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Guest Opinion: Count The Dead

COUNT THE DEAD


By Terry Baum

President Bush might prefer to skip Memorial Day this year. In the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, he sold us a fantasy of military triumph with minimal American deaths. Most people bought it.

He tries to maintain that fantasy by flying in the coffins while the nation is asleep. Bush has yet to appear at a memorial service for a dead soldier. That would be too clear an admission that in war, even American soldiers die. Perhaps it would make the President uncomfortable to directly face the coffin and family of even one dead soldier. It might disturb his sleep, at least for a couple of nights. But then again, maybe it wouldn’t. His lack of empathy is frightening.

The media, however, marks the passing of each soldier. Every day in my newspaper, a box lists the names of the American soldiers who have died the day before, and keeps a running total of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for…this bizarre fantasy of empire. A prime time news show has run the photos and names of the young men and women who had died up to that point. The Doonsbury cartoon strip will devote this Memorial weekend to listing all the dead soldiers.

I’m grateful for this public counting and recounting of the dead. The media didn’t perform this service during the Vietnam war. We, as a nation, were astonished to “discover” that, when we exited that quagmire, over 50,000 soldiers had been killed! How did we get there? One body at a time, I now see. I also see that just facing the fact of death, again and again, provokes us to question the need for war. “To count” has two meanings: to add up -- and to have importance.

All the more reason that we should know the true cost of lives in this insane, tragic occupation. If only the papers printed listings of the Iraqis who had died the day before! Let’s have separate categories for “enemy combatants,” civilians and, yes, children! Let’s face those numbers too! And let’s watch in horror as, day by day, those numbers climb.

But where can the media get that information? Our rulers don’t bother to count those they’ve killed. They haven’t counted since the Persian Gulf War in 1991. They claim they don’t have the “resources” to do it. But, if this war proves anything, it proves that the U.S. can find the resources to do whatever it damn well pleases.

For our government, the only deaths that count, or need to be counted, are our own. This sickens me. To refuse to count someone’s death is to say that it doesn’t matter whether that person was ever alive. The United States denies the humanity of, not only its enemies, but anyone who gets in its way as it pursues those enemies. This is barbarism.

We must rise to a higher level. This Memorial Day, let us mourn all who have been killed in Iraq. Let us insist that every life counts, and therefore every death counts. Let us demand that our government counts every death.

************

Terry Baum ( www.terrybaum.com) is the Green Party candidate for U.S. Congress from San Francisco, California. Write to Terry at feedback@terrybaum.com.


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