What 4000 means to me

by Justin Cliburn
Oklahoma Army National Guard
South Central Regional Coordinator of Iraq Veterans Against the War

The news of the 4,000th US death in Iraq did not come to me in any dramatic fashion like the news of 9/11, the capture of Saddam Hussein, or the date of my first deployment to Iraq had. Instead, I simply logged into my e-mail and saw it staring at me in the subject line of my most recent unread message. I was not surprised. I was not shocked. I was simply saddened to see the toll hit yet another milestone while our elected leaders in Congress await a new administration to bounce their withdrawal plans off of and the general public continues their tradition of apathy. I was saddened that it took a clean-cut, round number like 4,000 for the United States to snap out of its daze and pay attention once again to the human toll this war has wrought. Was the 4,000th death really any more tragic than the 3,999th? If 3,999 represents an arbitrary figure but 4,000 represents a milestone worthy of front-page mention, what does that say about America’s attention span?

4,000 seems so far away from the short, virtually costless war that we were promised by our Commander-in Chief five long years ago, but, even then, 4,000 doesn’t truly tell the story of what has transpired since March 19th, 2003. Numbers will never do justice to the damage this occupation has wrought upon the United States, let alone the world, but let me tell you what the number 4,000 means to me.

There are 4,000 fewer Americans alive today than five years ago due to this occupation. 4,000 families have been destroyed as sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers have been lost. Death does not discriminate: from the E-7 husband and father to the 20 year old E-3, their lives, however fulfilled or just beginning, were taken. 4,000 funerals for the fallen have been conducted, not one with the presence of the Commander-in-Chief. . . 4,000 performances of “Taps” . . . 4,000 Honor Guards . . . 4,000 dates that will forever live on in the minds of the families of the taken.
To those who have served and to those who are proud to call their family members veterans, 4,000 will never be a sufficient barometer of what our nation has lost. Each notch on the casualty list represents a name, a family, and a life. I know a few of those names, as do so many of my brothers and sisters in Iraq Veterans Against the War; it is for them that we continue our oath of service today by standing up against this illegal and unethical war to prevent a 5,000th name from being added to this list. It is in that same spirit of honor and duty to each other as soldiers, sailors, and Marines that IVAW today demands full benefits for our returning veterans, including mental health counseling, so that no more names are silently lost in the bureaucracy of government-approved casualty lists. Make no mistake: those who return home and take their own lives as a result of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are the ultimate casualties of war.

The number 4,000 says nothing about the toll this folly has had on the Iraqi people. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, have died. Millions have become refugees, either in their own country or in neighboring countries. Families have been ripped apart. Neighborhoods have been destroyed. National monuments and cultural landmarks have been disgraced. An entire generation of Iraqis has grown up in the shadow of occupation.

No, this news did not come to me as a shock, and it wasn’t delivered in a dramatic fashion. That almost makes it worse, however, because I saw it coming for so long and, despite all the work IVAW has put in on behalf of those who no longer have a voice, there was nothing I could do to stop it. Help IVAW prevent a 5,000th story of loss today by pledging your support and demanding an end to the occupation of Iraq.