As killings surge in “pacified” Iraq and our war in Afghanistan appears more lost than ever, the question was rising anyway: Were American lives lost in those two wars, particularly in Afghanistan, “in vain”?

Now, more than ever, this debate has been sparked by the new (surprise) hit movie Lone Survivor and comments by that survivor of an ill-fated Afghanistan mission, Marcus Luttrell. He got into a bit of a tiff on TV the other day with CNN’s Jake Tapper (a big supporter of vets groups, by the way) after the news host gently suggested it was at least worthy to wonder about that lives-lost-in-vain question. I’m old enough to remember going through all this re: Vietnam about forty years ago.

That sparked a round of Web shouting at Tapper, or at Luttrell, and then a round of defending each. Glenn Beck, a Luttrell buddy, joined in. Tapper took to Facebook to declare that he did not say or believe that the death “meant nothing” and posted this:

We need to have open, honest, and yes uncomfortable conversations about this war. We can’t do that if any time someone sees things differently they’re accused of hating the troops. Questions HONOR the troops. And our freedom to ask them is what they fight and die for..

Does each of the deaths in Afghanistan make sense to my critics? If so, God bless and give me your number, I know some widows and moms who would love to hear the explanation, the “sense.”

That is not the same however as saying those troops died in vain. They died for whatever brought them there. Their battle buddies. Their faith. Their sense of justice.…

I would hope that my reporting trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, my book about Combat Outpost Keating, my two CNN documentaries about Medal of Honor recipients, and my continued reporting on veterans and troops and their families would belie that accusation.

Apparently not.

Now, via Tom Ricks’s site at Foreign Policy, a former intelligence officer, Jim Gourley, has raised provocative questions—under the heading, “Yes, Marcus. They Did Die in Vain”—that are sure to spark more discussion (and probably anger in some quarters). You have to register to read it, so I’ll link here to a lengthy summary and excerpts at AmericaBlog, including:

Over the last decade, our top leaders have wasted the lives of our sons, daughters, and comrades with their incompetence and hubris. After each failure, our citizens have failed to hold them accountable, instead underwriting new failed strategies as quickly as their predecessors with our apathy and sense of detachment. And then we use the tired paeans of “never forget” and “honor the fallen” to distract ourselves from our guilt in the affair. When we blithely declare that they did not die in vain, we deface their honor by using it to wipe the blood from our hands.

We have lost our collective ability to win a war as well as the strength of character to accept defeat. And in the end, it is those who represent the epitome of that character we lack that pay the price. Can there be a death any more in vain than one that secures for us freedoms that we hold in such low regard as to not even use them on behalf of those that protect us? If there is, I cannot think of one.

It is my greatest hope that Luttrell’s response opens a national dialogue on this subject, and that people finally embrace the true, terrible nature of our self-inflicted losses. Let us as a nation finally feel the guilt we ought to for failing our civic duty. And let that be what we remember before we send the next servicemember to battle. For surely, there will be a next war. When it comes, let us be a nation of people who are as faithful to our principles and considerate of our obligations as those who fight for us. Let us be worthy of their sacrifice. That is the only way to prevent them from dying in vain.

Cenk Uygur at Young Turks opined, referring to the “Lone Survivor” mission: “There was no reason that we should’ve been in Afghanistan at that point, let alone today. There was a reason to go into Afghanistan in the first place, but twelve, thirteen years later, there’s no sense in it. It’s not dishonoring them, we’re criticizing the people that sent them in to die, and to get killed, for no reason. That’s senseless.”

For more on Iraq and Afghanistan wars, see Greg Mitchell’s book, So Wrong for So Long. His personal blog is Pressing Issues.