As children, we learned about Santa Claus -- a pleasant, harmless myth. As adults, we're being taught another myth -- that ordinary people haven't sacrificed anything during the Iraq war.
But the sacrifice myth isn't an innocent belief we shed before adolescence. And the more people accept it, the more dangerous it is.
So let's count our sacrifices. One of our biggest came at the start of the war, when we gave up freedom of the press. Media outlets agreed they'd only send journalists who'd be embedded with the troops, so everything we've read or seen has been censored.
Worse yet, in 2006, new media rules from the Department of Defense stated, "Names, video, identifiable written/oral descriptions or identifiable photographs of wounded service members will not be released without service members' prior written consent." Just when should an embedded journalist hand out consent forms?
Photos of dead or wounded Americans in Vietnam swelled the number of anti-war protesters. Back then, we saw horrific images of GIs writhing in pain. We also saw dead GIs, not in coffins, but bloody and dismembered in the field.
Even before the new media rule began, embedded photographers rarely pictured dead or wounded GIs, according to Pat Arnow of Extra, a publication of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Instead, most of our media's coverage of Iraq has pictured the injured GIs who can sit up in bed without grimacing to receive a Purple Heart. The few pictures of dead GIs haven't shown blood or gore; they've shown funerals.
Photographers get close to the soldiers they're embedded with and self-censor pictures of them. If they send their editors explicit photos, the editors declare the images "too graphic to publish," like the Washington Post did on Jan. 7, 2007.
Embedded journalists also censor pictures of dead Iraqis. "Those pictures overwhelmingly show only one kind of victim -- people and things shattered by their fellow countrymen, not by U.S. troops," Arnow says.
When we do see a photo of an Iraqi killed by U.S. troops, the media distances us by labeling the dead Iraqi "an al-Qaida-linked militant," or "a militiaman loyal to Osama bin Laden."
Remember that photo of a terrorized naked Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack? Today she would be called "a Vietcong guerilla" or "a Ho Chi Minh militant."
But freedom of the press isn't the only sacrifice we've made. Last month, Congress released "The Hidden Costs of the Iraq War," a report showing the war's cost so far at $1.3 trillion. That figure includes direct costs plus interest on the money borrowed to wage the war.
The money we spend on Iraq in one day could fund 9,300 teachers for a year, or 14,200 police officers, or 163,700 college Pell Grants, or 58,000 children's tuition for Head Start, or 513,000 children's health insurance. We've sacrificed all of those and more.
Worst, we've sacrificed human life. In September, the Opinion Research Business firm's study of Iraqi households found that 1 million Iraqis have died due to violence since the U.S. invasion. We know of 4,000 American military who've died, but rarely does anyone ask about American civilian death counts.
And we'll never know what the world lost when each of those people died. Each life was full of possibility. Who knows what contributions each person could have made to the workplace and the world, to their friends and to their families?
Mary Conroy is a Madison-based freelance writer.
© 2007 Capital Newspapers