Why we count the casualties

Some day soon, the 4,000th American service member will die in Iraq, and antiwar activists will mark that grim milestone with vigils, marches, and other actions.

When similar events marked the 3,000th American death, on New Year’s Eve of 2006, the right wing accused us of “celebrating” the death toll.

It is anything but a celebration, of course.

We will mark the 4,000th death because it is an opportunity to remind the American people of the price we are paying for an unjustified war that will soon enter its sixth year.  Unfortunately, although they continue to say overwhelmingly that the war was a mistake and should be dended, Americans have become numbed to the casualties, which have long ago slipped from the front page.

The Associated Press reports:

Fewer people know how many U.S. troops have died in the war in Iraq, even as public attention to the conflict has gradually diminished, a poll showed Wednesday.

Only 28 percent correctly said that about 4,000 Americans have died in the war, according to a survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

That’s down from last August, when 54 percent gave the accurate casualty figure, which was about 3,500 dead at the time. In previous Pew surveys dating to 2004, about half have correctly given the rough figure for the approximate number of deaths at the time.

In the new poll, around a third said about 3,000 U.S. troops have died while about one in 10 said 2,000 deaths. Fewer overestimated the number of casualties: about a quarter put the figure close to 5,000.

The 4,000 figure, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg.  To many Americans, some deaths — those of Americans — count more than others.  And some don’t count at all.

The 4,000th coalition death was recorded last August, but went largely unreported. That includes deaths of troops from 20 US allies, most of which have small numbers there.

If you’re only concerned about American casualties, nearly 30,000 have been wounded. Many will never heal.  Their lives have been permanently destroyed — physically, emotionally, psychologically, or some combination of the three. They are brain-damaged, missing limbs and other body parts, scarred internally and externally. Those veterans, their families, our society, our country and its taxpayers will bear the costs of their injuries for the next 60 years or more, just as we continue to pay every day for Vietnam.  

Every day our troops remain there, it is guaranteed that more of them will be permanently damaged. If you have a strong stomach, a photo essay in the New England Journal of Medicine will give you a taste of what kind of casualties and injuries are being treated.  It’s not pretty.

How many Iraqis have been killed or wounded?  We don’t seem to have the foggiest idea.  Estimates range from 100,000 to more than a million, including military and civilian fatalities.

Another 4 million Iraqis have been driven from their homes, half having fled the country as refugees and the other have displaced within their own nation.

But none of those Iraqi numbers seem to count.  After all, the President says we’re there to do them a favor and bring them freedom — if they live to see it.

As we mark the 4,000th American death in Iraq, the war hawks will no doubt drag these numbers out again, revisiting the arguments from Death Number 3000, and remind us that there were 58,000 Americans killed in the Vietnam War, 36,000 in the Korean War, 405,000 in World War II and 116,000 in World War I.

So what’s the problem with 4,000?  Hardly worth mentioning, right?

That argument baffles me.

If you use use a false premise to launch an unjustified invasion, one death is too many.

Hundreds of thousands on both sides is inexcusable.  Some would say criminal.



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