years later, Osama bin Laden is still free, apparently
hiding somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan.
years later, a spirited presidential campaign
is in full swing, the candidates sparring over
years later, there comes news that the American
death toll in Iraq has surpassed a thousand.
as you know, is the front line in the War on Terrorism
that began Sept. 11, 2001. Or, at least, that's
what the president keeps stubbornly saying and
polls indicate half of us keep stubbornly believing.
And never mind that intelligence experts say Iraq
had about as much to do with Sept. 11 as Canada
did. No need to focus too closely on that.
watching a sort of magic show, after all, public
opinion manipulated like a handkerchief borrowed
out of the audience. Nothing up his sleeve, presto!
The lie becomes the truth.
a thousand people die.
one of those numbers that always gets the media's
attention, carrying as it does the weight of milestone.
But I am reminded of something a reader told me
after an earlier column lamenting the toll, which,
at that point, stood just south of 600.
not that many, he said.
the grim mathematics of war, he has a point. Even
a thousand deaths represents the barest fraction
of those who were lost in Vietnam. During the
Civil War, many times that number were often lost
in a single day.
the death count is slightly misleading, given
that it includes not just Americans killed in
action, but also those who died from accidents,
suicides and other causes.
the weight of the milestone is not so easily shrugged
aside and, even given those caveats, a thousand
lives lost is not an insignificant thing. One
life lost is not insignificant. Especially when
you consider all the mothers, fathers, children,
husbands, wives, co-workers and friends each loss
course, the sobering truth is that life is the
currency of war, the means by which a nation purchases
its goals when they cannot be obtained by peaceful
means. Or when the nation refuses to wait for
peaceful means to bear fruit.
that this currency is so precious, we're morally
obligated to spend it carefully. So even though
we're talking about ''only'' a thousand lives,
it seems fair to pause and consider what they
it's easier to list the things they have not bought.
have not bought a sense of security. Pollsters
say more than half of us expect a terrorist strike
in the near future.
have not bought peace for Iraq. The death toll
rose by four while I was writing this column.
have not bought the world's respect. We are feared
by allies and vilified by people we purported
what have those lives bought? As near as I can
tell, only tickets to a magic show.
you consider that an insult to those who lost
their lives in their country's service. I would
only point out that the search for meaning in
death has nothing to do with the dead. It is,
rather, a comfort the living give themselves to
soften the rough edges of mourning. Will we insist
on that comfort even if doing so requires us to
believe what is not true?
a question I could not have imagined asking that
September morning three years ago.
three years later, the man who authored that unholy
day is on the back burner.
years later, our moral authority is squandered,
our sense of purpose wasted.
years later, the death toll in an unnecessary
and unrelated war climbs above a milestone number.
the president presents a magic show. Abracadabra!
A quagmire becomes a showcase for his iron resolve.
Maybe for his next trick, he will pull an election
out of a hat.
might be able to enjoy his act. I keep thinking
we paid way too much to get in.
Posted: September 11, 2004