12/04/2009 05:17 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Joshua Bernard Redux

In the game of chess certain kinds of openings, usually involving the sacrifice of a pawn, are called gambits. When they work as intended the sacrifices pay off in the end. But whether they work or not, they are initiated in furtherance of a commitment to victory, and chess is just a game.

President Obama's plans for US forces in Afghanistan represent another kind of gambit, only the sacrifices there will be counted in the loss of lives, and there's no commitment to victory.

Some may recall the recent controversy over publication by the AP of photos of a dying marine, mortally wounded in Afghanistan. His name was Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard, and his death was made the more poignant because the photos revealed his terrible wounds.

We don't know anything about Bernard's thoughts at the moment of his passing. We can be sure, however, that our own thoughts about such things are a good deal more abstract.

For most of us, cozy in our little homes and offices stateside, the loss of U.S. servicemen abroad is perceived in much the same way that we think of traffic fatalities. Not much more than numbers, really. Just an unavoidable, if regrettable, fact of life.

But the comparison is dreadfully wrong because traffic fatalities are just accidents, whereas the death of U.S. soldiers comes about in consequence of considered policies, presumably in our great national interest.

Nobody thinks that people who die in head-on collisions do so for some greater good. There's no moral to that story. They just die. But when soldiers die it's not just an accident, and we as citizens owe it to our servicemen and to ourselves to remember this fact.

Holding that thought for even a little while invites the unwelcome question: What words of comfort might anyone give a U.S. soldier who, perhaps like Joshua Bernard, finds himself face down in the mud in Afghanistan, both his legs blown off, in a military campaign of such apparent little importance that, had only he been able to hang on for eleven months, he could have packed up and gone home with the rest of the troops?