On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, an armistice was signed that ended World War I, the first great bloodletting of the twentieth century, “the war to end all wars” that proved but the prelude to World War II. Now, here we are at the 11th day of the 11th month of the sixth year of the twenty-first century and another great bloodletting is underway that, despite the recent electoral thumpin’ of the Bush administration and the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has no end in sight. In Iraq, 2,839 American troops have already died, tens of thousands have been wounded, and unknown hundreds of thousands of Iraqis — military, insurgent, and civilian — have been killed in every grim and bloody way possible.
The Iraqi killing fields are far from us here in the United States and, as yet, almost completely unmemorialized. Even to get a sense of the carnage is hard, but the website Antiwar.com now does a remarkable, if grim, daily job of collating at least what’s reported. It puts out a running tally of the dead each day — including of those nameless bodies found en masse, particularly in the Iraqi capital. (“In the greater Baghdad area, 29 bodies, probable victims of sectarian violence, were discovered late Tuesday into Wednesday…”)
Each of these reports in its own quiet, understated way is heartrending. Wednesday’s was headlined, “2 GI’s, 199 Iraqis Killed or Reported Dead; 3 GIs, 137 wounded.” And yet these tallies in words — which can’t account for all the dead who go eternally unreported — are incapable of catching the anguish of those who cared for the dead or of tallying what the loss of valuable lives cut short means to two countries. How do you take in the American soldier killed Wednesday “in the same incident in Kirkuk Province,” or the 8 Iraqis whose deaths in a vast Baghdad slum were relegated to this single sentence: “Mortars killed eight people and wounded 20 when they fell on a Sadr City district soccer game”; or the unnamed duo in this one: “A roadside bomb near a house in Iskandariya killed a man and his 13-year old son.”
If only this Veteran’s Day were another Armistice Day. Instead, there will be one of those terrible running tallies from Iraq at Antiwar.com this Saturday, too. Doug Troutman, a veteran of the Vietnam War (whose son is now a veteran of the Iraq War), worked in the postwar years for the Bureau of Land Management, and has visited many of the bloody fields of battle of our own history. He wrote a memorial for the dead, “Reenacting War, Reflections on a Country Losing Its Humanity,” this Veteran’s Day. He concludes it this way:
“Back in 2001, Congress began handing a rather insane little man proof that we had learned nothing from Yorktown, the Alamo, Montebello Bluffs, Fredericksburg, Andersonville, Mang Yang, or the ‘Hanoi Hilton.’ Once again, we rode blindly to our fate, like Santa Ana or Custer, overconfident that we held power, that we were ‘right.’ And our most recent ride hasn’t ended yet.
“Like me, my son is now a veteran. The men and women, who hate war most, are those who were good at it. Veterans — combat veterans — recognize something that no one without personal experience can ever begin to put a ‘handle’ on. We should neither repeat, nor reenact and glorify, error.”