Last week White House spokesman Tony Snow said the watershed number of 2,500 dead American soldiers in Iraq was “just a number.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced that US deaths in Iraq had reached 2500, with more than 18,000 Americans injured in the war since the US invaded in March 2003.
A White House spokesman, Tony Snow, called it “just a number”, then added that it was a “sad benchmark” but that President George Bush was determined to ensure that the men and women who had died in Iraq had not died in vain.

People across the world cringed at the lack of compassion from policy makers where soldiers appear to be functionaries for a quantifiable end instead of people with mourning families who volunteered their lives for an ideal with a qualitative emotional value.
The recent kidnapping of two American soldiers by Al Qaeda in Iraq caused a media circus and a public White House hand-wringing that immediately made one wonder how the kidnapping of two soldiers became more valuable and more urgent than the deaths of 2,500 soldiers before them.
Now that both soldiers are reportedly dead — and no longer kidnapped — will Mr. Snow now make their deaths “just a number” to be added to the 2,500 or have those two soldiers become more human in their graves because the entire world was left to worry — however briefly — for the well-being of their lives?


  1. It reminds me of the quote from Joseph Stalin who said: “A single death is a tragedy, are million deaths is a statistic.”
    We can wrap our minds around the image of one or two people in jeopardy or peril. Thinking of 100 or 1000 is a lot harder.
    In the grand scheme of anything dealing with armed conflict, 2,500 deaths over a period of years isn’t that high, especially when compared to historical and current death totals, including those from American cities and towns.
    Any death is one too many, but in the history of warfare, for one side to only have 2,500 deaths over a span of years is a remarkable accomplishment in improving troop safety.
    Compared to the Battle of Normandy where 53,700 allied troops died in that single portion of WWII, the Iraq War barely measures up in the same intensity.
    Even worse, the American Civil War killed 360,000 Union Troops and 258,000 Confederate Troops.
    More recently, the Vietnam War saw 58,191 American troops die.
    The urban warfare that destroys American communities is greater and just as intense as any military invasion. Almost 17,000 people were killed in American cities and towns last year.
    According to Cleveland’s

    FBI data released Monday show murders, robberies and aggravated assaults in the United States increased last year. That spurred an overall rise in violent crime for the first time since 2001.
    The bureau reported nearly 17,000 murder victims in 2005, the highest figure since 1998 and the largest percentage increase in 15 years. And while the national increase is about 5 percent, the jump was far bigger in some cities. For example, Houston saw a 23 percent rise in murders, while in Philadelphia it was 14 percent.

    I’m always amazed that people aren’t more shocked over the number of Americans killed right in our own cities, towns, and villages.

  2. Chris —
    I agree with you on the urban deaths. Compare big American cities with big European cities and you’ll see gigantic differences in killings by guns.
    Why did we go into Iraq in the first place?

  3. WMDs … that may have been there before and moved, or might have been figments of Saddam’s imagination that were passed along to various intelligence agencies to scare us.
    If I was in charge and wanted to go into Iraq, I would have based it on the human rights atrocities that Saddam committed against his people.
    There was enough horrible stuff that happened in Iraq that makes me feel okay with stopping Saddam on a purely moral basis, even if everything else that was said about him turned out to be figments of Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf‘s (a/k/a “Baghdad Bob”) and the Iraqi Information Ministry’s imaginations.
    Here are two items that show that it was morally right to have overthrown Saddam’s reign of terror.
    Per the BBC:

    Saddam Hussein has paid out thousands of dollars to families of Palestinians killed in fighting with Israel.

    Or from USAToday:

    Pictures of dead Iraqis, with their necks slashed, their eyes gouged out and their genitals blackened, fill a bookshelf. Jail cells, with dried blood on the floor and rusted shackles bolted to the walls, line the corridors. And the screams of what could be imprisoned men in an underground detention center echo through air shafts and sewer pipes. …
    The secrets of Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror are beginning to emerge. Iraqi civilians who had longed feared speaking out about the alleged atrocities for fear of government retribution are revealing in detail what the Iraqi dictator and his regime inflicted on some of the country’s 26 million people.
    They paint a picture of arrests, killings and torture that have led human rights groups to condemn the Iraqi leader in the strongest terms. The groups have charged that tens of thousands of Iraqis, from Kurds in the north to Shiites in the south, were tortured and killed after Saddam seized power in 1979.

