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Take Two: The numbers on our house

By Staff | Jun 5, 2009

It’s early morning on the 1st of June. I just took down the number 4304 from my porch, representing the dead US soldiers from our Iraq war; the numbers that have driven Keith Hutcheson to anger in his May 29 letter to the editor of the Chronicle. With that memory fresh, I am turning directly to the keyboard because I want to stay focused on why the numbers went up and why they are coming down instead of wandering off into a debate about the war in Iraq, whether it made us more or less safe, whether the American people were lied to or whether the government was simply mistaken. Today I only want to address Mr. Hutcheson’s question, “How dare I use the deaths of our warriors as a statement?”

The numbers went up because in the spring of 2007 I was driving through North Carolina when I saw a similar display on a porch there. I knocked on the door and talked to the lady who answered. She had put the numbers up because the son of a friend had been killed in Iraq, one of the 5 soldiers we were losing every day, and instead of honoring his return as a dead hero, she felt he was being treated by the government as an embarrassment best rendered invisible. Their bodies were returned in the night and their planeside honoring, so familiar from our previous wars, was closed to the press.

I thought about this. At the same time that the human costs were being hidden, the financial costs were also being rendered invisible by hiding them off the budget. This was a war the government was trying to make us ignore because, as Mr. Hutcheson puts it in a great understatement, it wasn’t going according to plan. So the numbers went up for two reasons to honor the sacrifice of our warriors, and to stimulate debate about the costs and benefits of Iraq. They came down because the Iraq War is both winding down and under active debate. On the other hand, the American people need to demand sense of President Obama as much as of President Bush. I’d better keep the numbers in the garage.

Partisan politics views events as a sporting contest between two teams, a game of insults, cheap shots, and cheerleading. Too often, those are politics Washington-style. The numbers on my porch had nothing to do with that, but with our responsibility as citizens in a democracy, to say awake and engaged, to demand the truth, and to the degree we can, to do this while remaining civil and respectful of our fellow citizens.

Peter Wilson

King Street