SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


What to call those Americans who died in Iraq
Scripps Howard News Service


March 13, 2007
Tuesday AM

Recently, two declared presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, got in trouble for the same mistake: They used the term "wasted" to refer to the more than 3,100 American lives lost so far in Iraq. Both quickly apologized.

Columnists and bloggers took up the subject. Some of them pointed out the apparent contradiction between McCain's hawkish position on the war and his clumsy characterization of its costs. Others questioned whether Obama is all that "articulate," after all.

When the subject came up on Bill Maher's "Real Time" on March 2, the plain-spoken Maher argued that words matter, and that nothing is gained by using unduly positive language to describe our losses in a war that was unnecessary, ill advised, and poorly conceived from the beginning.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of Maher's guests that night, opposes the war, as well, but he argued that adding to the pain of families that have lost loved ones in Iraq by using terms like "wasted" is unconscionable.

We find ourselves in a bad double bind. On one hand, the war has turned from its dubious beginnings into a chaotic disaster. No one knows how to get out. The best its supporters can offer is a thin glimmer of hope. On "Meet the Press" on March 4, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said that Gen. David Petraeus and a surge of 21,500 troops are our "last best chance." While the violence and chaos continue, other vague reassurances come from those who have been wrong about the war all along.

On the other hand, our nation is blessed with young men and women who are willing to live in arduous conditions for indeterminate deployments while doing, almost without question, the difficult and dangerous tasks we've given them. They were sent to Iraq in insufficient numbers and with inadequate armor. As a result, many have been killed and many more have been wounded. The Bush administration has been reluctant to allow press coverage as their coffins return and, now we discover, many of the wounded have received inadequate care. Nevertheless everyone claims to "support the troops" and yellow ribbons can be seen on the backs of SUVs. And our troops continue to serve, for the most part, willingly and honorably.

So, how should we refer to those who lose their lives while fighting valiantly in a bad cause? We probably overuse the term "hero," to the point where we've bled it of most of its meaning. Still, there's something noble and deeply honorable about the devotion of our armed services to our nation, whatever the mission. Christians call this the expression of great love, to lay down one's life for one's friends. And Barney Frank is probably right: Whatever the circumstances, to call their sacrifice a "waste" is a characterization too painful and bitter to force on families who have suffered too much already.

The Gettysburg Address comes to mind. Over the graves of soldiers who had died to preserve the union, President Lincoln urged devotion to their cause, so that "these dead shall not have died in vain." If the goal of a free, friendly, democratic, and oil-rich Iraq is eventually realized, we may say that the sacrifice was worth it, although we still face a grim calculation of the toll, which could be 4,000, 6,000, or 10,000 killed troops, with many more wounded.

Unfortunately, at present the achievement of that goal doesn't seem likely, and many other lives are still at stake. Candid talk is called for. Many of the perpetrators of our war in Iraq, variously misguided, mistaken, and incompetent, have gone on to better jobs or comfortable retirements. Some remain in office. Some have been awarded nice medals. None of them has paid for their mistakes and malfeasance.

In fact, just about the only ones who have really paid for this war, besides the Iraqis, are the ones who have fought it, in miserable and dangerous conditions, during uncertain and multiple deployments, for low pay, and with insufficient honor and care upon their return. What do we call them? How about "victims"?


John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.
E-mail: jcrisp(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

Publish A Letter on SitNews
        Read Letters/Opinions
Submit A Letter to the Editor

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska