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The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars Hardcover – July 1, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (July 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195381211
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195381214
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.2 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #227,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"This sad and gripping record of crimes we dare not face, and the probing analysis of the roots of indifference and denial, tell us all too much about ourselves. It should be read, and pondered." -Noam Chomsky

"John Tirman has not only written a profoundly important, revelatory work about something that most people in this country ignore; he has looked deep into our history and the American mind to see why we ignore it. I wish I could give this highly readable book to everyone, from general to private to the civilian bureaucrats who send them off to kill, who shares the illusion that war mainly involves soldiers." -Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars

"The Deaths of Others is an incredibly important venture. I know of no other book that so comprehensively catalogues the victims of U.S. wars . . . Tirman has given us the definitive study of an extremely important but neglected subject. It a must-read for anyone concerned with the lethal impact of U.S. policy on people in all corners of the world." --The Progressive

"Stunning . . . Tirman lays out his strenuously argued case with considerable cogency . . . Tirman renders us great service by providing a fuller picture of the consequences of war and challenging us not to reject data simply because it is not congruent with our favored worldview . . . If Americans today marshal the resolve to enact workable normas ensuring that our use of drones will always discriminate between civilians and legimate enemy targets, then we will at last be facing up to the crucial moral questions raised in this book." --America

"In this extraordinary work, John Tirman engages and investigates an area that has generated relatively little attention or thought over several decades, if not centuries: the deaths of others ... [a] thought-provoking and powerful book."--David Ryan, International Affairs (01/05/2012)

"John Tirman has written a compelling and impassioned plea for attention to a neglected
and vital aspect of American history. He argues that Americans have ignored the human costs of their wars, and his book provides a grim tour of the devastation and suffering that the U.S. military has inflicted on civilians... [Tirman] has restarted an important discussion of the human costs of war. It is a conversation well worth continuing, and we can be grateful that Tirman has not provided all the answers."--Journal of American History

About the Author

John Tirman is Principal Research Scientist and Executive Director of the Center for International Studies, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His books include Terror, Insurgency, and the State: Ending Protracted Conflicts and 100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World.

More About the Author

My focus on the "human element" of war goes back several years. Most of my books have engaged the causes and consequences of war for the innocent people caught up in conflict. This is a neglected topic in academic research and gets little attention in the news media. Somehow, the ordinary people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and other venues of war don't seem to count for much. The topic is not only important politically and morally -- for how we shape war policies -- but is fascinating (often heart-rending) as stories. Millions of people have been killed in U.S. wars (and other wars, of course), many more millions have been made homeless, destitute, and damaged. Yet we seem as a society to care very little for these people. It's an enormous puzzle, really, why so many civilians suffer in war and why we do so little about that.

I recall one of the best war documentaries ever, "Hearts and Minds," which was about the Vietnam War. Near the end, a Vietnamese man was sobbing over the rubble of his home, which had been bombed by the U.S., asking why his village, which had no military value, was destroyed, and his family destroyed with it. "Tell Nixon she was only a little girl," he cried about his young daughter, "a little schoolgirl." You see this and you must wonder, How could this possibly happen?

So I have set out to explore how and why ordinary people are buffeted by war. Much of my work at MIT is focused on these kinds of questions. The "terrible swift sword" of war strikes all around, even the innocent, particularly the innocent. This -- and the hope to prevent it -- is my life's work.

For a fuller and more conventional bio, see

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Paul Gelman on September 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In a way, John Tirman's excellent book is a journey into the American psyche,or, to be more precise, into the minds of those who hold the power and have the ability to destroy the lives of others without giving a thought about the horrendous possible outcome of their decisions.
In Tirman's view, it all started when the conquest of the wilderness and the subjugation of the Native Americans has resulted in mass genocide and the extemination of the others, thus creating and forging the American values, most of them based on violence. This was the famous American frontier myth, which became a seminal topic discussed by yet another historian, Richard Slotkin. The Americans regarded themselves as the Messiahs coming to rescue the other, uncivilized parts of America, and all the other wars were an extension of this raison d'etre. American history is based on violence and upon the premise that the others, such as the Orientals were and still are inferior compared to the White Man. In the name of civilizing those who are "gooks" or those who embody the "yellow peril", many atrocities were committed, causing the unnnecessary loss of the lives of tens of millions. This manifested itself during the wars of the twentieth century, in particular the Korean War,in WW2, during Vietnam and the Iraqi adventures. True, there was no other choice but to join the other allies in fighting for the interests of the American people. However, the Americans gave very little thought to the death of so many innocent civilians and this makes all the difference.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By T. ORourke on May 23, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
I cannot imagine how this topic could be covered any better. The writing is beautiful with nary a wasted word. The facts are appalling. We must dismantle the military-industrial complex; it is quite clear no one in charge understands anything other than killing, and we keep getting better and better at that and worse and worse at controlling it.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dupin on August 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This thoughtful and engaging analysis of the American psyche at war ponders the painful question of why Americans have been so indifferent to civilian casualties of armed conflict. Tirman's highly readable account focuses on the four post-World War II wars we have fought - in Korea, in Vietnam, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq -- and in each case shows that the American public has at best been only fitfully concerned about the deaths of innocent civilians, even when an announced justification for war was to "save" those people from "oppression." Tirman does not single out anyone or any institution for special blame, (though readers will find themselves appalled by the news media's consistent neglect of this important topic). Instead, he probes America's history for a psycho-cultural explanation, and he finds it in our oldest myth: that we are a frontier nation fighting for freedom against uncivilized enemies. This myth portrays our acts of violence as being both justifiable (since we serve the sacred cause of liberty) and redemptive (through violence we purge ourselves of sin and re-dedicate ourselves to our national mission). The deaths of others don't really disturb to us, Tirman argues, because the violence we wreak is not really about them: "The native populations, whether friend or foe, are bit players in this drama and scarcely of concern: the applied violence is not about them, in the American view, but about us... and our own sense of self-worth." Sidestepping the predictable Left/Right categories of political analysis, this trenchant book should be required reading for thoughtful Americans all across the political spectrum.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sick of Spin on July 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Tirman has written one of the most important books of the decade, a must read for anyone who cares about the justice or injustice of our wars. Christians, Muslims, Jews and others who claim to take the Just War Tradition seriously all profess to believe that no war is just unless non-combatants are kept immune from attack. Unlike most Europeans and Asians, most Americans are gleefully oblivious to the millions of innocent civilians killed as the United States pursues its "national interests" abroad. Tirman documents those millions of deaths and raises disturbing but necessary questions about why we Americans just don't seem to give a damn about the destruction of so many innocents. Tirman helps us understand why our churches, synagogues and mosques routinely pray for the well being of "our troops" but never the for the millions of innocent victims they kill. What does this tell us about our nation and ourselves?
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