Late statistics from Iraq indicate that deaths are at 4,000 and are occurring at about 3.5 a day. There are more than 28,000 wounded, maimed and injured in mind, body and spirit. Statistically, the numbers of deaths and wounded are insignificant and will continue to be insignificant in a land with more than 300 million people. However, every death and wound has a circle of catastrophe that touches scores of people.
When I question my friends and acquaintances whether they know anyone who is serving or has served in Iraq, seldom do I get a positive answer. I served in the Korean War. Two of my sons have served in the military; the third one was not so inclined. My only grandson is not interested, nor would he qualify, because of his personal habits. So, for the past four years, the war in Iraq has been a faceless war for me and for most people. This condition, by nature, causes a general lack of interest. The daily news is shed from the concern of our minds as if our sensitivities have a coat of Teflon.
Last November, on a plane from Dallas, a chance meeting with a National Guardsman from Ogden has changed my whole perspective on the war. The Teflon of my feelings has been stripped away by the acid of knowledge and information gained firsthand by months of e-mails and other communication. I watched and studied where his unit was serving. I received regular information on the complexity and foolishness of many missions required by our military. I learned of his loyalty and bravery until betrayed by the Iraqis they were serving with. I agonized when I received information that my new friend, Sgt. Kevin Roy Shope, was blown up the first time.
He returned to duty with a concussion in two days; a week later he was blown up again. This time, his two crew members were killed and he was severely wounded. Later, I would learn that 11 men out of a platoon of 33 had been killed or wounded. Have you heard that statistic in any national newscast?
I traced him to a hospital in Germany and then to the Fort Bragg hospital. He spent two months there, reporting very poor treatment, caused by an endless government bureaucracy. Apparently, the Walter Reed hospital problems are endemic in other military hospitals. He has now been transferred for treatment at the Hill Air Force Base hospital in Utah. He indicates that his treatment has improved.
I have been a political hawk all of my life. I originally thought that the invasion of Iraq was wise and would be useful. But no more. We won the war, but we cannot win the peace in a land where the people hate their enemies more than they love their children. The elected Iraqi government is impotent and cannot solve its own problems with our presence there. I doubt that the Iraqis will solve their problems when we leave.
Undoubtedly, there has been positive progress, but at what price? We are spending $30 billion to train Iraqis who betray us. We can't identify our enemy; insurgents are destroying their own infrastructure faster that we can build it. Our national treasury will be taxed for generations from the expenses of this war.
Ben D. Mahaffey is a founding member of the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that assists wounded veterans. For information call 435-781-0962.