For four years now I have been standing on South Main St. in Providence with the â€˜No Time to be Silentâ€™ vigil for peace. I hold a worn-out sign that has the dayâ€™s numbers of Americans killed in Iraq, taken from the New York Times, â€˜Names of the Deadâ€™ column.
I first started reading the New York Times after 9/11, when they printed an obituary for each of the 2,819 people who died in the attack. For days pages were filled with their pictures and stories. In 2003, as the UN testimony proceeded and our leadership prepared for war, New Yorkers filled the streets in protest.
Here in Rhode Island I stood with a small group on the lawn of the Statehouse in another futile demonstration. We shivered in the March cold. At the time the pundits were wondering how many casualties the American public would tolerate. Hundreds?
I knew it wouldnâ€™t be that way. The deeper in we got, the harder it would become to accept that the war is mistaken, that our soldiers died for lies.
About a year into it, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz showed that he wasnâ€™t agonizing over our losses when he underestimated the number of Americans killed in Iraq by about 200. He was one of the architects of the war. One of those who promised us that it would be short and victorious.
WASHINGTON — Asked how many American troops have died in Iraq, the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian estimated Thursday the total was about 500 — more than 200 soldiers short.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was asked about the toll at a hearing of a House Appropriations subcommittee. “It’s approximately 500, of which — I can get the exact numbers — approximately 350 are combat deaths,” he responded.
“He misspoke,” spokesman Charley Cooper said later. “That’s all.”
American deaths Thursday were at 722 — 521 of them from combat — since the start of military operations in Iraq last year, according to the Department of Defense.
(Wolfowitz was later appointed to a post at the World Bank where he disgraced our country by having to resign for corruption.)
This small incidence of callousness from a Bush insider inspired me to make a sign with the numbers, so that we would not forget. Four years later, public opinion surveys claim that Americans canâ€™t remember how many have died. The economy is the number-one concern. But the milestone of another thousand puts our loss in the headlines once again.
The losses to the Iraqi civilians, who did not ask for this war, who are on the front lines, number in the hundreds of thousands.
If we are an empire, content to go shopping while our volunteer military and our hired contractors fight and suffer far from our daily lives; then only their loved ones will watch the news and agonize over the casualty count. Everything is on track. The war is going as planned.
If we are a democracy, and our soldiers fight in our name, whether we bother to vote or not, then we bear some responsibility. If our government is waging a war that the citizens largely oppose, year after year, with the burden falling almost entirely on those who fight it, then we must remove these misleaders and change our course. To do less is to abandon our troops.