Think back to the end of 1999. Millions of people were afraid of the coming New Year. 2000. Y2K. People were afraid that power would fail, that bombs would be unleashed at random, that chaos would reign in the streets. As it turned out, though, nothing much happened. Midnight struck, the calendar clicked over to a new year, a new decade, a new century, a new (some would say) millennium, and life went on as normal.
Now we have reached another 2000. Iraq 2K. Two thousand of our soldiers killed in Iraq. Our administrative power has failed; bombs are being unleashed, seemingly at random; chaos is reigning in the streets of Iraq and our global relationships have been torn asunder. This is the 2000 we should be afraid of. This is the 2000 we must grieve, honor and reflect upon.
This 2000 wouldn't have happened without the year 2001. Without 9/11. Those numbers gave our president the false justification to begin this war. Some 3000 Americans were killed on the attacks of September 11. Now almost 2/3 that number have been killed in Iraq. And that's not counting soldiers who have died after leaving Iraq, died from horrendous wounds and tormented suicides. It doesn't count soldiers who are left permanently disabled or those who survived in body but not in spirit, the broken souls whose lives have been shattered by what they did and saw.
And of course, that's not counting the uncounted, the Iraqis. We'll never know how many Iraqis have been killed at checkpoints, how many were caught in crossfires, how many were killed by roadside bombs. We'll never know how many Iraqi babies have died because of unclean drinking water from bombed out water systems, how many sick Iraqis died because hospitals were looted of critical equipment, how many Iraqis died because so many doctors have fled the country. Some say tens of thousands; others, like the survey in the medical journal, Lancet, say over 100,000. We don't know; we'll never know.
The Bush administration insists we must "stay the course" to help the Iraqi people. But a national survey conducted in August by an Iraqi university research team for the British Ministry of Defense found 82 percent of Iraqis "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops; less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security, and 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation.
But why should we expect the Bush administration to listen to the Iraqis, when they don't even listen to their own constituents? Since the summer of 2005, polls consistently show that a majority of Americans oppose this war, think it's unwinnable, think it makes us less safe at home and want a timetable for troop withdrawal. How many of our soldiers need to die before our elected officials start listening to us?
The grim milestone of the death of the 2000th American soldier should be a time for national reflection. As the families of our soldiers know all too well, 2000 is not just a number. These are 2000 human beings we've lost; 2000 people with names, with grieving families; 2000 people with hopes and dreams that will never be realized.
Let's honor them by stopping more soldiers from dying. Let's honor them by giving Iraqis a chance to run their own country. Let's honor them by bringing their buddies home.
Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and Global Exchange. Gayle Brandeis, also with CODEPINK, is the author of The Book of Dead Birds, which won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change.