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War: The names, the lives, the numbers never lie

By Staff | May 22, 2009

Just over two years ago, on a sunny April day in 2007, we put up the large home-made digits on our house on King Street, across from the Post Office. 3248 was that first number, representing how many US soldiers had died to date in the Iraq war. We got the idea from a similar display we had seen in another town. I remember wondering at the time how long this would have to go on and whether we could sustain the commitment. The commitment part became pretty easy given the support and help of many of our neighbors, with special thanks to Bob Smith and Tom Martin.

This was a war that our government tried to wage in the dark as the cost in blood and dollars mounted while the rationale became ever more strained and elusive. They attempted to hide the dollar costs by putting them off budget; the human costs by forbidding pictures of the return of the dead. The rationale for being in Iraq was finally reduced to the difficulties of leaving the china shop after you’ve broken the china. Americans will have to live a long time with the physical and psychic damage done to our troops by this folly.

I don’t know how to avoid wars. I don’t even think I’m against all wars, only unnecessary and unjustified wars. In our great democracy, the best way to keep war under control is by all of us staying aware of and focused on their cost and rationale, and by demanding sense from our leaders. The numbers on our porch were our small effort toward this end.

Our country is making progress. The new administration has moved the dollar costs of the war to the budget so we can see them; they have allowed, with family permission, photos of the return of our fallen soldiers, so we can take some measure of the human sacrifice. As a nation, we appear to be shifting our military efforts toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, which bear some relation to 9/11. The national debate on Iraq (and Afghanistan and Pakistan) has moved to center stage.

As of June 1, the only numbers on our porch will be our address. The names and numbers of our war dead, our heroes, can continue to be found at icasualties.org. In the 774 days since we began the display, the number on the porch has grown to 4296, just over 10 dead soldiers each week. Each death also represents over 7 US soldiers injured and often permanently disabled, and represents untold numbers of dead and injured Iraqis, both military and civilian. Changing those numbers on the porch was always a sobering experience, especially early in the morning on some calm and beautiful day with the sun raising over the Blue Ridge.

774 days, 1,063 dead US soldiers since April 1, 2007. Number 3248 was Spc William G. Bowling, 24, of Beattyville, Ky.. Number 4496 was Cpl Ryan C. McGhee, 22, of Fredericksburg, Va.

Peter Wilson

King Street