By Meteor Blades
I don’t know anything about the psychology of numbers. Specifically, the magnetism round numbers seem to have for us, specifically round numbers ending in zeroes. It’s an attraction that can’t be denied. Such a number is closing in on us right now. It could arrive before the New Year. A number that will receive – no matter how transient and meaningless it actually is – extensive blog and megamedia attention. 3000. The horrible tally of U.S. troops dead in Iraq.
Let me tell you about two young men. Their résumés are short. They died young.
Lance Corporal Darwin Judge
Darwin Judge was a recently deployed 19-year-old when he was killed. Born and raised in Marshalltown, Iowa, he was active in his church and Boy Scouts, pitched for his All-Star team in Little League games, got his first newspaper route at age 8. At 16, he went to work at a grocer’s. Summers he baled hay. He loved riding his motorcycle and woodworking, at which he excelled. He made a grandfather clock for his mother. He signed up for the Marines his senior year in high school, completed basic training after graduating and was shipped overseas. Two weeks after being assigned to his detachment he was killed.
Corporal Charles McMahon
Charles McMahon was not quite 22 when he was killed. He grew up in Woburn, Massachusetts. As a kid he earned pocket money mowing lawns and delivering papers. He and a good friend practically lived at the local Boys Club, shooting pool, playing ping pong, but most of all learning how to swim and dive. McMahon spent so much time swimming that when he was old enough, the club hired him to teach other kids. It’s said he was good with them. The club’s director, a former Marine, drew McMahon’s avid attention with his stories of the Corps. At 19, McMahon joined, assigned at first to the Military Police. After a year and a half, he signed up for a special course of intense security training. Two weeks after being assigned to his detachment, he was killed.
If you’re thinking of looking for Charles McMahon or Darwin Judge listed at the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count Web site, forget it. You won’t find them counted on the site’s map either.
Neither were they among those whose names some compatriots and I read aloud on a corner near a Southern California shopping center nearly six months ago.
Because these brave men weren’t killed in Iraq. They were two of the last Americans killed in Vietnam 31 years ago.
The last two to die, not for a mistake, as Senator Kerry would have it, but for a pack of lies. Lies long since exposed, yet repeated even today by imperialist ideologues whose spilling of other people’s blood and spending of other people’s treasure is the highest form of patriotism. From their perspective, you’re either with them or you’re a naïf afloat in a tooth-and-claw world you’re too innocent and uninformed to comprehend.
This week, as I awaited and then read the “bipartisan” Baker-Hamilton Commission’s belated assessment and mostly obsolete-on-arrival recommendations for unfubaring what that man in the White House and his pals have done, I thought a lot about McMahon and Judge, men I never knew. I also thought about Manny Miller, my high school friend, killed in Vietnam in 1965, aged 19, months before American fatalities reached 3000 there.
Mostly, however, I thought about who will be the last Americans to die in this latest war built on a pack of lies, lies exposed yet still repeated by that man in the White House, his pals and their stinking coterie of embedded pundits.
One of the last Americans to die for these lies may have just turned 16. She could be sitting in front of her computer in eastern Oregon searching for more information about the Mexican-American War for the research paper her teacher assigned. Or working her after-school job at Mickey D’s in southern Indiana. She may speak Spanish at home. She could die before she’s legally old enough to drink. Another of the last may be 37 right now, with 15 years of Army service and a sleeve full of stripes. He may have arrived home this week on early leave for the Christmas holidays to see his wife and kids. After which he’ll go back for his third tour in Iraq.
The last could be anyone of any color, religion, political party, ethnicity, linguistic heritage or set of life skills. She could be a whiz on a skateboard. He could play fantastic blues on the piano. They could be only children, or have a ton of siblings. She could be gay. He could be straight.
We don’t know who these last will be or when they will die. We do know that a great many others will precede them. Perhaps thousands of others. All because that man in the White House and his pals and the pundits and some riff-raff known as public intellectuals mixed some truths, some half-truths, some quarter-truths and some outright fabrications into a propaganda barrage devoted to persuading enough people not to stand in the way of their morally squalid project. Their murderous project. Concocted in their years out of power and conveniently launched from atop the rage engendered by Nine-Eleven.
A project that has wedged us into what many believe is a can’t-stay, can’t-go situation.
Three thousand dead Americans from the Navy, the Army, the Marines, the Air Force and the National Guard will soon be in the count. Dead, in many cases, as we have seen, because of the incompetent know-it-allness of an Administration still swarming with chickenhawks. But dead, fundamentally, because of lies. Killed, like McMahon and Judge, heroically trying to save the lives of others. Or killed like my friend, Manny, just for being in the wrong place when the shrapnel came tumbling out of the night.
Whether shattered by an IED at some crossroads in al-Anbar province, Xed out by a sniper round to the throat deep inside Baghdad or crushed in a Humvee rollover in Mosul makes no difference. Heroic or not, no difference. They are dead for lies. Futilely dead. Dead because war criminals sent them abroad fraudulently in the name of liberation, security and prevention.
Dead because of people who waved the bloody shirt of Nine-Eleven in one hand, Old Glory in the other, and simultaneously managed to shred our Constitution and decades of international law. People whose closest brush with battle was reading the Cliff’s Notes version of Sun Tzu, which they promptly forgot. People who, if this were a just world, would soon be making journeys in shackles to The Hague.
