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Date Posted: 00:12:07 04/24/05 Sun
Author: Jean
Subject: American Casualties and the True Cost of War(Rutherford article)


American Casualties and the True Cost of War
by John W. Whitehead

Imagine that you are an American soldier who has been serving your country in Iraq. While there, you were injured and are now being flown home to the U.S. for medical care. You arrive in the dark of night. There are no onlookers waiting for you at the airport. No relatives are there to greet you. Instead, a black van sits at the edge of the runway to transport you to the hospital. But the van doesn�t take you to the hospital�s main emergency room entrance�it takes you to a side entry. No one sees you. And even if they do, they are not allowed to take pictures. The whole atmosphere is one of secrecy and shame.

Reportedly, since 9/11, the Pentagon has transported a staggering 24,772 patients from battlefields, mostly in Iraq, yet there are currently very few pictures of wounded soldiers arriving home. While the media continues to report on the rising death toll of American soldiers killed during the Iraqi war, too often the high number of soldiers wounded in the war goes unnoticed.

Part of the public�s lack of awareness can be attributed to the Pentagon. According to journalist Mark Benjamin, the Pentagon�s practice of flying wounded soldiers home in the dead of night and banning photographs of them is part of an effort to keep the American public from knowing the true cost of this war. It was, after all, the publication of pictures and television coverage of dead and wounded soldiers that triggered American animosity toward the Vietnam War.

However, while the Pentagon insists that there is no conspiracy to hide the wounded from the public, they�re also unable to offer any explanation for the use of night flights. This failure to give a reason for the night flights leads Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of an advocacy group for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, Operation Truth (www.optruth.org), to believe that �they do it so nobody sees [the wounded]. In their mind-set, this is going to demoralize the American people. The overall cost of this war has been � continuously hidden throughout. As the costs get higher, their efforts to conceal those costs also increases.�

In a January 2000 speech at Harvard University, General Henry Shelton stated that any war which politicians engaged in should be able to pass the �Dover test.� �Any operation that we do is not going to be without risk to our troops, and insertion of armed forces always carries with it the potential for casualties,� explained Shelton. �We have to ask the question, �Is the American public prepared for the sight of our most precious resources coming home in flag-draped caskets into Dover Air Force Base?��

Unfortunately, the American public has yet to answer Shelton�s question, protected as they have been by the Bush administration�s enforcement of a ban on photographs of caskets arriving at any military base. The Bush Administration argues that this ban is intended to protect the privacy of the soldiers and their families. But quite obviously, it has the added benefit of keeping Americans unaware of the human toll of the war. And the human toll of the Bush administration�s war in Iraq is staggering.

In �The Invisible Wounded� (www.salon.com), Mark Benjamin estimates that there are somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000 soldiers who have been wounded in the war, �but that figure does not include the number of soldiers who are wounded or ill, or injured in operations that are not directly due to the bullets and bombs of the insurgents.� For example, as of September 2004, there were 17,000 soldiers who were injured or ill enough to be flown away from the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, because they didn�t fit the Pentagon�s definition of casualties, none of those soldiers appear on any public casualty lists.

In the words of Congressman Ron Paul (R-Tx.), �When it comes to war, the principle of deception lives on�Hundreds of Americans have already been killed, and thousands more wounded and crippled, while thousands of others will experience new and deadly war related illnesses not yet identified. Too often, our men and women who are exposed to the hostilities of war and welcomed initially are easily forgotten after the fighting ends. Soon afterward, the injured and the sick are ignored and forgotten.�

Although our wounded fighting men and women are today being hidden from the public, they should not be forgotten by us. There was a time when these courageous Americans would have been given a hero�s welcome on their return home. If nothing else, our soldiers deserve to be honored for their actions in Iraq, rather than simply being snuck home under cover of darkness. And we certainly deserve to know exactly how high a price we are paying for this war in terms of how many American soldiers have died or been wounded.

Maybe then we can decide if the war is truly worth the cost.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute and author of the award-winning Grasping for the Wind. He can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

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