Elsewhere, you will read and hear quite a bit about a certain figure reached in terms of certain casualties in a certain country. Set that aside.
Instead, I direct your attention to something else, related to that of course but much more than that. It’s a collection of pieces over at the LA Times where staff writers and photographers talk about military members they met and knew, either briefly or over a period of time, who are now gone.
I have said, quite simply and forthrightly over the years, that we must remember the dead — and that the dead are not simply those who have served in our military. The exact number is and will forever be in dispute but many, many thousands more have died in Iraq for no reason other than being born, raised and having lived there. This is always best remembered, no matter what angle you come from, or what you conclude, or you think our presence or absence would have changed that. I could say more but again, set that aside.
Turn instead to the stories I’ve linked — and note. The men you see talked about there, the men and women who are writing about them, neither are caricatures nor stereotypes. The servicemen are neither paragons of righteousness nor blood-soaked meatheads. The reporters are neither aggressive crusaders for truth nor tools of a mass media conspiracy.
No, they are human, and they are there, and they talk and think and differ and agree, and some are there because of one thing and some for another. The servicemen may have guns but they have brains and souls. The reporters may not fight but they put themselves at risk — and they too have brains and souls. Do I mention one group and your hackles rise? Do I mention another and cause scorn? If so, why so? At what do you react? An objective truth you somehow possess, or a perception based on indirect experience?
These are pat statements on my part, cliches, obvious observations. I pretend nothing in them of remarkable depth or insight. And I fall prey to errors and quick judgments as much as anyone, there is no excusing of that here. There is however a reminder:
Remember the dead. Remember the living who speak about them here. Create no plaster saints, no effigies to burn. No whitewashing, no tarring and feathering.
The numbers will yet rise. And that is all that can be concluded.
[UPDATE: The New York Times has a piece in a similar fashion, though in this case drawing on a variety of blog posts and letters from six soldiers now passed. Read, reflect, remember.]