As I said, I don’t understand the allure of round numbers. Especially in this case. Because they don’t come close to telling the real story. Already, as of today, 3174 coalition fighters have died in Iraq. Mostly Americans, to be sure, but also dead are Brits, Australians, Bulgarians, Danes, Italians, Salvadorans, Hungarians, Estonians, Dutch, Thais, Romanians, Slovakians, Urkrainians, Poles and a Kazakh and a Latvian. If you add in the contractors and the journalists , hundreds more are dead.
Not to mention the dead Iraqis. Who knows how many? Estimates diverge wildly. Let me just say I think any count below hundreds of thousands is off the mark. Hundreds of thousands dead, still larger numbers injured or maimed, more than a million in exile, several hundred thousand internally displaced. All for a pack of lies.
The best face that can be put on the Baker-Hamilton Commission is that it has told part of the truth about Iraq. The mission isn’t accomplished. Major combat operations have not ceased. Progress has not been made in quelling the violence, in stopping the insurgency and the sectarian massacres, or in slowing the slide toward full-blown civil war. Who can deny that it’s refreshing to finally hear an official body concede the gravity of the situation. So huzzah for that.
But what’s missing from that document they’ve been working on since the Ides of March is an assessment of the lies that took us to Iraq, not just the screw-ups that have taken place since the U.S. shocked and awed everyone. The recommendations making up such a large part of the commission’s report might have achieved their ends if implemented two or three years ago. But now? Missing from the assessment and from those recommendations is a broader truth: American troops cannot be the solution because they have become so much the problem. Also missing - understandably given the "bipartisan" but far from balanced nature of the commission - are recommendations for a complete makeover, a paradigm shift, if you will excuse the cliché, in U.S. foreign policy.
What the Baker-Hamilton Commission has delivered is a fragment of truth together with yet another version of the apocryphal pottery barn rule, the message we've received for two-plus years from various parts of the political spectrum: “you break it, you own it.” In short, we're told once again, the U.S. dares not make a “precipitous” or “premature” withdrawal or redeployment of American forces because this would worsen the situation.
In other words, nothing new. Exactly what we’ve been told since at least December 2003 – the month that some NeoImps had, before the invasion, predicted would mark the start of bringing our men and women home. Since the time it was finally conceded that, yes, there were insurgents in Iraq and that there was an insurgency, we’ve been told that Iraq would turn the corner soon enough, if America stayed the course.
And so we have done these past 45 months.
As the bodies accumulate. As the rehab hospitals fill up. As the violence goes from bad to awful to yet still worse. Now Baker-Hamilton tells us again, give it another year. Or so. Another year to train the Iraqis to fend for themselves.
Like the guys in this story, they mean? 'About Five Minutes Into It, We Had to Take Over':
The scene played out during Operation Lion Strike, the U.S. soldiers recalled. The goal was to capture insurgents in the Fadhil district of central Baghdad. It was the first time the Iraqi army's 9th Division was to be in complete control of an operation in the two years it has been training under the Americans. Teams of U.S. advisers remained close, but planned to leave the fighting to the Iraqis.
"It started out that way. But about five minutes into it, we had to take over," Staff Sgt. Michael Baxter, 35, said.
While the battle was in progress, U.S. military leaders had called it an "outstanding" example of Iraqi forces taking charge. They said the Iraqis captured 43 insurgents while suffering few casualties.
But interviews the following day with U.S. and Iraqi soldiers at Camp al-Rashid in Rustimayah, where they are based, painted a more complex picture. ...
While some Iraqis froze in indecision, others fired wildly as they ran across streets. Hollywood heroics, one soldier called it.
"I'm just thinking to myself, oh God, get me out of this because these guys are going to get me killed if we stay here," Baxter said. [Boldface mine – MB]
What if another year of training on top of those two years doesn’t make a difference? What if half those soldiers being trained put their skills into the service of a death squad or militia – as some have clearly already done?
Anyone with a drop of sympathy for Iraqis cannot be immune to the conventional wisdom that says the slaughter will widen and deepen if the Americans leave before Iraq is stabilized and the Iraqi military is ready to hold its own in keeping the peace in a unified nation. True, not everyone is sympathetic. “Genocide Bill” O’Reilly suggests the U.S. just let the Shi'ites and Sunnis kill themselves ”and then we can have a decent country in Iraq.”
Most human beings, on the other hand, get queasy when we think of how the world’s governments ignored Rwanda a dozen years ago. And how most are, for all practical purposes, ignoring Darfur now. Who can read stories like Baghdad's Morgues Working Overtime or The Disappeared or As Trust Vanishes, Many Iraqis Look to Gunmen as Protectors without wondering how much worse things can get?
Some say: much worse. And the thought of an Iraqi Cambodia in the wake of an American departure cannot help but give pause. Until one remembers that, despite all the promises, Iraq has not gotten better with U.S. troops killing and dying there. Merely protecting themselves has become ever harder. If the current fatality rate holds, more Americans will die this month than any previous month since the war began.
If Russ Feingold’s August 2005 proposal for withdrawal had been adopted, the last American troops would be leaving Iraq in a couple of weeks. We might already know who the last one to die for the lies of that man in the White House and his pals. But Feingold’s, and the proposal by Brian Katulis and Larry Korb, and John Kerry’s, and Jack Murtha’s and Wes Clark’s have all been ignored. So, the skulls are stacked, American, Iraqi and others, the bloodbath goes on, and the dithering ceases not.
With no end in sight.