War More Perceived, War More Real
Ron Richardson of Seattle keeps counts of American war dead and injured in Iraq on a hand-written sign in his yard. As the count of U.S. Iraq war dead reached 4,000 in March 2008, the sign, Ron Richardson, the count, and the war all received more attention. Mike Lewis at the Seattle P-I picked up the story for Under The Needle, and West Seattle Blog noted the sign several times.
My first reaction was: we should be counting dead and injured people, not only dead and injured Americans.
The point of increasing our perception of war in this simple, everyday way is to make it more real. A spike in media attention for this sign and for the war will remind many of the war in Iraq, making it a little bit more real. For those who pass by Ron Richardson’s sign often, the small but repeated reminder makes the war still more real. The sign does not let them forget the war, and for that Richardson is to be commended. Richardson is a retired history teacher who himself served in the military; we are grateful for his shared wisdom.
Yet we also must not forget: Americans are not the only people being killed and injured in Iraq. Many thousands of innocent people have died, whether innocent Iraqis who are nobody’s enemy, innocent Americans who were not there to fight, or anyone from anywhere caught in the crossfire. Many innocent people have been killed by our enemies, but many innocent people have died due to mistakes made and crimes committed by Americans, too.
Even if we counted both American and innocent casualties, though, we would still not make real the whole human tragedy of war. Those who we call our enemies are not less human than we are. Our enemies, too, should be counted. Consider:
1) Who are America’s enemies in Iraq?
2) Who among our enemies is so threatening that we need to kill them, and who could we instead arrest and prosecute, or negotiate with politically, financially, or otherwise?
In much of the fighting, the answers to these simple questions have been unclear.
Tens of thousands are dead and hundreds of thousands are injured — those are the human numbers, not the American numbers. Exact numbers are controversial and even the Pentagon will avoid releasing their opinion on what the exact numbers are, but we cannot let details obscure the scale of this tragedy. Popular American media and Ron Richardson’s sign have recently featured the number 4,000 — but the real number is much larger, and more terrible.
The reasons for so much killing and injuring, like the scale of it all, are also easy to forget and important to repeat: Americans are being killed and injured because we are fighting a war that we started. Most Americans now think we should never have started this war. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Saddam Hussein posed no threat to us. It was out of our own fear, and our inability to collect or properly interpret what they call “intelligence,” that we began this war.
It should be soul-shaking to reflect on this and any war. Counting American casualties does make war a little more real, but counting only American casualties is a lie of omission. We must not pretend that only Americans suffer when America fights a war.
If humankind was mindful of the reality of war, there would be no more war. Counting only American casualties is less than the whole truth of the horror and the history we are making. To keep it real, we must know the whole human tragedy of war.