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American Interest: The Wounded Home Front

Author: Robert D. Kaplan
January 1, 2011

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The human costs of today's small wars are difficult to get one's head around. It's a powerful reason to seek to avoid such conflicts in the future, writes Robert D. Kaplan, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

Covering the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, I learned that most of the land mines that the Soviets laid were designed to maim, not kill. The Soviets knew that a dead body causes no tactical inconvenience. It only removes the one dead person from the field. But a wounded person requires the assistance of people all the way down the line who could otherwise be fighting. Likewise with the home front in a war. The dead leave an awful vacancy in the lives of loved ones, but those who are seriously wounded or psychologically traumatized can disrupt families and society more. Families of the dead can move on, as difficult as it may be, and as awful as it may be to say; the families of the seriously maimed, physically or psychologically, never can.

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