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.
  • Bob Piccard
    Comment from: Bob Piccard
    03/26/08 @ 07:22:16 am

    Mike, You left out Normandy and drunk driving fatalities. You also left out the fluid justification for those deaths. That fluidity started, you will recall, with, "He has nuclear weapons," and morphed into, "He has chemical and radiological weapons," and became, "He has weapons of mass destruction." Which he didn't, so then the deaths were justified by "bring democracy to the middle east." (Sometimes, "bring democracy to the Iraqi people.") And now the goal is an Iraq that can sustain itself and be an ally in the war on terror. I think. I think, broadly speaking, people tend to be more accepting of sacrifice when the reason for the sacrifice is comprehensible and consistent. Whenever I read this stuff about four thousand (or three thousand, or one thousand and eighty-two) not being, really, a very big number, I always want to ask if the person making the case has any connection to any of the corpses. So tell me, Mike, one being a much smaller number than 4,000, did you know one of those relatively insignificant dead people?

  • Comment from: Rossputin
    03/26/08 @ 07:46:12 am

    Bob, I'm sure Mike will respond himself, but I think you're intentionally misreading what he wrote, and doing the usual liberal illogical spin, trying to turn everything back to WMD rather than talking about the present. Mike went out of his way to say that none of those deaths was insignificant and it's quite disingenuous of you to suggest otherwise. Ross

  • Rusty Staff
    Comment from: Rusty Staff
    03/26/08 @ 08:28:16 am

    While the reporting (by the Associated Press) of the 'grim milestone' of 4,000 dead in Iraq does at least make mention that the security situation in Iraq has improved, it still fails to give adequate emphasis to degree of improvement over the last six months. 4,000 is just a number, and like any total reflecting an ongoing situation, it will rise over time. What should be emphasized is the trend and the current reality. It would also be useful to put this war into perspective relative to other wars in which the U.S. has been involved. A few facts: IMPROVEMENT Fatalities over the last six months have averaged about 1 per day. Fatalities over the previous six months averaged about 3 per day. PERSPECTIVE In Vietnam, from 1965-1973, we lost an average of about 17 Troops per day, every day, for 9 years. The Korean war lasted just over 3 years. We lost 50,000 during that time, an average of 45 per day. Approximately 2,500 American's perished on D-Day, the decisive battle for Europe in WWII. Granted, its painful to read about any war death, but if detractors are going to use these figures to elicit sympathy for their cause, it's essential to put them into a statistical perspective. If one really wants to be outraged about something, why not consider the plight of black youth in America. The mortality rate of U.S. troops in Iraq over the past six months is approximately 226 per 100,000. The NATIONWIDE (not necessarily urban) mortality rate for black males, aged 15-24, as quoted in a study by the National Poverty Center, was 180 per 100,000 during 2001 (the last year for which I could easily find data). Perhaps one of the reasons for this appalling number is the violence fueled in part by hatred and anger inspired by the likes of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Senator Obama's spiritual advisor. And, for the benefit of "Bob" above, for the record, my son is serving his second deployment in Iraq. A couple of months ago, he had a very close call which made me think about the very issue you brought up—what if one of the KIA was my relative. I concluded that while I would of course be devastated, some causes are more important than the earthly existence of any one person.

  • Mike R.
    Comment from: Mike R.
    03/26/08 @ 08:51:04 am

    Bob, I am indeed sorry that you miss the point of my piece and the numerous disqualifiers inserted to keep the sphere of discourse confined to the politicized and hysterical enumeration of the war casualties. I may perhaps in the future take up the discussion of the merits, demerits and evolution of the Iraq conflict but this piece actually tries to avoid those issues instead remaining confined to putting the violent deaths of our troops in Iraq into perspective with the violent deaths in our society over the same period. You may also note that I avoid specific comparison to battles and wars of the past since I believe each has an individual set of circumstances that make them unique. My only reference in this regard is to wars in general and is not limited to conflicts in which the US was a participant. You will no doubt with a careful rereading, also see where I specifically make the point of not treating the personal and individual nature of those deaths in a discounted or casual manner. This would seem to render your query as to any personal connection I may have with the fallen moot. I may respond in like fashion to a similarly pointless and obfuscating end and ask if you have any personal connection to one of the senselessly murdered individuals I discuss and if so are the merits depth,and anger of your grief less justified and impacting/meaningful than those of a relative of a fallen soldier? Indeed, such a question may be more to the point of my piece than yours. If you follow me.

  • Mike DePinto
    Comment from: Mike DePinto
    03/26/08 @ 11:28:53 am

    After reading the comments about this piece (Ross' post excepted), I wonder if these readers grasped the essential point Mike attempted to make. Forgive me Mike for my assumptions, but it seems you are alerting us to the insipid methods of the media who report on the War. I do not see this as an argument for or against the War. It's a warning to beware of the selective pull on our heartstrings for events and policies the media disfavors. (Michael Moore uses this technique in many of his documentaries.) The fact that murders receive so much less attention exemplifies the media's bias towards left-leaning policy. In fairness to the media, they do run a business, and they will continue to sell what people will buy. Consumers have the responsibility to recognize that they are being offered a pile of BS and should avoid purchasing this crap.

  • Bob Piccard
    Comment from: Bob Piccard
    03/27/08 @ 12:11:02 am

    Of course I point to the bogus origins of this madness. Context is everything-- I thought that was one of Mike's points. During three and a half years of WWII the United States took roughly ninety times as many casualties as during five years of Iraq war and except for a few stone solid pacifists, I've never heard anyone say that number was too high. During WWII, you see, the goal was constant and comprehensible. As it happens, the son of a friend of mine was murdered while he was working in a seven-eleven kind of place. Neither I nor any lefty I know regards his death as acceptable. I do the little I can to support policies that might prevent such pointless deaths in the future. Just like I support policies (and politicians) that try to prevent more pointless deaths in Iraq.

  • Mike R.
    Comment from: Mike R.
    03/27/08 @ 10:02:54 am

    Bob, Not to continue this indefinitely but I think a reply to your last post is warranted. It would certainly be best if the situation was as black and white as WWII, unfortunately the world is more complicated than that now and the Middle East is at the heart of that complication for a host of reasons. What strikes me about your first response is that ALL of the objectives you cite as "fluid justifications" can and do have a certain validity. None exist to the exclusion of the others. Although this strays from the point of my post and runs the risk of taking us a bit far afield I would argue that many of the reasons you cite were part of the initial decision to go to war in Iraq. Unfortunately we live in a world where people have little patience with complication and non-linear thinking. As a policy maker you have to keep the massage simple and easily digestible to the average person who you are trying to reach and do it within the confines of an ADD afflicted media machine. Demonizing and the use of hyperbole in crafting a message of justification for war that is at once persuasive and brief is an unfortunate means to an end employed across the political spectrum. Making a large, complicated and long term geopolitical argument to a nation of people who want to know their 'enemies', for the most part, in the simplest possible terms is not practical or functional. The other obvious piece to this is that things are not as simple or linear as we would like them to be. In fact things change dependent on a multiplicity of causes as time unfolds and the law of unintended or unforeseen consequences is always in operation. In short, the fluidity of the argument you cite is caused in in large part by the fluidity of events. I suspect that you and I have rather divergent opinions about the motivations, reasoning and altruism of the decisions leading to the war that go well beyond this discussion so I will leave it here.