Fatal Math

On April 22, 1971, Viet Nam veteran John Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Many of the statements made, then, are painfully pertinent to the situation in which we are criminally involved in AfPak-Iraq, today. Just substitute a few proper nouns and, there, you have it, the grim and undeniable truth.

For example, note these sentences from Kerry:

We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.

Omit “My Lai” and insert any number of atrocities committed during our current war of terror: Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Bagram; the deliberate killing of children; the rapes; and the recent execrable murder of civilians revealed by WikiLeaks. The latter crime is not an isolated incident.

And think of these words by Kerry: “We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of Orientals.”

After George W. Bush delivered his beginning to the unfolding vengeance on Afghanistan in retaliation (?) for September 11, 2001, we saw images of coalition forces playing with children. Later, we heard of the campaign to win hearts and minds. Leaflets were dropped or distributed to explain and justify our invasion. Here’s a site to access for a look see into the promotional marketing of the war to those we’ve ended up destroying.

John Kerry presented a critical message that day in 1971 about a war in which he fought, you know, the war that supposedly taught us a lesson we were never to forget. Perhaps, among all the words he spoke, the most famous quote to emerge is this: “ . . . how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

I’ve seen the second question at antiwar rallies, printed on signs held high: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

And I always wonder how you ask any man or woman to die for a mistake. How do you ask the first man or woman? The 500th? The 1000th? Number 3000?

Would my brother feel his son Chase’s death, a sacrifice to war’s lie, any more deeply if Chase were the last to die for a mistake? No. Would he feel the loss less deeply if Chase were the first to die for this mistake? No.
The death count of coalition troops, the men and women, who have died as the result of a mistake, a lie, is closing in on 6500. The mistake is called Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, AfPak-Iraq, or, really, any war. And regardless of where a loved one falls on the arithmetic fatality progression, the family’s pain is raw, overwhelming, and endless—just as it is for the relatives of the more than one million Afghan, Iraqi, and Pakistani men, women, and children who have perished because of the mistake, a lie whose surge continues.

Missy Beattie lives in New York City. She’s written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. An outspoken critic of the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq, she’s a member of Gold Star Families for Peace. She completed a novel last year, but since the death of her nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Chase J. Comley, in Iraq on August 6,’05, she has been writing political articles. She can be reached at: Missybeat@aol.com




Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com