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The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Not-So-Small Price of Iraq

Dante Zappala

Until recently, I thought America agreed that the death of over 3,800 troops in Iraq is a tremendous loss to this country.

My brother, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, is just one in that number. He was a soldier in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and was killed in an explosion in Baghdad on April 26, 2004.

Sherwood, like other fallen heroes, was a leader in his community, a vital link in the fabric that binds us as Americans. His son, growing into a young man, has the loss etched into his long, penetrating stares. Who could look at him and say his father's sacrifice was, in actuality, not a large one?

A chorus of war enthusiasts is giving it a shot. House GOP leader John Boehner said it best when asked recently about the monetary and human price tag of the war. He categorized these costs as a "small price to pay."

The death and dismemberment in Iraq is being spun as the pro-war lobby tries to shore up support for more blank checks from Congress. Pay no attention to the devastation behind the curtain, they tell us.

Of course, anyone who's lost a relative, anyone caring for a wounded vet, anyone whose marriage has been destroyed, anyone with skin in the game will tell you that the cost of war is, indeed, great. That was spelled out again for me when we visited my brother's grave. It would have been his 34th birthday. He's still young, I'm reminded.

But the effort now is to paint these tragedies that dot the landscape as random and obscure.

The goal is to keep the machine rolling. Rep. Boehner knows his audience is much greater than Gold Star and military families.

The war, in reality, is a small price to pay for this country. We, the affected, represent an incredibly limited portion of the population. Less than one percent has served in Iraq. The breadth of the sacrifice has maybe hit 10 percent of the country.

What Americans must rely on is their empathy. The emotional vulnerability of our citizenry again becomes the strategic battleground. And just as distortions led us into this war, they are being used to keep us there.

The numbers aren't really that bad, they tell us. Perhaps 100,000 or more Iraqi citizens have been killed. Shamefully, we can't tell you for sure because their lives never mattered as much. "We don't do body counts on the other people," as Donald Rumsfeld said.

If the public blinks, they'll miss the truth about our own casualty figures. To put a better face on what's happening, the Department of Defense decided that non-combat injuries won't make the most prominently published totals. The average person might be surprised to learn that more than 50,000 armed service members have been wounded or killed in Iraq.

But the real cost of the Iraq war is yet to be defined. The impact of the first Gulf War, a four-day ground war, is revealing. Of those veterans, more than one out of every four has been granted a service-connected disability.

What does this portend for the almost million and a half vets of this war, many of whom have served multiple deployments in a conflict approaching its five- year anniversary?

Still, Congress will remain partly unable but mostly unwilling to take a stand. They have succumbed to the false pressure that they must "support our troops" by keeping the money flowing.

The question is: What are we funding? Are we really benefiting our military by leaving them under-equipped and stretched thin? What is their mission amidst a civil war fought, in part, with weapons we flooded into the country? Does continuing this morass not somehow benefit al Qaeda?

Politicians will gloss over these questions and the brunt of the unending carnage will be absorbed by people like my nephew. Some pundits, meanwhile, cheer from the sidelines and ask these children to accept their tragedy as historically insignificant. How awful will we, as a nation, become to maintain this war?

For four and a half years, the reported deaths of soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors, Coast Guardsmen and contractors has been heartbreakingly painful. The magnitude of their sacrifice has been a crucial part of the debate. Politically savvy war supporters want to change that.

They will try to keep the blinders on with their morally defunct contextualization. They want the focus out front, even as their policies and ideologies leaves broken bodies and broken lives in the rear-view mirror. *

Dante Zappala is a member of Military Families Speak Out (

© Copyright 2007 Philly Online, LLC

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