What's in a Number?
By Charlie Anderson
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 20 June 2006
One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.
- Joseph Stalin
Though hardly mentioned in mainstream media, this week the Pentagon released notification that three more American soldiers have died in Iraq, bringing the American death toll to 2,500. With the Bush administration's typical Stalinesque callousness, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow glibly dismissed the tragic milestone saying, "It's a number and anytime we reach one of these 500 benchmarks, people want something." To him and the administration, the 2,500 dead and 130,000 Americans currently serving in Iraq are just numbers, numbers that do not include any of his loved ones or the loved ones of anyone serving publicly in the administration. This flippant dismissal cannot lightly brush aside the pain, anguish and utter destruction brought by this war. If the administration truly believes this war can be reduced to mere numbers, perhaps we should consider some statistics left out of Mr. Snow's arrogant, insensitive and inflammatory remarks.
Mr. Snow makes no mention of the estimated 18,490 American troops wounded in Iraq, 8,500 of whom were not able to return to duty. Nor does he mention that this war has created a new medical term, "polytrauma," to describe troops who have been so horribly wounded that they require teams of doctors and scores of nurses to care for them. Mr. Snow makes no mention of the 30% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans seeking mental health care. He makes no mention of the three VA hospitals that will be closed this year as the number of veterans eligible for services skyrockets. Mr. Snow's "number" does not include the 226 of the so-called "coalition of the willing" who have sacrificed their lives in this war, many from countries who have already realized that victory is impossible and disentangled themselves.
Chief among the "people who want something" are the Iraqi people, who have sacrificed more than 4,800 police officers in the line of duty. As many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in a war over which they had no control. Thousands more have died or contracted illnesses from the lack of electricity, poor sanitation, and dirty water created by this war. The statistical view also obscures the psychological impact of thirteen years of constant bombing, destroyed buildings, ruined homes, unemployment and utter despair felt by many Iraqis. The majority of Iraqis believe the occupation is destabilizing their country: 64% of Iraqis believe that crime and violent attacks will decrease when American troops are withdrawn, 67% of Iraqis believe that day-to-day security will increase when American troops are withdrawn, and 73% of Iraqis believe that the political process will be more cooperative when American troops are withdrawn.
On his second point, Mr. Snow is right: as Americans begin to feel the impact of this seemingly endless war, we want something. Recent polls show that nearly 50% of us want our troops withdrawn within the next year. Moreover, 72% of troops serving in Iraq believe the war should be ended by December of this year. Perhaps that is because the troops have spent significant time on the streets of Iraq, as opposed to Mr. Snow's one day photo op in the heavily insulated Green Zone.
Mr. Snow is correct - in the literal sense, 2,500 is just a number. But we must never glibly dismiss what that number represents. It represents hundreds of children who will grow up without a parent. It represents thousands of men and women who will not grow old with their spouses, and it represents thousands of grieving parents who will never spend another holiday with their children. It also represents a war that defies logic and ideas of responsible government, by even the most conservative standards. After enduring thousands of pointless deaths, the majority of Americans want what they wanted when the death toll was only 2,499: we want the war to end. The American people want the war to end, the British and other coalition countries want the war to end, the Iraqi people want the war to end, and we want it to end before Mr. Snow is dodging another tragic benchmark.
Charlie Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org) served as a Navy Hospital Corpsman with Marine Corps' Second Tank Battalion during the invasion of Iraq. He is the Southeast Regional Coordinator of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia.