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Casualties of War

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Yesterday President Bush marked the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq with a speech at the Pentagon [1] claiming that "The world is better, and the United States is safer" as result of a war that has claimed nearly 4000 American lives, wounded 30,000 [2] and cost well over $500 billion and counting. 

But is the world and the United States in particular, really better off today? Well the answer depends on whom you ask. This writer makes no claims of expertise but as someone employed in the aerospace industry know that the war has been very good for the weapons and defense contractors who have seen their profits soar as a result of billions of dollars worth of military goods and equipment orders. Big money for them is in the annual Pentagon budget which rose from $294 billion in 2000 to its proposed $515 billion in 2009 [3] not including the cost of the ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan which are funded through separate supplemental budget requests.    

The Defense Department does not keep an exact number [4] of the contractors it employs, but according to the latest report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics [5] on American Workforce the total is still considered to be a fraction of the total 150 million labor pool which is getting older, increasingly female, more white-collar and as of late more unemployed, uninsured, and less well off. 

An analysis conducted by McClatchy Newspapers [6] in 2007 found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005.  In the meantime, the average price [7] for a gallon of gasoline has increased from $1.25 in January 2000 to $3.25 today with many analysts predicting $4.00 by early summer.

And those lucky enough to be excluded from the 47 million medically uninsured, insurance premiums have increased [8] by $1,400 for family coverage in 2007 versus what they paid in 2000.  Employment-based health insurance premiums have also increased by 100 percent, compared to cumulative inflation of 24 percent and cumulative wage growth of 21 percent during the same period.

Income gaps have reached unprecedented historic levels [9] between the richest Americans receiving the biggest tax breaks passed by the this administration, and those at the middle who shoulder a larger tax burden and whose paychecks buys less and less as result of soaring health care, tuition, gas, and food prices. 

So how can Mr. Bush openly defend this costly debacle as a smashing success in face of such pervasive dire outcome?  The answer may come from a survey conducted by Pew Research Center [10] last week that found public awareness of the American military fatalities in Iraq has declined sharply since last August. Only 28% of those surveyed were able to approximate the correct number of Americans that have lost their lives in the Iraq war.

Sadly, the prevailing apathy toward those who govern us through fear and neglecting the idea of holding power to account as informed members of civil society has been the greatest casualty of this war.

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Daniel M Pourkesali is a Project Manager with an Aerospace company in Northern Virginia specializing in development and manufacturing of flight dynamics, engineering and control systems.

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