2,000 Dead: How Many Is Too Many?
Friday 28 October 2005
When I left for the Middle East in February 2003 with a Marine artillery unit, I was told Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction, had been assisting Al Qaeda, was partly responsible for 9/11, and was an imminent threat to the United States and Iraq's neighbors.
We destroyed Iraq's under-equipped and demoralized military - the imminent threat to our nation - in a little over a month. Since the invasion, no weapons inspection team has found evidence of any weapons of mass destruction, and the claims that Saddam Hussein was working with Al Qaeda have been shown to be nonsense. When I left Iraq for home in May 2003, after President Bush told us "Mission Accomplished," 139 Americans had died.
After the invasion was over and the occupation began, Iraqis didn't throw flowers and candy at our feet. Instead, roadside bombs and ambushes awaited us down every street. The administration said we were about to turn a corner.
We were told that once Saddam and his sons were captured or killed, the insurgents would give up, demoralized by the loss of their leader; peace would reign. By the time Saddam was captured in December 2003, 463 Americans had died in Iraq.
The capture of Saddam had no effect, and daily attacks against American forces and Iraqi security forces continued. It was during this time that the bloody Shiite Rebellion occurred. This was some of the fiercest fighting yet in Iraq.
Even with this rebellion happening, we were told there was still hope. Sovereignty would soon be handed over to the Iraqis and another corner would be turned. But we needed to stay and provide the Iraqis security until we could "officially" turn the country back over to them. This would empower the Iraqis and end the insurgency. By then, June 2004, 958 had come home in boxes.
Most Iraqis didn't seem to care they had sovereignty, since we still occupied their country. They were still without electricity and faced an average unemployment rate of 70%. Every time US soldiers walked outside the wire, they were still taking their lives in their hands. Then we were told elections would fix this. The Iraqis would have their own government in place and begin drafting a constitution. This would demoralize the terrorists and end the fighting. On the day of the elections, January 30, 2005, the US death toll was 1,537.
What's wrong with this picture?
The first time we were told the war was over we had lost 139 American; now we have lost 2,000 American lives in
Iraq. Time and time again we are told things are getting better, that we have "turned a corner."
In the Viet Nam War we didn't "turn corners." Instead, policy makers talked about the "light at the end of the tunnel." We know now that by 1968 President Johnson knew there was no light at the end of the tunnel; he knew his war was lost. The Pentagon Papers showed this; Robert McNamara admits it today. Over 22,000 American troops died in Viet Nam after 1968 in a war our leaders knew was hopeless and just piling up American and Asian bodies.
Again, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and we've turned so many corners we're going in circles. Our leaders know they can't win this war, but, like Johnson and McNamara, they refuse to admit it to the American people.
Meanwhile, our troops remain a huge provocative force in the region and each individual soldier a prized target.
Failure to face this reality is exacerbating the current chaos in Iraq and preventing real regional diplomatic solutions.
So the question falls to ordinary Americans: How many more brave men and women are we willing to sacrifice before we force our leaders to bring the troops home? I pray that it does not take another 56,000 like it did in Viet Nam.
Mike Hoffman was a lance corporal in a Marine artillery unit during the invasion of Iraq. He is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.