Wounded Inaction

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In the event that you haven’t consulted Merriam-Webster lately, the omnipresent warblog word “quagmire” is technically defined as ‘1. soft miry land that shakes or yields under the foot or 2. a difficult, precarious, or entrapping position : PREDICAMENT.’

Indeed. But unlike most parties caught between a rock and a hard place, even liberals are having trouble finding it in our bleeding hearts to have much sympathy for this Bush debacle in Iraq. Perhaps there’s a certain smug satisfaction that the opponents of the Iraq war are now taking — UN members are witholding “I told you sos” with relative dignity. US military officials are pleading for more troops. Meanwhile, as Paul Rogers of Open Democracy writes, out-of-touch Pentagon officials aren’t interested in the UN or more troops:

“The current political, military and economic control of Iraq is essentially delegated to the Pentagon, not the state department, and the civilian leadership in the Pentagon, most notably Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, continues to maintain control while holding the view that no more troops are required and that an increased role for the UN is an unacceptable complication. What is significant, though, is that this view is simply not shared by the military, with some of the most senior commanders actively seeking a more substantial UN involvement.”

To reiterate the point of all left-of-center pundits, Bush screwed up. Big Time. But there is in fact a lesser known predicament, a difficult position even lefties haven’t really addressed, that’s serious enough to wipe the smirk off even the most triumphant espouser of quagmire accusations. To date, 1,325 troops have sustained injuries severe enough to warrant their return “home.” (Home usually being the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington or the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.) Over 4,500 have flown home due to physical or mental illness, according to Rogers and Vernon Loeb of the Washington Post. Loeb writes that the number of injured more than doubles that of troops wounded in the Persian Gulf War. And the number is increasing — up to an average of 10 troops a day.

“Fifty-five Americans were wounded in action last week alone, pushing the number of wounded in action since May 1 beyond the number wounded during peak fighting.”

But, as a handful of reporters are beginning to note, those bits of information are not easily accessible. If an American digs around the web a bit, he or she can already note the bizarre and vague explanations for many troop casualties (some causes for and assesments of deaths: “a non-combat related cause”; “incident is under investigation”; “after a fellow soldier tried to wake him and noticed he was not breathing”; and “he was accidentally struck by a Humvee”). But, as Loeb and Lunaville note, finding a total tally of Iraqi wounded is next to impossible, or, at the very least, extremely time consuming:

“Although Central Command keeps a running total of the wounded, it releases the number only when asked, making the combat injuries of U.S. troops in Iraq one of the untold stories of the war.”

U.S. Central Command usually issues news releases listing injuries only when the attacks kill one or more troops. The result is that many injuries go unreported.”

Lunaville, a weblog that’s kept a diligent casualty and wounded count, affirms Loeb’s reports:

“After the soldierÕs relatives are notified of the death, the U.S. Department of Defense then issues its own news release that gives the soldierÕs name, age, unit and hometown.

The trouble with this system of notification, however, is that the government provides no tally of those releases. Occasionally, the Department of Defense will release a total number of deaths to date. But it certainly doesnÕt go out of its way to divulge those numbers. If you want to know the number of deaths at any given point, you have two choices: count up the news releases yourself… or find a non-governmental entity that is tracking the numbers and posting them somewhere.”

There’s that, and then the notable lack of reports of the wounded troops in the media. Sure Jessica Lynch is a hero, but what about the amputees and paralyzed who fought for Iraqi liberation? Bill Berkowitz, who refers to the wounded soldiers as “the new disappeared,” chalks it up to reports of the wounded being “too depressing,” or, as Norman Solomon says:

“‘The wounded are much too real; telling their stories would be too much of a bummer for television’s news programmers,'” says Norman Solomon, media critic and co-author of Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You. ‘Dead people don’t linger like wounded people do. Dead people’s names can be posted on a television honor role, but the networks and cable news channels won’t clog up their air time with the names and pictures of hundreds and hundreds of wounded soldiers.'”

Yeah, dude. War is, for sure, a Bummer. What’s that old saying, about telling no tales? As harsh as it seems, maybe the American public doesn’t want to hear the stories of a war zone — those are stories of the past, or of other, lesser-developed countries. But the ignorance-is-bliss mentality certainly isn’t hurting the Bush campaign, as Brian Cloughely of Counterpunch is quick to note:

“Why does the US Commander-in-Chief refuse to visit his wounded soldiers in their hospital beds? I’ll tell you why. It wouldn’t play well on camera. Bush, the great commander-in-chief, he of the aircraft carrier-landing in macho Top Gun kit, is facing election next year, and it wouldn’t look good for him to be photographed alongside American kids who had their legs blown off after he declared the end of major combat operations. He would play the compassion card if he thought it would bring him votes. But the cards he gave soldiers before he sent them to Iraq were out of a stacked deck.”

While the President and media have the luxury of ignoring the predicament of wounded troops, their loved ones and families do not. Their stories, despite their absence from front-page news, might be the most important gauge of what’s really happening in Iraq. Guerilla war, quagmire, bummer, “successfully accomplished” or otherwise, the situation in Iraq is — well, beyond words, as Loeb finds:

“‘A few of us started volunteering (at Walter Reed) as amputees in 1991, and this is the most we’ve seen ever,’ said Jim Mayer, a double amputee from the Vietnam War who works at the Veterans Administration. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this. But I haven’t seen anybody not get good care.'”


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