Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Casualties of War

We know the number "1,000" is not, in and of itself, significant; that behind the numbers are human beings with families and friends who grieve their passing; that Americans are not the only ones dying in Iraq; and that there are more deaths to come. And yet the occasion of the 1,000th American military death in Iraq offers an opportunity to pause and reflect. That is something that we, as citizens, ought to do far more often than we do. After all, "we the people" sent the 1,003 American soldiers who have died thus far in the war in Iraq to do our bidding. They were over there because we asked them to go to war.

I opposed the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, and yet I am a citizen in a country that presents itself to the world as--and believes itself to be--based on popular sovereignty. "We the people" rule. The government of the United States is based on the consent of the governed. We elected the members of Congress who voted to authorize the President to go to war in Iraq and we elected--or at least acquiesced in the selection of--the commander-in-chief who determined that going to war in Iraq was necessary. Perhaps there are differences in the degree of our complicity in the decision for war, but it would be wrong for those of us who opposed the war from the beginning (or who came to oppose the war when it became apparent that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq) to try to wash our hands of the whole affair. It remains our country that is at war in Iraq and that, it seems to me, makes us all responsible in some measure for the war. Our democracy is not perfect by any means, but it does afford us frequent opportunities to change the direction our elected representatives have chosen.

In addition to thinking about the responsibility that citizens in a democracy bear for their country's actions, we ought to use this milestone to remind ourselves that real people are dying daily in Iraq. It is difficult to find the names of the Iraqis who are dying, but the names of the Americans are available. They include Ryan A. Martin, 22, of Mount Vernon, Ohio--the youngest of three sons in his family; Sheldon R. Hawk Eagle, 21, of Grand Forks, North Dakota--a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and a descendant of Crazy Horse; Manuel A. Ceniceros, 23, of Santa Ana, California; Jeremy DiGiovanni, 21, of Pricedale, Mississippi; Analaura Esparza Gutierrez, 21, of Houston, Texas--engaged to be married next year; and Jason G. Wright, 19, of Luzerne, Michigan, who leaves behind three younger brothers. Each one of these young men and women--and 997 others--left loved ones behind. Each one had dreams that will never be fulfilled.

(Brief stories about many of the American soldiers who have died in Iraq have been told by CBS News. Go to this site and click on "Fallen Heroes.")

Not since the Vietnam War have so many Americans died in combat. Their deaths must never go unnoticed, notwithstanding the Pentagon policy of forbidding the media from showing us flag-draped coffins.