    Of course, if attacked places based on atrocities committed against innocent civilians, we’d be going everywhere else in the world, such as many places that need help in Africa, such as Darfur in western Sudan.
    According to

    The violence began when the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement took up arms to protest against government’s alleged neglect of the area. Officials responded by targeting the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups, (seen as supporting the rebels), in part through the activities of the Arab militants, known as “janjaweed” — or “men on horseback”. Nomadic Arabs and settled ethnic groups in Darfur have also been at odds over control of land.
    U.S. officials have termed attacks on the groups genocide.
    Abuses in Darfur are said to include widespread rape, and the destruction of villages.

    We don’t want to be the world’s police officer, so we politely decline to get involved in other matters, unless there is some compelling interest vital to our economy or national security, such as oil.

  4. More about Saddam’s anti-social behavior from Wikipedia:

    Iraq under Saddam Hussein was notorious for high levels of torture and mass murder.
    Secret police, torture, murders, targeted assassinations, chemical weapons, and the destruction of wetlands (i.e. the destruction of the food source of rival groups) were some of the methods critics say Saddam Hussein used to maintain control. The total number of deaths related to torture and murder during this period are unknown as are the reports of human rights violations. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued regular reports of widespread imprisonment and torture.

  5. Being very cynical here – 2500 dead not good PR brush off as quickly as possible. Just reinforces the human cost and waste of lives in an unwanted war.
    2 kidnapped – good PR – can be used to garner sympathy and give weight to the belief that they are the enemy and “infidels to be crushed”.

  6. Nicola —
    You are right! Their reasons are so transparent that it would make one laugh if so many lives were not being lost in favor of big money, revenge for a father’s failed invasion and access to oil.

  7. Even if reports of WMDs were false, it still doesn’t negate the evil nature of Saddam’s regime and his willingness to kill Kurds and others who presented a threat to his power.
    Of course, we wouldn’t have gone to war if it was just to save the people of Iraq, just as we didn’t go to war to save Rwanda, or the victims of Pol Pot, and won’t go to war to save the people of Darfur.
    I say we should break free from our oil dependence so we don’t have to fool around in the Middle East.

  8. Hi Chris —
    I agree there are places in the world that demand our closer attention than Iraq. This was a war of revenge instead of one in the nation’s best interest.

  9. Hi David,
    You are probably right about the motive.
    That’s the bad thing about having family members creating political dynasties — it doesn’t matter which party or political philosophy. There’s too much risk that actions will be taken out of family pride or gain, rather than the national interest.

  10. Hi Chris —
    I agree political dynasties belong to history and in no country’s future. The fact there’s another son and a nephew being “primed” for our greatest national post is worrisome to the core!
    Many Americans have always been star struck, though. Fame over deeds has always been the greater cause.

  11. Ah, but it is “just a number.” The administration has prevented media coverage of the rows and rows of caskets that would make the number real for the American public.
    While those two soldiers were alive, there was hope. Sadly, there is no hope for the dead and it is left for their family and friends to grieve in private.
    It was also known that those men would be made to suffer horribly every moment they were alive. The dead no longer suffer.
    Even callous people know better than to count the living soldiers as just a number, because it would not be acceptable to the public.

  12. Hey Antoinette —
    Why can’t we see the caskets? Are we too tender? Or would we be too outraged? Or is a casket always greater than “a number” even though the amount of dead remains the same?
    Where do you count the severely physically wounded and the psychically wounded: Among the dead, the living, or somewhere in-between?

  13. Hi David,
    PBS’s Frontline is planning to air an interesting program tonight about the decisionmaking surrounding the Global War on Terror.
    From :

    (S)oon a debate would grow over the goals of the war on terror, and the decision to go to war in Iraq.
    Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and others saw Iraq as an important part of a broader plan to remake the Middle East and project American power worldwide.
    Meanwhile Tenet, facing division in his own organization, saw non-state actors such as Al Qaeda as the highest priority.
    FRONTLINE’s investigation of the ensuing conflict includes more than forty interviews, thousands of pages of documentary evidence, and a substantial photographic archive.
    It is the third documentary about the war on terror from the team that produced Rumsfeld’s War and The Torture Question.

  14. That’s a show I’m going to watch, Chris!
    John Kerry was on Imus this morning. They had a wide-ranging discussion about the war and immigration and doing the right thing in Iraq. If Kerry had been as human and as angry as he was in today’s interview during the campaign, he’d be President Kerry right now. Here’s a bit of the fascinating conversation:

