Sunday, October 15, 2006


The U.S. has passed a key point in its activities in Iraq, one that I think should not escape notice.

As of today, the number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq--2,753--has passed the number of people killed on September 11, 2001, in New York City's World Trade Center--2,752.

At the current rate of losses--46 so far this month in Iraq--by the time the next Congress convenes, the U.S. political leadership will probably have more U.S. deaths to answer for in Iraq than the total number who died on 9/11, in New York, at the Pentagon, and in a Pennsylvania field.

Numbers tell the story we ask them to tell, and these numbers can be read many ways. Certainly many more thousands could have been killed in New York. Certainly the next attack, from Iraq or anywhere else, could kill thousands more. The numbers above do not include American deaths in Afghanistan--and they do not include the vastly larger numbers of Iraqi and Afghani deaths from the past few years, whether civilians or people who were fighting the invading forces. The deaths suffered by the U.S. military in Iraq pretty clearly are not part of any "war on terror," and specifically they can't be considered a response to the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, which was perpetrated mostly by Saudi Arabs, led by a Yemeni based in Afghanistan. (Until 9/11, the man responsible for the most deaths ever in a terror attack on U.S. soil was an American, a former Marine.) We can only speculate on what Iraq's path would have been under Saddam Hussein if the U.S. had not stepped in. It may be even harder today to speculate what Iraq's course will be five years from now.

I'm not saying we should or shouldn't, or have or haven't. I'm not measuring how successful we have been at cutting the odds of an attack on the U.S. in the future; I'm not asking whether those lives were spent well or in vain. Any war is a mess. I'm not asking how prepared our leaders have left the U.S. today to make the same sacrifices to effect regime change in North Korea, a dictatorship with real nuclear weapons, not phantom ones, and with a declared and demonstrated program for developing missiles that can deliver those weapons to North America. I know that South Korea is not prepared to risk Seoul to stop a North Korean first strike that could kill millions. North Korea's intercontinental missiles will not be pointed at South Korea.

I'm not asking how prepared the U.S. is in 2006 for the moment when Beijing decides to send troops to occupy Taiwan, which mainland China considers a renegade province in much the same way that Iraq considered Kuwait its own property or Syria regards Lebanon. Have our political leaders considered economic and military contingency plans for any scenario worse than a misfired Florida election? I don't want to know. Are our political leaders ready to risk their own children's lives to ward off a hypothetical threat, or will they only send other people's kids to be maimed by IEDs? I'm certainly not going to vote on whether it's time for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq: What should we do now with the mess we've made?

But it is a solemn moment when we sacrifice more of our own than the bad guys ever did, in order to prevent some future holocaust. Each of these deaths has torn a hole in many lives, just as each of the 9/11 deaths did, just as every death does.

And I don't think a moment like that should go unremarked.

(Sources: Iraq deaths, CNN. WTC deaths, CBS.)

1 comment:

Andrew Shields said...

You seemed so calm at 8:37 a.m. You should not have listened to the news. :-( A.