Disclaimer: I am not advocating a political pro- or anti-war position. This entry is purely about the use of the daily Death Toll by politicians and the media.
Every time I watch television or read a news story about the war in Iraq I am given an update on the current death toll. This shocks me, but not because of the number of people who have died. It shocks me because the death toll is not a good objective indicator of the effectiveness of strategy, the justness of the war in Iraq, or any reasonable cost/benefit analysis of the war.
Fact: The war is either just or unjust.
Fact: The war is either in the interests of the American public or against.
Those are both issues that should be openly debated by the public. Those should be the only two issues that really matter to politicians. The death toll, in this context, does not affect either issue.
If the war is just, the death toll could reach 1,000,000 and still be worth it. Certainly WWII and similar wars were, from our perspective, right, regardless of the death toll, because there are certain things which, for the sake of humankind, can not be allowed to happen.
If the war is in the best interests of the American public, it can be calculated as such. For any method of determining the value of a war, a number of casualties or deaths would have to be determined to be at a level that outweighs the benefits of the war. I'll discuss this later, but an incremental daily death toll clearly has no bearing on this. A simple "We have reached the magical number of casualties which outweigh the benefits of this war" would suffice.
If the war is unjust OR against our best interests, the death toll doesn't matter at all. Even if no American were to die, it'd be wrong to fight an unjust war, or to fight a war against our own best interests.
Logically, then, the death toll DOES NOT MATTER. It is an appeal to emotion, not a logical argument. A logical argument might be made based on the reduced GDP associated with the deaths of a certain number of soldiers compared to the value gained of a certain number of barrels per oil produced per year, or any of thousands of other calculations. Although this does include the number of deaths in its calculations, it doesn't require a daily, incremental update. There would simply be a calculated point of, say, 128,952 casualties, at which the war would be counterproductive. As previously stated, the war doesn't become just or unjust at a certain number of deaths, and there is no need to argue beyond proving "this war is unjust" or "this war is against our own interests".
If the motivation to constantly bring up the death toll was due to sympathy for the soldiers rather than political gain and maneuvering, the logical topic to discuss next would be methods of reducing the death toll (better body armor, medical research) or ways to alleviate the suffering of the families (improved VA benefits for their survivors and better medical/social/economic treatment for wounded soldiers). This is not the case in current political discussions or debates. This is not the case in current news broadcasts. Leftists/Liberals/Anti-War proponents immediately follow with another appeal to emotion such as "Bush Sucks!" or a proposal that we either: A) Bring our troops home, B) Increase the number of troops in Iraq, or C) Stay the course. These can be emotionally reworded as either A) Vote Democrat in 2008, B) Kill More Troops, C) Keep Killing the Same Number of Troops. Essentially, it is nothing more than an attempt to sidestep the actual issues and encourage people to act and make decisions based on their emotions.
So please, everybody, stop getting yourselves worked into an orgiastic fervor every time the new "Death Toll" is announced. The death toll from this war (on the American side) may be eligible for long-term military study across the world because it is so incredibly low, but that does not affect the the morality of the war, which should be the real issue. If it affects military strategy, such strategy changes will be made within the military, and are best left not decided by politicians or the general public to begin with. I don't remember there being a public debate about whether to invade at Normandy or Pas de Calais.
If you are genuinely concerned for the welfare of soldiers, do what you can to help them. There are hundreds of reputable organizations which provide care packages, additional military equipment that is not regularly issued, assistance for wounded troops, scholarships for the children of fallen soldiers, and even some very powerful lobbying activity on behalf of soldiers within Washington D.C. But please, for the good of all, do not use the death toll as a political lever which appeals to emotion and is only designed to benefit from an increasing number of soldiers.
I know this is slashdot, and it's unlikely anyone has read through my rant, but any comments or logical arguments showing why I'm wrong would be appreciated.