I found myself listing to a talk radio show on NPR’s Philadelphia affiliate WHYY today, which focused in part on the agonies suffered by families of American troops killed or seriously maimed in Iraq.
Left unsaid—and this I think is the case in nearly all the reporting that gets done on the costs of the Iraq War that are being borne here in the US by relatives of troops—is the terrible reality that we’re talking about the relatives of just 4500 American servicemen and women killed, and perhaps 30,000 seriously wounded (not counting the hundreds of thousands suffering mental damage). Not to diminish that suffering, it needs to be pointed out that by some accounts, well over 1 million Iraqis have died in this illegal, uncalled-for and criminal war.
And most of the dead, contrary to what we are told by the corporate media, are victims of the US military, not Iraqi bombers. The immense firepower of American forces, and the over-use of rockets, pilotless, rocket-firing drones, and aerial bombardment (designed to keep US casualties as low as possible), ensure high levels of civilian casualties (called collateral damage, or on rare occasions “unfortunate mistakes”), and we are unable to obtain accurate numbers because the US “doesn’t do bodycounts.”
And a disproportionate number of those civilians are children and young people. This has also been documented by researchers and has been observed anecdotally in hospitals. Children, because they are less aware of what’s going on around them, are less able to defend themselves, and are in general more vulnerable, are the main victims in this kind of brutal urban war fighting.
Now recall that for every Iraqi killed, whether that person is a fighter or a civilian, there is a grieving family, whose loss is every bit as terrible as is the loss suffered by an American family. What you get is perhaps 4-5 million Iraqis, in a nation of 24 million, who are suffering this inconsolable losses.
But that’s just the dead and the relatives of the dead.
For every Iraqi who has been killed, there are surely two or three or more who have been gravely wounded, crippled, or driven mad. Even if we assume that shamefully poor medical care in Iraq assures that half of Iraq’s gravely wounded die instead of surviving with their wounds as our returned casualties do, that would add another two million to the casualties, and another 8 million to the number of impacted family members—for a total of 12 million—almost half of all Iraq!
It is wrong to say much of this tragedy is the fault of Iraqis. Prior to the US invasion, Iraqis were not massacring Iraqis. Across most of Iraq, Shia and Sunni lived side by side. They intermarried easily, with no bad repercussions. Certainly they suffered under the repression of dictator Saddam Hussein, but nothing like what they suffer today.
The reality is that the Bush/Cheney regime tricked the nation into becoming a terrorist aggressor, invading a nation by claiming falsely that it had, or was about to acquire weapons of mass destruction. In the process our military became what it was allegedly trying to find: a weapon of mass destruction that has wreaked devastation upon Iraq as far-reaching and incomprehensibly destructive as any atomic bomb.
I have great sympathy for those Americans who have lost loved ones in, or whose loved ones have returned broken to them from Iraq.
But I do not want us to forget the incomparably greater suffering that has been brought on Iraqis in our names and thanks to our tax dollars and our political naivety and gullibility.
Yes, Senator Jim Webb is right that we owe better treatment to our veterans, who for the most part are victims of the same criminal machinations of our political leaders as are the Iraqis. But we also owe much better to the Iraqis, who are continuing to be killed, maimed and left bereft by our military and by our government’s mad insistence on “staying the course.”
It is way past time that we started thinking about them.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2008). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net