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Iraq Casualties: Bush Doesn't Want us to Know
Published on Saturday, November 8, 2003 by the Daily Camera
Iraq Casualties: Bush Doesn't Want us to Know
by Christopher R. Brauchli
 

War is at best barbarism. . . . It is only those who have never . . . heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation.

William Tecumseh Sherman, Graduation Address

The magic number is 1,737. That's the number they don't want you to see. It's the number that The Wall Street Journal published on Oct. 29.

It's different from the number 144. That's the number of American soldiers who have been killed in combat since May 1, the day the war was "won." The larger figure is the number of American military personnel injured between the end of "major combat" on May 1 and 7 p.m. on Oct. 27.

"Injury" has a nice ring to it. When you fall and break a bone while skiing you have been injured. When you bump into a door in the middle of the night and get a mild concussion, you have suffered an injury. When a soldier is hit by a land mine and loses a leg, he has been injured. When shrapnel enters a soldier's eyes and she is permanently blinded, she has been injured. The word describes all those things it does not do justice to what happened to the 1,737.

The Oct. 29 Wall Street Journal article by Yaroslav Trofimov does. It is a brilliant and horrifying description of what that word means when applied to life for service personnel in Iraq. Sometimes injury is referred to as casualty. That is a better word, but even it fails to convey the horror of the injuries that are being inflicted daily on those who will some day return to the United States and try to get on with their lives.

According to Mr. Trofimov: "Medical personnel here ... have to deal with the biggest influx of military casualties since the Vietnam War. The Iraqi campaign has been producing far more fatalities and nonlethal casualties than the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the Balkans action in 1999 and the war in Afghanistan since 2001." According to Mr. Trofimov, October was the bloodiest month since the start of the occupation of Iraq. A description of one of the victims helps Mr. Trofimov make his point.

Sgt. Chuck Bartels completed his master's degree in Russian studies at the University of Kansas when he was called up as a reservist. He had completed an interview with the State Department for a diplomatic posting in Russia and anticipated receiving an assignment. Instead, he went to Iraq. He was riding in a Humvee as part of a civil-affairs team when a bomb on the road exploded, killing a passenger, Capt. John Teal, and injuring Sgts. Bartels and Jared Meyers. The Humvee in which the three men were riding when the bomb exploded was not an armored vehicle. According to the report, the civil-affairs teams like theirs have been lobbying unsuccessfully for months to be given armored vehicles. There is no money to buy them.

Following Sgt. Bartels' surgery he had a stump for a left arm and a face with pieces of flesh missing. An exhausted orthopedic surgeon told Mr. Trofimov: "His nerves and blood vessels were just shredded. There wasn't anything to fix in his arm. He'll have to adjust to his new life." An assisting nurse said: "It's like a horror movie. I served in a trauma unit, I saw death in the face but nothing like here. And those who live, you've got to wonder how they are going to make it back in the States." Col. Doug Liening is commander of the 21st Combat Support Hospital. He said: "People in the United States do not appreciate what's going on here." That's how the Bush administration wants it.

According to the Washington Post, as the Iraq war started, a directive from the Pentagon banned news coverage and photographs of the return of those who lost lives instead of sight or limbs. The policy, first put in place in November 2000, was not enforced until now.

According to Lt. Olivia Nelson, a spokeswoman at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, there is a reason there are no pictures. "It's out of respect for the families." Permitting the media to record the return of the soldiers "would not show proper reverence for the dead," she explained. President Bush has not attended any ceremonies marking the return of the dead to their homeland nor has he attended any memorials or funerals for those personnel. That would just draw attention to their deaths.

As devastating as the future is for those severely injured, they received one bit of good news the end of October. Congress has agreed that service people being treated in military hospitals will no longer have to pay for their own meals. Under a policy that has been in place since 1958 for officers and since 1981 for enlisted service members, those in hospital must pay $8.10 a day for food. Congress believes it unfair to ask those who are injured in the service of their country to pay for their own food while being treated. A bill that has now been passed by both houses and is now in conference provides that meals for those who are hospitalized will be paid for by the government. That doesn't seem excessively generous for those who have paid such a high price to be part of Mr. Bush's war.

Copyright 2003, The Daily Camera and the E.W. Scripps Company

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