Adam Ash

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Iraq - it's the numbers, stupid

1. Playing The Numbers Game in Iraq - Let’s Do The Math -- by Jane Bright

Numbers mean a lot these days. Every morning we read or hear the numbers – the number of Iraqis killed in car bombs, the number of bodies found floating in the Tigris, the number of beheaded Iraqis found in Baghdad alleyways. Daily we can go online and read the latest troop deaths, arguably moving up to 3,400 coalition troops, nearly 3,100 of them Americans.

For years we have known that the estimated number of Iraqis who died due to U.S. sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s was at least half a million. These deaths occurred while Bill Clinton the Democrat was president. We’ve also read the Lancet study estimating that more than 600,000 Iraqis have died since we occupied their nation in March 2003. According to the June 2003 issue of Air Force Magazine (48-53) during the Gulf War of 1991 the estimates for Iraqi deaths ranged from 1,000 to 50,000. Human Rights Watch has estimated the number at 2,500 to 3,000. 293 Americans are estimated to have died in the Gulf War.

American body counters apparently do not tally up the number of nationals we kill when we invade and occupy a country, which is why we can only estimate the appalling number of Iraqi dead. For this reason I must estimate conservatively that the U.S. government has been responsible for, either directly or indirectly, the deaths of well over 1,000,000 Iraqis and nearly 4,000 American and allied military personnel in the past 16 years.

These numbers are important. They are important because most of the Iraqis killed were civilians. We are asking our military personnel, most of them under the age of 25, many still teenagers, to go to Iraq and, for the most part, kill civilians.

I have to believe that our government hopes we won’t do the math. George Bush asked us to go shopping a couple of days after the attacks of September 11, 2001. He also asked us to go shopping right before Christmas of 2006. That’s because as long as we are in the mall, shopping and consuming, we won’t be thinking about the more than one million Iraqis and nearly 4,000 Americans who have died over the past decade and a half.

We Americans seem to have a schizophrenic relationship with the rest of the world. On the one hand we like to reach out and help those in need, those who are beset by adversity, the underdog. At the same time we sit on our hands and do nothing while our government kills, or helps kill, over a million people in a country that never harmed us.

We stare blankly when someone mentions the occupation of Iraq. We speak meaningless euphemisms when someone dares to mention the dead Iraqis and the dead Americans. When the parent of a dead soldier, like me, starts to talk about our loss, our anguish, the unfairness of what our government has done, people avert their eyes, gulp, take a breath, nod and then change the subject. Didn’t we learn anything from our failed invasion and occupation of Vietnam? Do we think that we’ll wake up one morning and the infamy of Iraq will have been a dream.

Every Sunday I read the obituaries of military personnel reported killed by the Department of Defense for the prior week. It is painful to do this. Sunday, January 28 there were 40 obituaries. This act of tribute to the Americans killed makes me think about my own loss and remember what it felt like in the first hours, days and weeks after my son was killed. My heart hurts for the families. I do it because we must remember the dead and I’m not sure Americans are aware that people are dying daily in Iraq, otherwise we would stop the madness.

I’m afraid we’re not thinking about the ruin we have brought to Iraq. I’m afraid that in the end all the Iraqis we have killed and maimed, all the soldiers, marines, airmen and seamen we have caused to be killed and maimed will be simply numbers – part of the mathematical equations of war. Statistics.

The very least we can do is remember with humanity and respect the faceless, nameless Iraqis on whom we have declared war for no apparent reason and upon whom we have rained terror and death. The least we can do is keep alive in our hearts and in our minds the dead Americans whose names we will see in print each week, then probably forget as we head out to the mall.

2. More Than Antiwar -- by BOB HERBERT/NY Times

It was a few minutes after 11 a.m. when the scattered crowd began moving slowly toward the stage at the end of the Mall. The sky was a beautiful sunlit blue and the Capitol building, huge and white and majestic, offered the protesters an emotional backdrop that seemed almost close enough to touch.

“It’s so big,” said a woman from Milwaukee, who was there with her husband and two children. “It’s lovely. Makes you want to cry.”

You can say what you want about the people opposed to this wretched war in Iraq, try to stereotype them any way you can. But you couldn’t walk among them for more than a few minutes on Saturday without realizing that they love their country as much as anyone ever has. They love it enough to try to save it.

By 11:15 I thought there was a chance that the march against the war would be a bust. There just weren’t that many people moving toward the stage to join the rally that preceded the march. But the crowd kept building, slowly, steadily. It was a good-natured crowd. Everyone was bad-mouthing the Bush administration and the war, but everybody seemed to be smiling.

There were gray-haired women with digital cameras and young girls with braces. There were guys trying to look cool in knit caps and shades and balding baby boomers trading stories about Vietnam. And many ordinary families.

“Where’s Hillary?” someone asked.

That evoked laughter in the crowd. “She’s in Iowa running for president,” someone said.

When a woman asked, “What’s her position on the war?” a man standing next to her cracked, “She was for it before she was against it.”

More laughter.

The crowd kept building. There were people being pushed in wheelchairs and babies in strollers. There were elderly men and women, walking very slowly in some cases and holding hands.

The goal of the crowd was to get the attention of Congress and persuade it to move vigorously to reverse the Bush war policies. But the thought that kept returning as I watched the earnestly smiling faces, so many of them no longer young, was the way these protesters had somehow managed to keep the faith. They still believed, after all the years and all the lies, that they could make a difference. They still believed their government would listen to them and respond.

“I have to believe in this,” said Donna Norton of Petaluma, Calif. “I have a daughter in the reserves and a son-in-law on active duty. I feel very, very strongly about this.”

Betty and Peter Vinten-Johansen of East Lansing, Mich., said they felt obliged to march, believing that they could bolster the resolve of opponents of the war in Congress. Glancing toward the Capitol, Mr. Vinten-Johansen said, “Maybe we can strengthen their backbone a little bit.”

Even the celebrities who have been at this sort of thing for decades have managed to escape the debilitating embrace of cynicism. “How can you be cynical?” asked Tim Robbins, just before he mounted the stage to address the crowd, which by that time had grown to more than 100,000.

“This is inspiring,” he said. “It’s the real voice of the American people, and when you hear that collective voice protesting freely it reminds you of the greatness of our country. It gives you hope.”

When Jane Fonda said, “Silence is no longer an option,” she was doing more than expressing the outrage of the crowd over the carnage in Iraq and the president’s decision to escalate American involvement. She was implicitly re-asserting her belief in the effectiveness of citizen action.

Ms. Fonda is approaching 70 now and was at the march with her two grandchildren. It was very touching to watch her explain how she had declined to participate in antiwar marches for 34 years because she was afraid her notoriety would harm rather than help the effort.

The public is way out in front of the politicians on this issue. But the importance of Saturday’s march does not lie primarily in whether it hastens a turnaround of U.S. policy on the war. The fact that so many Americans were willing to travel from every region of the country to march against the war was a reaffirmation of the public’s commitment to our peaceful democratic processes.

It is in that unique and unflagging commitment, not in our terrifying military power, that the continued promise and greatness of America are to be found.


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