By the numbers

One thing we can count on: more dead in Iraq

For updated lists of casualties of the Iraq war, visit Iraq Coalition Casualty Count at

We’re coming up on another number.

Sometime soon, maybe even before we put away the baseball gear and send the kids back to school, the 4,000th American will have died in Iraq.

When the number hit 2,500, White House press secretary Tony Snow reminded us to take the appropriate perspective. “It’s a number,” he said.

Just a number.

Snow is one of those “big picture” guys who take the long view, far from where the dying gets done. He’s much like his boss, President George W. Bush, who described the war in Iraq as a mere “comma” in what will become the history of the region. “I like to tell people,” Bush said back in September of 2006, “when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is—my point is, there’s a strong will for democracy.”

That’s the great thing about the ability to take the long view: It makes all the death and dying so temporary and inconsequential. As the president’s mom asked Diane Sawyer when the Iraq war was being launched: “But why should we hear about body bags?” Barbara Bush went on: “And deaths, and how many, what day it’s gonna happen, and how many this or what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it’s, it’s not relevant. So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?”

Mother knows best.

See, there are these special people among us who can rise above the pain, people who have the ability to take the Olympian perspective. These people have an ordained capacity to rise above it all.

For instance, just before taking the nation into Iraq, President Bush sat down to discuss the impending war with another master of the big picture, televangelist Pat Robertson. When Robertson suggested that the president would be wise to prepare the nation for the prospect of American casualties, Bush replied, “Oh, no, we’re not going to have any casualties.”

Lamentably, the president was wrong on that matter. Over 3,500 dead now, and counting.

But the president has ways of thinking that elude less creative people. When it turned out that casualties did, indeed, result from his invasion of Iraq, he insisted that he hadn’t been wrong about the welcome American forces would receive. “We are welcome,” he said, “but it just wasn’t a peaceful welcome.”

That welcoming reception has resulted in lots of dead soldiers. More than 3,500 so far.

Those dead soldiers leave behind 7,000 or so mothers and fathers whose children preceded them in death, one of the most painful and unnatural things that can befall a human being.

Those deaths amount to approximately 170,000 years of life denied those 3,500-plus young men and women who bled out on the sands of Iraq, figuring the roughly 50 years each of them might have lived had the “big picture” neocons not cocked up a war where we would, in the words of Vice President Dick Cheney, “be greeted as liberators,” and where Iraqi oil was supposed to pay for the costs of the fighting.

That’s 170,000 years of lives unlived.

But it’s just a number.

And there’s a number for the times these slain men and women were denied the pleasures of the flesh, or the times their loved ones might have smiled at them. There’s a number for: the cups of coffee they won’t enjoy; the bird songs they won’t hear; the holiday celebrations they will never know.

It’s just a number: the football games they won’t see, the rounds of golf they won’t play or the fish they won’t catch from the boats they will never own.

Figure the average, and count about 7,000 children who will never hug the parents who died before they could be born. Seven-thousand inconceivable children who will never bring light to their parents’ lives because their lives—and the lives of their parents-to-be—have been blotted out in pursuit of a policy that is now about little more than whether it’s worse to stay or worse to leave.

There’s the 400,000 board-feet of lumber used so far to make those flag-draped coffins that come in to Dover, Del., almost every single day. But it’s just a number.

And there’s a number for the billions of dollars spent on those dead men and women: on their school clothes and soccer lessons, their haircuts and their health care, their pediatricians and their prom dresses. Not cheap, all that went into bringing that ever-burgeoning number of dead up to the brink of adulthood.

There’s probably a number for all the time spent by families who loved them, although the number of dreams gone up in smoke and fire is probably beyond calculation. And there’s probably not a number large enough to count the tears those families now shed for more than 3,500 sacrificed men and women.

It’ll be 4,000 before the summer’s over. Maybe more, as the death rate escalates.

But it’s just a number.

Unless it’s your number that’s up.