Published on Monday, November 3, 2003 by the San Francisco Chronicle
The Wounded Who Never Die
by Harley Sorensen
If we were to believe our government (and who does?), our military doctors are the best in the world. Nobody ever dies in their care.
Common sense tells us we're being lied to again.
If you follow the news even loosely, you know that American soldiers and Marines are killed and wounded on a daily basis in Iraq. Just offhand, the number of wounded appears to be three times the number killed. So, roughly -- very roughly -- one can estimate about 1,000 troops wounded in Iraq. It could be twice that, or more. I think it's a lot more.
Our man in Iraq (I call him Sgt. Mike) e-mails the three steps in dealing with the wounded.
If the wounds are minor, Sgt. Mike says, the troops are patched up in Iraq and sent back to their units. Troops with major injuries are flown to Germany for treatment, and from there to the United States.
But, judging from press reports, none of these wounded ever dies. Maybe I don't know where to look, but I haven't been able to find one single report of a soldier who died later of his or her injuries.
Not one. Isn't that curious?
If you go to the Department of Defense news Web site www.dod.mil/news/, you can find the names of newly killed GIs: 46 reported in the month of October. A few of those casualties died before October. No explanation is given for the delay in reporting.
I was unable to find any listings that said someone died recently from injuries or wounds suffered some time ago.
In other words, our government would have us believe that our troops are either killed outright or survive their injuries. An injured GI, therefore, has a 100 percent chance of survival.
Our military doctors are miracle workers.
And the moon is made of cheddar.
Of course, maybe I got it wrong. Maybe I missed something. So, to find out for sure, I called the "media contact" telephone number listed on the Defense Web site. The man who answered referred me to Lt. Col Cynthia Colin, who is identified in some Google-search news stories as a "spokesperson for the Pentagon."
I called Lt. Col Colin and left a message on her voice mail. To make her life easier, I also e-mailed a clarification of my request. I just want to know why the wounded never die.
She didn't respond. Not to the phone message, not to the e-mail.
Sgt. Mike, in one of his e-mails to me, suggested that casualties in Iraq are not reported unless the press is nearby and gets wind of them. That sounds right. If you follow the news, you know we never hear of injuries unless there were deaths in the same incident.
Our troops are being attacked roughly 30 times a day in Iraq. (Maybe more often, maybe less. The number keeps changing.) It makes sense that in a fair number of those attacks, someone is wounded. But we never hear of the number wounded, unless someone dies.
Now we're getting reports of sick or injured soldiers by the hundreds returning from Iraq to be warehoused in military bases without adequate medical care. According to news reports, there are about 500 such soldiers at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and about 400 more at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
One important destination for wounded GIs is Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. I'm told it's loaded with young men missing arms and legs. I wonder how many limbs have been blown off or later amputated?
President George W. Bush has asked Congress for $87 billion to run his war in Iraq, and apparently he's going to get it. But that money is just a small portion of the cost of his war. The broken bodies and shattered lives of our GIs add immeasurably to that cost.
But our government doesn't want us to know about that. We've gradually become a secret society. The military news blackout is not a new phenomenon. The press was locked out of Grenada during that dustup. We were able to learn just about nothing of civilian casualties in Panama when we sent in troops to arrest President Manuel Noriega on U.S. drug charges. (Estimates now range from 200 to 4,000 Panamanians dead.)
Our government does not want us to know what's going on. In Iraq, we're told, our military has no interest in the number of Iraqi casualties. So you and I have no way of knowing just how many Iraqis have been killed and continue to be killed.
(Our troops, when attacked, understandably spray bullets in every direction, with the predictable result that a lot of innocent people end up dead. How many? Who knows? Our government doesn't want us to know.)
And the government apparently has tamed the press, too. So far the press has shown an amazing lack of curiosity about the fate of Americans wounded in Iraq. The modern U.S. press seems to have adopted as its mantra: "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."
Or maybe Sgt. Mike in Iraq speaks for all of us when he ends an e-mail thusly: "I still have some things I want to talk to you about. I simply can't clear my mind enough to get them on paper. I'm so tired that time just doesn't make sense anymore."
Harley Sorensen is a longtime journalist. His column appears Mondays. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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