Of “Grim Milestones” and Perspective
For today's reading, I offer you this thought-provoking guest article by Mike R. The Media is agitated and exercised over another three zero number (4000) in the death toll in the Iraq War and of course the presidential candidates are making great hay over it as well trying to out-somber each other in front of audiences and the cameras. A few observations occur to me as I watch the carnival over carnage and all the huffing and puffing. The first is that the media and the left (as if they were separate entities) have been cheering on the number for the last six months with a macabre sort of finger pointing glee. We have been treated to the line “nearly four thousand dead” for quite some time as if we were watching the fund raising thermometer in the town square rise toward the desired goal. The breathlessness of the anticipatory reporting seems to me to blunt the actual fact when it finally arises; “nearly four thousand dead” IS four thousand dead in our minds and has been since they began reporting it this way. Another thing that occurs to me as I watch and am bombarded by the headline and the opining around it is the sense of the odd sort of importance placed on the four thousandth death as if it were the four thousandth customer to come through the store doorway complete with confetti and coupons. I keep wondering when the press is going to give us the name, a photo, family background, point of origin and time of death of Mr. or Ms. four thousand, like the first baby of the new year. Maybe we can be treated to a weeping family member interview as well, with a reporter jamming a microphone in the family member’s face and asking something like “how does it feel to be the relative of number four thousand and do you have anything to say to President Bush and Dick Cheney?” I also wonder how the relatives of the Mr. or Ms. ‘almost four thousand’ feel, cheated, less important, almost but not quite a hero? I wonder how I am supposed to feel and properly emote now over the forgotten first victim, if at all All the hand wringing and out-somber (ing) and moralizing and “is it worth it (ing)” started me wondering why, after five years of war, four thousand isn’t actually a pretty ‘good’ number as wars go. I don’t say this in any flippant disregard for the individuals or their families, they are all precious lives lost in a horrible extension of human inhumanity, whatever the right or wrong of, or justification or lack of justification for the war was in the first place. It also got me to wondering how the number, four thousand in five years, stacked up against five years of another horrible statistic. While it is not quite the same, it doesn’t seem to be deserving of bold headlines and moralizing, and “what are we doing (ing)” and downcast low-talking in front of cameras as we mark “another grim milestone”, it is a bit sobering to contemplate. Namely, the murder rates over that same period in some of America’s largest cities. With the help of my fiancée doing a little digging and totaling for me, we found that over the same period (2003 to the present), Chicago’s “grim milestone” is 2382, Los Angeles’ is 2524 and New York’s is 4112. No doubt all loved ones of someone with lives and families and hopes and dreams also. I understand that many will take exception to this comparison because these were not patriotic volunteers acting as the extension of the nation’s will and policy, placed in harm’s way half way around the world with a debatable morality and purpose to the action but they are nonetheless, all lives lost to violence. They leave behind the same grief and no doubt suffered similarly in terror as their lives were extinguished. I also wonder why the pundits and anchors and politicians don’t treat us to a running tally each night using terms like “grim milestone” as we cross another three zero threshold on our way to some final number which raises our consciousness and outrage to a level of intolerability and calls for action. Why are these deaths less significant, more tolerable? As I watch the news on the “grim milestone” be reported, I am informed of ‘interesting’ additional statistics such as the study which shows that 97% of the casualties in Iraq have occurred since the president’s infamous speech about the end of major combat operations in Iraq (the “mission accomplished” speech) as if this had any meaning whatsoever. As any war historian can explain, the grinding work of war, ‘clearing and holding’ territory is far more dangerous than air strikes, the use of stand off weapons and other armored assault with heavy weapons, but that doesn’t make a headline or offer the opportunity for editorializing against the president on the grounds that we were somehow led to believe that the killing and the threat of being killed was over, a completely false interpretation of his words. The “grim milestone” story is also accompanied by further ‘proof’ that the surge isn’t working either, because the killing and dieing has not ended. This is reported and otherwise commented on as if there were something formulaic, guaranteed and magically predictable about adding troops and employing a different strategy to fight the war. That this “grim milestone”, how ever arbitrary, was not supposed to have been reached, seems to be the reasoning that we are to follow and we are to be more outraged and somber today than yesterday. I find it remarkable that more people have been murdered in New York City over this same period without the recognition of a mile marker or a call for consciousness and moral examination.
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