Walking By The Wounded
Why do we keep acting as though only the dead in Iraq matter? (And, sadly, I must pass over the literally countless Iraqi and Afghan dead and wounded, who are only known to their loved ones, and will never be listed in any document or abstract, as if their lives did not matter).
Oh, the dead matter quite a lot, but they don't matter nearly as much as the living, the wounded, the maimed. But you wouldn't know it to listen to the rhetoric. The obsession has been with the number of dead -- as if this were a sporting event.
As I write this, the grisly "official" scoreboard lights up this number: 3,398.
(And you can check http://icasualties.org/oif/ for a more credible breakdown of the various statistics.)
We have grown so used to the satanic majesty of our own government's propaganda that we are continually sucked into this phony figure. Phony, why? Because, as we have known from the beginning, the numbers are cooked.
Only soldiers actually killed at the SCENE are considered war dead, while suicides, soldiers who die of their wounds, or ANY OTHER DODGE to minimalize the casualty figures are -- admittedly -- kept off the books, so that we can pretend that this sanitized war isn't a real war, but is, in fact, a Saturday Morning Kiddie Cartoon: bloodless, safe, comforting and bland.
As William Tecumseh Sherman noted: War is hell. And, as we ought to know by now, Hell is ruled by the Prince of Lies (in this case George W. Bush).
It is not the dead that matter, kiddies. It is the LIVING. The dead are beyond our poor ability to add or detract. They are beyond human ken. In a very real sense they ARE just numbers. Only the grief of the living is real: the sorrow, the pain and the loss that their friends and relatives will feel, like a phantom limb, will go on, but, as a matter of cold, hard calculation, the dead are dead, and they are buried.
Our connection with them is severed.
But the wounded will be with us for the rest of our lives. We will see them in their wheelchairs, with their artificial limbs, their scarred and ravaged faces in the shopping malls, the fast food joints, in the crowd at baseball games and football games, on the freeways, from sea to shining sea.
And we will be paying for their disabilities for the rest of our lives.
Why do we not speak of them? Why do we pretend that dying is the great problem?
As the Australian anti-war masterpiece, "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" goes (by Eric Bogle in 1972: the finest anti-war song I've ever heard)
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head,It is not the dead who must live with the horror: it is the living, and we do the wounded a profound disservice every time that we ignore their ongoing, living suffering in favor of quoting the FALSE death statistic, as though that were all that mattered.
And when I woke up in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead --
Never knew there was worse things than dying.
Certainly it matters, but not nearly as much as the ongoing hell, the "worse than dying" hell that the wounded of this hellspawn's war will live with every day for the rest of their lives.
My great-great grandfather returned from three years' service in the Civil War and was never able to do a full day's work, although he was a farmer, and managed to continue in that profession with the help of his family. Even though he was never listed as a casualty, and never wounded in battle, he was never quite "right." He was sickly for the next 25 years. He died in his fifties, a mere four years after his own father, who had lived to 81, and his widow had to carry on without him for another thirty years.
Were they not casualties of that war as well?
So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed,
And they shipped us back home to Australia.
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane,
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla.
And as our ship sailed into Circular Quay, (key)
I looked at the place where me legs used to be,
So, too, the officially wounded, and the wounded, like my grandfather, who will never be listed in any statistical abstract, and whose application for veterans' benefits will get the classic bureaucratic runaround, perhaps admitted, but likely denied, years and decades hence. (Think of Agent Orange or Gulf War Syndrome.)
And their pain and grief, if history is any indication, will be consciously forgotten and denied, as the nation seeks to pretend that the horrors of war are behind it.
Again, as Bogle's masterwork notes:
And the old men march slowly, all bones stiff and sore,
They're tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
And I ask meself the same question.
(You can hear the whole song sung by Eric Bogle at this official Australian government website.)
War is less about the dead than the living, and we perform an obscene rite in ignoring them.
As of this day, that hidden "official" number stands at: 24,645 (even though it is over 25,000 without jiggering the books).