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Did we kill 90 civilians in Afghanistan, 60 of them children, or only five?
If it was only five, can we justify their deaths by the need to kill 25 militants, as we claimed?
The "we" in these questions refer to we Americans. We enjoy a representative form of government, meaning decisions like waging war belong to all of us. And when we decide, or let our representatives decide on our behalf, to go to war, we share the responsibility that decision carries.
If our representatives go beyond serving our interests, that's our responsibility, as well.
The United Nations found "convincing evidence," according to an Associated Press report last week, that U.S. coalition troops and Afghan forces killed 90 civilians, including 60 children, in air strikes in western Afghanistan. American officials said we killed only 25 militants and five civilians.
Another report from last week, this one from the New York Times, informed us three soldiers shot and killed four handcuffed and blindfolded Iraqi prisoners early last year, according to two of the soldiers.
Sgt. First Class Joseph P. Mayo, a platoon sergeant, and Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr., a senior medic and acting squad leader, said they killed the Iraqis as retribution for the deaths of two fellow soldiers, one by a sniper's bullet and the other in a roadside-bomb blast.
Mayo and Leahy are our soldiers. We deployed them overseas to carry out one of our national objectives, as defined by their commander-in-chief, our president. They are further proof that when we send our troops into horrible situations, horrible outcomes are possible.
The deaths of "only five" civilians seem almost acceptable when compared to 90, but we all know those five each had loved ones whose lives were ripped apart by their losses.
Through our commander-in-chief, we have been threatening Iran for several years, even as we fought the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We recently resumed tough talk aimed at Russia, and we have warships in both neighborhoods.
What mistakes will we make in coming weeks, months and years? What lapses of judgment will we suffer? What will their costs be, in the lives of our soldiers and of the fighters and civilians whose lands we occupy?
What will be the cost to that element within us - our humanity - which we perceive to be our highest good?
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