May 11, 2005
We haven't seen too many pictures of our valiant military men and women returning in flag-draped coffins from Iraq. For the past year, the Bush administration maintained that releasing such photographs would be undignified and that the blackout was out of respect for the privacy of soldiers' families.
Then last month the Defense Department released hundreds of images of caskets, apparently in response to a legal challenge by Ralph Begleiter, a University of Delaware professor who once reported for CNN. A nation's war dead, he rightly argued, is of critical public concern. The human cost of any war must always be factored into the policy-making equation.
In a democratic republic that puts freedom of the press at the top of its list of constitutional demands, there's no way of getting around the reality of suicide bombers and escalating U.S. casualties (at least 1,603 members of the U.S. military had died as of Monday) -- or the mounting death toll for Iraqi civilians.
On the 30th anniversary of the end of another U.S. war that killed more than 58,000 Americans, the lessons of
Vietnam weigh heavily on this nation's national psyche. We want democracy to triumph in Iraq and in Afghanistan, but some Americans also seem to fear the truth and prefer to sugarcoat the reality of war. They want "positive" stories about schools opening in Iraq and Afghanistan, about women getting more of a say in their government--all critical components of the progress that's necessary to get the Middle East on the road to democracy.
Yet the news media cannot in good conscience play down, much less ignore, the wave of attacks U.S coalition forces and Iraqis have had to bear.
Americans have come to realize that helping Iraqis form a truly democratic and representative government will take more time and much courage. Surely, the Iraqi elections were a moment of profound courage and hope.
The question is how long will Americans and others in Bush's coalition of the willing be willing to stick it out?
Since the U.S. invaded Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, 12,243 members of the U.S. military have been wounded, according to the Defense Department.
Many in Congress want the Bush administration to upgrade the equipment and protective gear that U.S. troops desperately need. It's unconscionable that we would try to fight this war without giving our military the best protection possible, and yet there's mounting evidence that we have been nickel-and-diming our young people to death. And scandals about U.S. officials winking at torture, compounded by last year's pictures showing Iraqi detainees being abused at Abu Ghraib prison, have left a lot of Americans uneasy about the U.S. mission.
Public support for the war in Iraq is at the lowest level since the 2003 invasion. Fifty-seven percent say the war isn't worth it, according to a Gallup poll conducted for USA Today and CNN from April 29 to May 1.
The demotion of Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski to colonel last week still leaves more questions than answers. She argued that the Army reserve units she oversaw -- including the one at Abu Ghraib -- were treating detainees precisely the way U.S. intelligence officers had ordered them to do. Has she been made a scapegoat to a cover-up?
Thousands of Americans still risking their lives deserve the truth. The families of those brave souls returning in flag-draped coffins deserve no less.
MYRIAM MARQUEZ is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Orlando Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801