How Many Deaths will it Take?
The words reverberate in my mind as I visualize Peter, Paul and Mary singing one of the ultimate anti-war songs of our era. Indeed, “how many deaths will it take” until we realize that “too many people have died.” The words are apropos on this date, September 8, 2004, with the headlines telling us that the “U.S. Toll in Iraq Reaches 1,000.”
To the leaders in Washington, it is the “price we have to pay.” Donald Rumsfeld, perhaps the ultimate in war-mongers states, in words Orwell would be proud of, that the toll is evidence that we are aggressively pursuing terrorists around the world and that the losses have been “relatively small.” “Taking the offense,” he said, “has its cost, just as staying on defense has its cost.”
President Bush, who hasn’t a clue about war and was in fact a deserter, was asked what he would do to help the families of the dead soldiers. Revealing the religious fanaticism that plagues the entire society, Bush said: “The first thing we’ll do is support them with our prayers.” Then he added that there will be “survivor benefits.” Yeah, right. A recent Associate Press story noted that "Increasing numbers of National Guard and Reserve troops who have returned from war in Iraq and Afghanistan are encountering new battles with their civilian employers at home. Jobs were eliminated, benefits reduced and promotions forgotten" (August 16, 2004).
Recent news stories abound regarding proposed cuts in veterans’ benefits, such as the following story: “Last year, while troops were at war, the president proposed slashing $1.5 billion from military family housing and tried to roll back recent modest increases in bonuses paid to soldiers serving in combat zones. The president also refused to extend the child tax credit to one million children living in military and veteran families. And Congressional Quarterly reported on February 4th that Mr. Bush's own Secretary for Veterans Affairs told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the President rejected a desperate request for $1.2 billion in funding needed for veterans' health care. Many lawmakers believe that the Mr. Bush's administration is now cutting programs like veterans' benefits because the massive tax cuts it gave to benefit the wealthiest Americans have created massive budget deficits. The Veterans of Foreign Wars issued a statement after receiving the White House's budget, calling it "disgraceful" and saying it was a "disgrace and a sham." (United Steel Workers of America web site: http://www.uswa.org).
Veterans for Justice recently lamented the cuts, noting that while thousands of American soldiers were being sent to Iraq “Congress was cutting the budget of the VA's Medical Programs for Veterans by $844 million for the next year. To pay for Bush's massive tax cuts for the super rich. Yes, as America's Finest were carrying rifles into combat, our very own government was betraying them, and stabbing them in the back with ink pens, stealing their future Veterans Benefits. To provide Tax Cuts for Corporate America and the super rich." - VetsforJustice.com).
One report noted that the FY 2004 budget approved by the House of Representatives called for reducing VA funding by $463 million! The budget also requested a “ten-year reduction through 2013 of approximately $25 billion.”American Legion National Commander Ronald F. Conley commented that, "Our nation cannot, in good conscience, commit men and women to battle, and reduce the meager, yet well-deserved, compensation for those who are wounded." VFW Commander-in-Chief Ray Sisk, "It is unconscionable as we stand on the brink of war in the deserts of Iraq that we send a message to our service men and women that our nation will not be there for them in their time of need. . . . Reducing VA health-care funding, even by the seemingly small one percent, will worsen many of VA's gravest problems." (“Budget Cuts to Veterans' Benefits,” U. S. Labor Against the War, http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org).
In January of this year I wrote a commentary in the Las Vegas Mercury called “War is the ultimate crime.” Among other things, I said: “The death toll has now passed the 500 mark since the start of the invasion. They died, not to protect some vague notion of Afreedom,@ nor to rid the world of the Aterrorist threat,@ but to engage in Aregime change,@ or was it Aweapons of mass destruction,@ or was it because Saddam was linked to Ossama, or----the reasons matter little at this point, for none of these reasons is valid. An article in the New York Times reported last November that troops will be in Iraq until March 2006. An average of about 50 American soldiers has died each month since the start of this war; more than 2 each day. At this rate, by March 2006, about 1900 will have died and suffered who knows how many serious injuries (missing arms and legs, etc.), which too often is a fate worse than death.”
We are well on the way to reaching that 1900 figure I mentioned. The question remains: “How many deaths will it take…”