Raleigh -- George W. Bush doesn't read many memos and he apparently doesn't read history. He should. Then he'd know more about the Pentagon Papers.
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department employee then working at the Rand Corporation, had grown so restive over reports he had seen that proved a pattern of systematic lying to the public about America's war in Vietnam that he could no longer in good conscience remain silent. He leaked what would become "the Pentagon Papers" to the press. They showed that the government had lied about the war, and that many experts believed by 1968 that the war itself was unwinnable. More than 20,000 of our war deaths -- which eventually totaled 58,000 Americans (plus millions of Southeast Asians) -- occurred after 1968. After military and political experts told two administrations that the war would be lost.
We have now passed the much smaller empirical milestone in Iraq of 2,000 American dead. This figure does not include Afghanistan, it does not include more than 15,000 troops wounded, nor over 400 who have lost limbs, nor does it include the tens of thousands of Iraqi dead.
There is nothing special about the number 2,000, except what was special about each of the numerical increments along the way. Two thousand times now, a military sedan with two or three uniformed service members has pulled up in front of some home in the United States or Puerto Rico to deliver news that tore the hearts out of people and shattered their lives.
So this round number is just an opportunity to remind ourselves of what is going on -- and what is not.
The rate of terror attacks worldwide has tripled since 9/11, so the world is no safer. No one has "won the war but lost the peace" in Iraq -- one of the most Orwellian phrases imaginable, repeated like a drunken mantra to sustain denial about the reality of Iraq. The war has never been won. All that was accomplished was a bloody occupation. According to every poll, the majority of Iraqis want the occupation out, so the majority will is not being respected in this alleged attempt to build democracy at gunpoint.
The military is suffering such a profound retention and recruitment crisis that it has lowered standards and even resorted to recruiting among hurricane suviviors at the Astrodome. Taxpayers are footing a $6 billion a month bill for the war in Iraq; and future taxpayers will get the bill for billions more in national debt, 40 percent of which is debt now owned by foreign investors and central banks. So we aren't just sacrificing schools and health care and housing but the futures of our children -- who will be approachable by more recruiters for more wars if something doesn't change.
Two thousand is not just a number to reflect on, then go about our business.
This is the equivalent of slapping one of those yellow ribbon magnets on a car that says "Support The Troops." It's easy, and it makes people feel better about their lack of action. It really is time to take note.
The U.S. military occupation of Iraq is the single greatest catalyst for the violence there. Fewer than 4 percent of the insurgent fighters are foreign, and they are there because of the U.S. presence. Most of the daily attacks are directed at Americans, though more vulnerable civilians bear the brunt of these attacks. There are around 500 attacks per week, and electoral gymnastics have not changed this one whit -- in fact, these U.S.-managed affairs may actually make things much worse.
It's time to face these facts head-on and to get out of Iraq now. Immediately. As quickly as the plans can be drawn up for redeployment.
The Iraqis have coped with far more chaos from the occupation than they will without it, and, however painfully, they will find their way better when it is their way, not what the Bush administration says is their way.
The argument that those who have died will have died in vain is sophistry of the cruelest kind. We do not say when children are killed by drunken drivers that they died in vain. We honor their memories by organizing to ensure that the same thing doesn't happen to others. The way we support the troops -- as human beings, not occupiers -- and honor the memories of those who have already died is to bring them all home, and do it now.
Stan Goff is a retired Special Forces master sergeant whose son has been to Iraq with the Army twice. He is the author of "Full Spectrum Disorder -- The Military in the New American Century" (2004) and a member of Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out.
© 2005 The News & Observer Publishing Company