3003 Funerals

2006 ended in an eerie cacophony of death. After months of legal wrangling and a trial that seemed to never end, Saddam Hussein’s execution happened suddenly and swiftly. No doubt the timing during the holiday season was a regrettable necessity and not intentionally designed to insure that a significant portion of the world would be too busy to pay attention or be bothered by the blatant barbarism of his death.

In a final act of patriotism, Former President Gerald R. Ford conveniently passed away during the last week of the year as well, nailing close the coffin as it were on any chance that the media would give significant attention to Saddam’s death. With a final tour of the country by hearse and multiple funerals, the country and its news outlets were paralyzed for days. The morning after the national day of mourning, a friend remarked in exasperation, “They’re still burying Ford!” And indeed they were. All but lost in this circus of death was the sad loss of the remarkably talented James Brown during the same week.

As if this weren’t enough notable deaths for one holiday season, the 3000th military death in the Iraq war also took place just as the year drew to a close. Rallies and vigils have been held throughout the country, many organized by anti-war groups.

These deaths, more than the total number of people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, are due entirely to U.S. military policy. We, as Americans have allowed this pointless loss of the lives of so many of our own mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, husbands and wives. There is no doubt that we should mourn these deaths. But in our sorrow and outrage, we must not forget that focusing on these 3000 deaths of our own making is a sort of tunnel vision perpetrated and encouraged by the media and administration. The extent of the carnage of this war is far, far greater than the story this number implies.

At the end of December, the official number of “non-mortal casualties” among Coalition forces stood at 46,880, truly an unspeakable number of lost limbs, brain injuries and all manner of other devastating injuries. No doubt there are far more soldiers who are being affected by PTSD, and as time goes on, many will also find themselves ill from their exposure to chemical and nuclear weaponry.

Far more horrific, however is the number of Iraqis who have been killed in this war. The exact number is not known, estimates range from the Iraq Body Count’s estimate of between 52,404 and 57960 to studies that have shown the total to likely be in the hundreds of thousands. The Iraqi Interior Ministry claims that 13,320 Iraqi civilians died in 2006 with the monthly toll escalating throughout the year. The U.N. estimates that 120 Iraqis die every day. These numbers do not begin to reflect the deaths of Iraqi children who are dying of malnutrition and polluted water or those who will die of diseases such as cancer due to their exposure to all manner of toxic weaponry. And of course it does not reflect the far greater number of wounded civilians.

It is symptomatic of American ignorance and arrogance that we allow ourselves to fixate on these 3000 deaths. We would do well to take to heart the analysis of our tragedy’ offered by Riverbend, an Iraqi woman who has been courageously blogging from Baghdad throughout the war,

“Nearly four years ago, I cringed every time I heard about the death of an American soldier. They were occupiers, but they were humans also and the knowledge that they were being killed in my country gave me sleepless nights. Never mind they crossed oceans to attack the country, I actually felt for them.”

She goes on,

“Today, they simply represent numbers. 3000 Americans dead over nearly four years? Really? That’s the number of dead Iraqis in less than a month. The Americans had families? Too bad. So do we. So do the corpses in the streets and the ones waiting for identification in the morgue.”

And finally she asks,

“Just because Americans die in smaller numbers, it doesn’t make them more significant, does it?”

A wise question indeed.

LUCINDA MARSHALL is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org.