It's a Number

Monday, 24 March 2008 23:00 By William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Columnist | name.
You can always hear the people who are willing to sacrifice somebody else's life. They're plenty loud and they talk all the time. You can find them in churches and schools and newspapers and legislatures and congress. That's their business. They sound wonderful. Death before dishonor. This ground sanctified by blood. These men who died so gloriously. They shall not have died in vain. Our noble dead. Hmmmm. But what do the dead say?

- Dalton Trumbo, "Johnny Got His Gun"

    White House press secretary Tony Snow, the third man to hold that post in the Bush administration since 2001, began the June 15, 2006, noon press briefing with a few prepared remarks before opening the floor to questions from the assembled crowd of reporters. The first to speak noted, "American deaths in Iraq have reached 2,500," before asking, "Is there any response or reaction from the president on that?"

    "It's a number," replied Snow, "and every time there's one of these 500 benchmarks people want something."

    As of that June day in 2006, the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq had reached "one of these 500 benchmarks" for a fifth time since the 2003 invasion. Snow's unabashed dismissal of the grim reality that number represented was as vile as it was predictable, a perfect illustration of the administration's cold indifference and demented priorities. It's a number. It's a benchmark. People want something. Next question.

    On Monday, that benchmark was reached for an eighth time. Four US soldiers were killed late Sunday when their vehicle was bombed in south Baghdad, bringing the total number of American troops lost in Iraq to 4,000. It's a number. It's a benchmark. People want something. Next question.

    Last year's military escalation in Iraq was touted by the Bush administration as a can't-fail solution to the carnage and chaos of a ferocious sectarian civil war they refused to acknowledge even existed. It was a tough sell from the beginning, or so it seemed back then, as every poll of public opinion on Iraq and all things Bush said a large majority of Americans believed attacking Iraq was a comprehensively bad idea, and the occupation of Iraq needed to end soon so the troops may come home. Those same polls, when crunched in the proper fashion, also had an even larger majority of Americans coming to the conclusion George W. Bush was more popular than contracting shingles while drowning in a vat of lemon juice, but just barely.

    Clearly, there was branding to be done if Bush's legacy and signature foreign policy program were to be salvaged. Thus, those same linguistic wizards from the White House who came up with the "Clear Skies Initiative" label to disguise both the comprehensive deregulation of environmental protections and the carnival of unbridled pollution it produced; those same wizards who duped everyone including Teddy Kennedy into believing "No Child Left Behind" was anything other than a bonfire lit beneath public education standards; those same wizards who deployed comments like "plastic sheeting and duct tape" and "Islamofascist" and "Bring 'em on" to make sure everyone was afraid, aggressive and ignorant in equal measure; those same wizards who convinced Americans things like privacy and liberty and rights and the Constitution were quaint and dangerous anachronisms we need to abandon before the terrorists use them to destroy America; those same wizards were also able to gloss over the escalation of a hopeless war with another vacant, vapid and now-ubiquitous euphemism known as "The Surge."

    "The Surge" was going to lead us out of Iraq, at first, kinda, until "The Surge" became the main argument for why we had to stay in Iraq for now, until a date to be determined later, or maybe not for another hundred years, give or take, according to a war hero who survived unimaginable torture so he could become the GOP's presidential standard-bearer and be for the torture of anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances and in the name of America, before he was against it, as far as anyone knows, or something.

    "The Surge" was keeping American soldiers safe, sort of, except for those four American soldiers who died on Monday, except for those 600 American soldiers who died during "The Surge," and even though "The Surge" was supposed to make it harder for American soldiers to die, even though "The Surge" began as a finite thing but became an indefinite action that smells like another reason to stay in Iraq forever, none of that matters because the consensus seems to be "The Surge" is good and so America is winning and all is right with the world.

    Leave off the fact that a married couple and their three sons died when either a rocket or a mortar hit their central Baghdad home, that two people died and seven were wounded by mortars in central Baghdad, that another person died in an attack in eastern Baghdad, that six dead bodies were discovered all across Baghdad, that four Iraqi soldiers were killed while on patrol near Kirkuk, that gunmen killed a police lieutenant and wounded two other police officers in central Baquba, that a suicide car bomber killed six or more people and wounded ten in northwestern Baghdad, that a suicide truck bomber attacked an Iraqi army base and killed 13 soldiers while wounding 42 others in Mosul, that a suicide car bomber killed one soldier and wounded eight others in Mosul, that gunmen killed seven people and wounded 16 others in southern Baghdad, that a roadside bomb wounded two people in central Baghdad, that a Katyusha rocket was fired into the Green Zone, killed five people and wounde d eight in eastern Baghdad, that gunmen murdered Colonel Akram Awad al-Omairi, commander of a rapid reaction unit outside his home in the town of Abu Saida, and that a suicide car bomb killed five people and wounded 11 north of Baghdad.

    That was Sunday.

    Four more American soldiers were killed in Iraq. Four thousand Americans have died in Iraq since that first bright idea for invasion and occupation was realized in 2003. The press won't touch the subject, because they are just as much to blame as anyone, and there are actually still a few who try to argue it was a bully idea to butcher 4,000 American volunteers and nobody knows how many others in the process, but that's only on Fox News. The politicians of both parties won't touch this, except to give speeches from a distance, because most of them have blood on their hands. The Bush administration just wants us to hear their rosy "any-day-now" balderdash and nothing else, because they have a job to do that has nothing to do with how you feel or where you stand or who you love.

    It's a number. It's a benchmark. People want something. Next question.

Last modified on Tuesday, 20 May 2008 00:10