Day by Day, Death by Death

A Chronology of U.S. Military Fatalities Since 'Mission Accomplished,' Part I

To the Bush administration's more ardent partisans, the death toll in Iraq is merely something to "be aware of," as one recently put it in a communiqué from Baghdad—an acceptable trade of human lives for regime change.

The United States has lost nearly 600 military personnel since the war began, a year ago last week. Of those, at least 437 have died since May 1, when President Bush landed on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and, under a banner reading "Mission Accomplished," declared major combat over. Some note that the list of names is roughly equivalent to what U.S. forces racked up in their first eight years in Vietnam, 1957-1964. But of those 401 deaths, 324 occurred in the final two years.

Perhaps the more meaningful way to examine the death toll is in the context of what military personnel and their families are saying about the violence in Iraq, where as many as 10,700 civilians and 600-plus Iraqi policemen—recruited after the fall of Saddam—have died. U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq note that everything from their own convoy security to contractor support to basic equipment—from socks to body armor and, as The Wall Street Journal showed last week, vehicles—has been lacking.

Military reformers wonder if the fact that young officers are being promoted faster—but with less training than ever—might be a factor in the number of post-Saddam deaths. They wonder if the military, the army in particular, will dispense with its techno fetish and get serious again about the human dimensions of combat. Many of the casualties have come from National Guard and reserve units, and observers express anger at the lack of training and equipment, especially for operations that essentially amount to urban counter-insurgency.

Listen to Rosemarie Dietz Slavenas, who on February 2 wrote the president a letter about one of the casualties, Brian Slavenas, her son and an Illinois national guardsman. Brian was killed in action on November 2. Her son "did not give his life," she wrote. "It was cruelly taken from him by your rush to war—against the United Nations, old allies like France and Germany, western religions' 'Just War Doctrine,' the entire Arab world, and most civilized nations. You inherited peace and prosperity and created murder, mayhem, and massive debt. According to the ongoing investigation of the helicopter crash that took Brian's and 15 other American lives, the Illinois National Guard aircraft were sent into the field without basic survivability equipment, to accommodate your 'shoot and bomb first, think and investigate later' brand of foreign policy. We don't need a trigger-happy president." —Jason Vest

 
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