As a military veteran who has had many friends deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan never to return, I was disappointed by the tone and implication of the last two sentences of “The Fallen” (Finally, November/December). What exactly was the point you were trying to make? That the service of those men was somehow not as worthy as those who are killed by Improvised Explosive Devices and enemy fire?
Peter Bartle ’95
Editor Norman Boucher replies:
“The Fallen” was intended to make the point that military history is about more than battles and explosives. Preparing troops for combat in another country requires not only supplying the equipment necessary to protect them from enemy fire, but also providing the tools to protect them from such dangers as disease, a factor that was particularly important in World War I.
It has been well-documented by many historians, including our own John Barry ’68 in his 2004 book, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, that somewhere between 50 million and 100 million people died during the 1918 flu pandemic. The historical estimate is that about half of U.S. troops fighting in Europe during World War I died from the pandemic, which is not surprising when you consider the lack of sanitation in that war’s trenches. To point out these facts in no way trivializes the death of any soldier in that war. Rather, it underscores the belief that the more we know about the many ways war exposes our troops to all kinds of life-threatening circumstances, the better the job we can do at minimizing deaths.