Under the Sun
2,000 lives the price we have paid -- so far
BY itself, without context, a number has no significance other than to represent quantity. Even then, absent comparison, its value is neutral.
We apply meaning to a number as expressions or to communicate ideas, situations, goals, achievements. One, for example, can be the loneliest number; 3, the charm; 7 and 11 together, a dicey roll in gaming; 10, a score of perfection; 13, an omen of misfortune; 50, a golden moment in so many orientations.
When a number counts the human beings, the soldiers cut from life in a war where neither triumph nor conclusion is in sight, what does it matter if it is two or 2,000? The relentless tick of seconds and minutes, days, weeks, months and years assure 2,000 its shameful impermanence.
A phony milestone, puffed Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican functionary from President Bush's adopted home state of Texas, "a number that some are using to undermine support for our effort."
I wish he would contemplate if each death in Iraq, each uncovering of misinformation perverted to appear as fact, each lie disguised as reason to go to war might also deplete support. I suppose hardened poll numbers that show most Americans believe it was wrong to go to war are phony, too.
For Cornyn's master and commander, the prime number at this juncture is 30, the months through which he has led the Iraqi people and their devastated nation "from tyranny to liberation," as he trumpeted to 300 members of a Washington officers' wives club he lunched with yesterday.
They applauded him 31 times, more appreciative a crowd than the 66 percent who disapprove of his handling of the war. But the president could not be aware that two-thirds of Americans have unfavorable views, since he professes ignorance of polls and news reports.
He must be keenly mindful of the number 3, the countdown of days before the expiration of a grand jury investigating who among a clutch of handlers and advisers, if any, was involved in outing a CIA agent, or a subsequent cover-up of the leak.
To the Pentagon, 2,000 is something to spin, "an artificial mark on the wall," a spokesman said.|
For Lisa Short, a woman who lives in Marion, Ill., the number that presses profoundly on her heart right now is 21. That is how old her son, Aaron Pickering, would have been, come Friday. Pickering is one of 357 soldiers who died before they were old enough to legally raise a cold beer with friends on a warm summer evening.
Two is what Brian Zamiska of Pennsylvania thinks about. The armor unit sergeant based in Baghdad lost "two of his best friends" in the war, but undaunted, he has reenlisted for 12 more years. Echoing the oft-stated motive for fighting on -- that if not, his comrades will have "died in vain" -- he also thinks about the 15,220 soldiers who have been injured, about 7,000 with grave physical injuries, and an as yet untold number who will suffer the psychological pain of mayhem.
As for Iraqi civilians, I doubt they are aware or care much about 2,000 when they have lost between 26,661 and 30,018 -- maybe more, no one knows for sure -- of their children, husbands, grandparents and friends.
To the Pentagon, 2,000 is something to spin, "an artificial mark on the wall," a spokesman said. "The 2,000th soldier, sailor, airman or Marine that is killed in action is just as important as the first that died and will be just as important as the last to die."
Short, the Illinois mother, agrees. "Two thousand makes me feel no different than one. It's all a loss, it doesn't matter how little or great. They're all individual lives that have been taken."
But there is one more thing she thinks about. "I just often wonder what the end number will be."
It won't be 2,000.
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Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at: email@example.com