines paid $2500 a head, for a total of $10,000.
Here’s the thing. At $2,500 per dead person, the U.S. could murder every man, woman, and child in Afghanistan—about 31 million people, all told—and it would cost about $77.5 billion. The war in its current state costs more than $100 billion per year. We could save a lot of money if life was really that cheap.
It’s an incredibly morbid, monstrous thing to ponder. But think about it anyway, if only for what it says about our cost considerations for the war.