    IMUS: This amendment you all are proposing today is probably going to be rejected?
    KERRY: Yes, it is.
    IMUS: So you’re just getting on the record here?
    KERRY: No. I’m trying to lead the country and people to think about this in a different way and move in a different direction. It really is a question of redeploying to win the war. We’re doing worse in Afghanistan. We’ve got problems in Somalia. They just had explosions in Thailand. You’ve got a serious issue with Iran. Iran is delighted to have us bogged down in Iraq. The current policy plays into the hands of the Iranian leadership. And you can run around and see ways in which this is hurting us in the Middle East peace process and any other number of interests we have. North Korea (AUDIO/VIDEO GAP).
    IMUS: But there are — Senator, they’re not going to do that. So what do you think is going to happen? What is going to happen?
    KERRY: It’s going to get worse. I mean, I think what’s going to happen is the insurgency will continue. People will continue to die, and our troops will be — continue to be exposed to risks that they shouldn’t be. I mean, strong leadership is supposed to stand up for the troops above all and provide them with the best leadership possible. How long do we put our groups in greater risk than is needed? How long do we ask the American people to pay more money than we ought to be? Karl Rove talks of Democrats leaving when the shots are fired. Who are these guys? Where was he when shots were fired? Where are their children? Are they over there? How many lives have been lost because of their lousy strategy? How many lives have been lost because they didn’t provide the armor? How many troops were killed or wounded by the shells that came out of those ammo dumps that they didn’t protect? How many lives have been lost and limbs amputated because they never put in enough troops in the beginning to get the job done? How much stronger is al Qaeda today because these guys didn’t use American troops, best trained in the world, to go kill them or capture them in the mountains of Tora Bora? I’m tired of their mistakes. I’m tired of their lies. And I think the American people are. And this “stay the course” routine is just not realistic to getting the job done in Iraq or in the Middle East. It would be good to get some answers to those questions.
    IMUS: Twenty minutes before the hour — good if we could get those answers to some of those questions, wouldn’t it, by the way? Twenty minutes till the hour here on the IMUS IN THE MORNING program, talking to Senator John Kerry. Did you read Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s article in the current issue of “Rolling Stone”?
    KERRY: I did read it, yes.
    IMUS: About that 350,000 votes disappeared in Ohio?
    KERRY: Well, that’s the number that he comes up with. I can’t tell you what the number is. It’s obvious that Ken Blackwell, who was the secretary of state, went out of his way to make it difficult to people to vote. In fact, that’s true in lots of parts of the country. In Georgia recently, they passed an identification and $20 fee, was found to be unconstitutional. In Nevada, Democratic registration forms were found in the waste basket at the registry. I mean, you know, we have a serious problem in America with people’s ability to be able to vote. And there are different systems in every state. In some states, you can mail in for three weeks, a month ahead of time. In some states, you’re allowed to go register on the last day. In other states, they prevent people from registering. So I think we really need, in the United States of America, if we’re going to start talking about democracy and the rest of the world, to make it work a little more effectively. And these electronic machines are invariably raising people’s doubts about the accountability of an election. I don’t know why we can’t just have paper ballots or some kind of paper trail in place, in every voting booth in America.

    The whole transcript is here:

  15. The voting system is very fragile and is subject to attack.
    We’ve had voting problems and allegations of voting problems in my county.
    Writes Wikipedia:

    In recent years, several (East Chicago) city officials have been indicted for involvement in vote buying schemes.
    Recently, the Mayor Robert Pastrick was removed from office after a judge ordered that the mayoral election be reconducted after electioneering schemes were revealed.

    From the Indiana Law Blog:

    The (Indiana Supreme) court’s majority ordered a new (East Chicago) election, saying Pastrick’s political machine engaged in widespread fraud at the ballot box.

  16. I agree the voting system is immature and inadequate. Virtual voting only invites deception. We need a paper trail or some other independently verifiable system of permanent vote archival.

  17. Very true. A permanent vote achival record is always important, especially when allegations can always be made that the digital machines may have been subjected to hacker attacks.
    What do you think about foreign companies providing U.S. governments with voting systems?
    From the LA Times:

    Voters in 20 California counties Tuesday will use voting machines provided by Sequoia Voting Systems, the country’s oldest maker of election equipment.
    Sequoia’s ownership has barely caused a ripple in California, but it has prompted elected officials in Chicago and New York to raise questions about possible foreign influence in U.S. elections.
    Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) last month wrote U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow asking whether the Bush administration had weighed the national security implications of “a company with possible ties to the Venezuelan government” selling touch-screen voting machines for U.S. elections. …
    The company markets optical scanners, which electronically tabulate ballots marked by voters, and touch-screen machines, on which votes are recorded using technology similar to that found in automated teller machines.
    Concerns about Smartmatic’s offshore ownership are fueling broader worries that computerized voting systems are vulnerable to hackers and political manipulation.
    “Anything that further erodes the public’s confidence in the integrity of our system of counting votes is troublesome,” said Rich Hasen, a specialist in voting law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
    The situation isn’t helped by the current strained relations between the United States and Chavez, who refers to President Bush as “Mr. Dangerous” and is a key figure in the growing leftist challenge to U.S. influence in Latin America.

