0

Putting a face on the war - Bob Paslay

I have a few moments to reflect and so I go to a web site maintained by CNN that has the pictures and ages of all the soldiers killed in the Iraqi fighting. It also has a brief description of how each died.

The number now tops 1,000, including at this writing more than 900 Americans. I pray to God that from this writing to the time you read this that the number will not go up, but wishing doesn't make it true, especially in the land of killing.

I pause at some of the faces and think a few moments. I go fast through some and just look at the ages, 20, 21, 25.

Some are smiling, some have the stoic military poses, they are black and white and Hispanic. There are men and women. They come from every section of the nation.

I think about the loss and I think about how many more hundreds are going to be on this list before we finally extricate ourselves from this horror.

My fear is there is no specific plan to get us out and that days can turn into months and then years as it did in Vietnam. At some point, and I hope it is soon, we need to tell all of the countries in the region that if they invade Iraq we will turn the full might of America against them. Then we need to pull up stakes and leave Iraqis to solve Iraq's problems with whatever equipment we want to leave behind. Up to the end, we kept trying to "Vietnamize" the Vietnamese.

In case you want to do as I did and stare at the faces of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, the Web site is:

http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2003/iraq/forces/casualties/index.html

I know that you can't be a general or a commander in chief and think about the individual losses or you would be paralyzed to act.

It is a luxury allowed us who are safe from the conflict and safe from decision-making.

As horrible and gut-renching as the 9-11 attacks were, it was made even more horrible after The New York Times took the time to look at each person lost and do a small story on each, showing the lives cut short. The sadness of hearing the phone calls from passengers aboard the ill-fated planes talking to loved ones is almost impossible to listen to.

I think about this a lot. When the Madrid bomb killed hundreds, I thought of each person on the way to work or going to see friends, children whose only crime was to maybe steal a cookie or two while mom wasn't watching, who had not lived long enough to hate and understand why those who do would kill randomly.

I am enough of a cynic to believe the whole squabble months ago over photographing and showing the flag-covered caskets from Iraq had more to do with not triggering Americans to do as I am doing and look at individual soldiers, translating the numbers into humans.

I know it is in vogue to like Harry Truman. I should, but I don't. He was reelected the year I was born. He showed courage in integrating the military and I applaud this courage. He was left handed and I am chauvinistically left handed. But I can't get away from Truman's answer when he was asked if he ever thought about his decision to drop two atomic bombs on cities in Japan. Basically, he said he never gave it a thought. It would save American lives and that was all he cared about.

I think about the little children on the way to school and old people shopping when hell rained from the sky.

We dropped leaflets, but how can you make people afraid of and respect something as horrendous as atomic bombs if they have never experienced them.

Just so you will know, I also think a lot about the innocents who were enjoying a quiet Sunday only weeks from Christmas in Hawaii when a sneak attack killed thousands and immediately brought us into the war.

Military experts would argue that you can't put faces on victims or you could never get soldiers to pull the trigger. I would argue that until you put faces on each and every victim you are not going to end the hatred that triggers the killing in the Middle East and around the world. Two tribes in Africa slaughter each other and we see innocent children on both sides and they see numbers of their enemies eliminated. We must make them and all combatants understand that each is a human life, put on this earth by the Creator, each with goals and hopes and dreams and families and friends. Only then can we hope to beat our swords into plowshares.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com.