Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Meanings of a Milestone

The 2,000 American troop casualties in Bush War I don't come close to the 50,000 who didn't return from Vietnam. But as that grim milestone was reached Tuesday, some other disturbing facts have emerged about this war -- which appears ever more clearly, day by day, to have been promulgated by fraud and deceit. Namely, who is dying, and who are so critically wounded that their lives are drastically altered.

Who are the dead? First and foremost, Iraqis. The Associated Press estimates that upwards of 30,000 Iraqis -- most of them civilians -- have been killed. Writes AP's Jim Krane:
Judith Yaphe, a former CIA Iraq analyst and a senior fellow at National Defense University, said she accepts Iraqi appraisals of 20,000 to 30,000 killed.

And military analyst Anthony Cordesman, a widely respected expert on Iraq, said in a report issued Friday that the Iraq Body Count figure of around 30,000 Iraqis killed was "extremely uncertain," but that it did seem the best estimate of all those available. (Read the entire article.)

Krane notes that the Iraqi criminal homicide rate, which numbers about 10,000 annually, adds to the carnage.

As far as American casualties are concerned, James Dao of the New York Times has uncovered a troubling reality: 20 percent of the U.S. dead were in second or third tours, or more. That makes serving on active duty a harrowing ordeal of Russian roulette, knowing your chances of coming back alive decrease every time you return:

More than 420 service members, the majority of them marines and soldiers, have died while on repeat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. That number is expected to climb steadily as the Pentagon continues to rotate its main front-line combat battalions into Iraq.
Also, Dao notes, the deaths are occurring with increasing frequency:
While it took 18 months to reach 1,000 dead, it has taken just 14 to reach 2,000. More powerful and sophisticated explosive devices are a major reason, causing nearly half of the deaths in the second group. (Read the entire article.)
And the nation's "weekend warriors" were especially vulnerable, Dao found:
The nation's part-time warriors in the National Guard and the Reserve also shouldered a larger burden, accounting for about 30 percent of the deaths, an increase of more than 10 percentage points. The heavier toll came as Guard and Reserve forces were called to combat in larger numbers than at any other time since Vietnam, a role the Pentagon plans to scale back in the coming year.
Dao's long story is wrenching because it describes the emotions of the families of those who were sent back again and again. The anger stems from the frustration of having to return to Iraq because there were not enough troops to control the country after the war -- the easy part -- was won.

But many who have served have returned home. For them the war is over -- and their lives are hopelessly shattered, along with their arms and legs, left behind in the desert or in operating rooms. As Reuters reported on Sunday:

[M]ilitary doctors said some troops who may have died in previous wars are surviving, but with grievous injuries such as multiple limb amputations. More than 300 troops have undergone at least one limb amputation. By far the single biggest cause of combat wounds are blasts from IEDs [roadside bombs]. (Read the entire article.)
(Stewart Nusbaumer, and an amputee from the Vietnam war who is an editor at Intervention magazine, an antiwar publication, visited Walter Reed hospital in suburban D.C. and wrote about life after recovery. It is bitter, and tinged with opposition to the war, but it is insightful for its honesty. Read it here.)

As the nation waits for possible answers that may come from what unfolds in the Valerie Plame investigation, we are faced with continuing questions about how to quantify a war horribly ill-conceived. We must remind ourselves as the numbers of dead on all sides increase in the days to come that the true cost of war is uncountable.