  18. Diebold is a big maker of voting machines and the company owner is a big Bush supporter:

    Volusia County (FL) joins Leon in dumping Diebold. Due to contractual non-performance and security design issues, Leon County (Florida) supervisor of elections Ion Sancho has announced that he will never again use Diebold in an election. He has requested funds to replace the Diebold system from the county. On Tuesday, the most serious “hack” demonstration to date took place in Leon County. The Diebold machines succumbed quickly to alteration of the votes. This comes on the heels of the resignation of Diebold CEO Wally O’Dell, and the announcement that stockholder’s class action suits and related actions have been filed against Diebold by four separate law firms. Further “hack” testing on additional vulnerabilities is tentatively scheduled before Christmas in the state of California.
    Finnish security expert Harri Hursti, together with Black Box Voting, demonstrated that Diebold made misrepresentations to Secretaries of State across the nation when Diebold claimed votes could not be changed on the “memory card” (the credit-card-sized ballot box used by computerized voting machines.
    A test election was run in Leon County on Tuesday with a total of eight ballots. Six ballots voted “no” on a ballot question as to whether Diebold voting machines can be hacked or not. Two ballots, cast by Dr. Herbert Thompson and by Harri Hursti voted “yes” indicating a belief that the Diebold machines could be hacked.
    At the beginning of the test election the memory card programmed by Harri Hursti was inserted into an Optical Scan Diebold voting machine. A “zero report” was run indicating zero votes on the memory card. In fact, however, Hursti had pre-loaded the memory card with plus and minus votes.
    The eight ballots were run through the optical scan machine. The standard Diebold-supplied “ender card” was run through as is normal procedure ending the election. A results tape was run from the voting machine.
    Correct results should have been: Yes:2 ; No:6
    However, just as Hursti had planned, the results tape read: Yes:7 ; No:1
    Nebraska’s ES&S seems even more insidious:

    While Diebold has received the most attention, it actually isn’t the biggest maker of computerized election machines. That honor goes to Omaha-based ES&S, and its Republican roots may be even stronger than Diebold’s.
    The firm, which is privately held, began as a company called Data Mark, which was founded in the early 1980s by Bob and Todd Urosevich. In 1984, brothers William and Robert Ahmanson bought a 68 percent stake in Data Mark, and changed the company’s name to American Information Services (AIS). Then, in 1987, McCarthy & Co, an Omaha investment group, acquired a minority share in AIS.
    In 1992, investment banker Chuck Hagel, president of McCarthy & Co, became chairman of AIS. Hagel, who had been touted as a possible Senate candidate in 1993, was again on the list of likely GOP contenders heading into the 1996 contest. In January of 1995, while still chairman of ES&S, Hagel told the Omaha World-Herald that he would likely make a decision by mid-March of 1995. On March 15, according to a letter provided by Hagel’s Senate staff, he resigned from the AIS board, noting that he intended to announce his candidacy. A few days later, he did just that.
    A little less than eight months after steppind down as director of AIS, Hagel surprised national pundits and defied early polls by defeating Benjamin Nelson, the state’s popular former governor. It was Hagel’s first try for public office. Nebraska elections officials told The Hill that machines made by AIS probably tallied 85 percent of the votes cast in the 1996 vote, although Nelson never drew attention to the connection. Hagel won again in 2002, by a far healthier margin. That vote is still angrily disputed by Hagel’s Democratic opponent, Charlie Matulka, who did try to make Hagel’s ties to ES&S an issue in the race and who asked that state elections officials conduct a hand recount of the vote. That request was rebuffed, because Hagel’s margin of victory was so large.
    As might be expected, Hagel has been generously supported by his investment partners at McCarthy & Co. — since he first ran, Hagel has received about $15,000 in campaign contributions from McCarthy & Co. executives. And Hagel still owns more than $1 million in stock in McCarthy & Co., which still owns a quarter of ES&S.
    If the Republican ties at Diebold and ES&S aren’t enough to cause concern, argues election reform activist Bev Harris, the companies’ past performances and current practices should be. Harris is author of Black Box Voting, and the woman behind the web site.

  19. I remember hearing that Chicago’s election was hampered by their voting machine difficulties.

    Here in Chicago, where voters used both touch-screen and optical-scan systems in a March primary, it took officials a week to tally all the votes because of technical problems and human errors, touching off a flurry of criticism over the Sequoia Voting Systems equipment.

    New York Times

Comments are closed.