On the tail of the fifth anniversary of the War in Iraq, we reach another chilling milestone—the Four Thousandth American Death. 4,000 Americans have died in Iraq. It is a sad and horrible day for our nation. But 4,00 is such a big and faceless number, what does it actually mean? What are the implications of 4,000 dead American soldiers and what other numbers will we not be hearing today?
1,750 more American soldiers have died in Iraq than all of the employees who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11/01.
Each loss is terrible and tragic. According to icasualties.org, a website that specializes in keeping records of Iraqi and coalition deaths, 81.8% of US deaths are caused by combat related wounds (3270). Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs) are the number one cause of death for American Soldiers followed by General Hostile Fire and then Hostile Fire from Small Arms Ammunition.
Of the remaining, non-combat related deaths, many were caused by accidents. But 145 deaths were self inflicted. Most suicides have been gunshot related.
95 of the total deaths were women. 12.7% of fatalities in Iraq have been the age of 21–being the most likely age to die. And 79% (3164) of American fatalities have been under the age of 30. Americans in their 20’s are most likely to die in Iraq—61.7% of fatalities have been between the age of 21 and 30. A great many US casualties today were unable to vote when this war began. People who were just children when this war began five years ago are now expected to fight in it.
California, Texas and Pennsylvania have lost the most of its native sons and daughters to the fight. Although, of American enlisted forces who lost their lives; 34 came from Puerto Rico, 7 came from American Samoa, 6 each from Guam and US Virgin Islands, 5 from Washington DC, 3 from Micronesia, and one each from Great Britain, Canada, Panama, Guatemala and Palau—66 dead American Soldiers came from nations and regions that have no US Congressional voting abilities. There are people who decide when and how wars will be fought. And there are those who actually do the fighting.
29,451 American servicemen and women are returning home with injuries. Brain trauma from concussion blasts are the most common injury, followed by hearing loss and lower limb injury. In the Korean and Vietnam Wars, one had a one in four chance of dying from a serious injury. On the other hand, in Iraq and Afghanistan, one has a one in seventeen chance of dying from a serious injury. (Jeff Donn and Kimberly Hefling, AP 9/29/07). This is due to increased body armor and medical technology. But it also means more and more people are returning home with physical and mental injuries.
Then there is the very invisible injury but very real of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM IV) categorizes PTSD as a mental disorder caused by one or more critically stressful or traumatic events. It can cause an emotional and physical numbing of an individual as well as intrusive memory in the form of flashbacks. It can cause clinical depression and disconnect between individuals.
Because the Department of Defense only calculates American casualties, it does not count the numbers of Iraqi injuries and fatalities. icasualties.org estimates a total 8057 Iraqi police force deaths—twice that of American fatalities. They also estimate an outrageous 40,935 Iraqi civilian death count from both Coalition attacks and insurgency attacks alike—more than 10 times that of American GI deaths. Clearly, we have their blood on our hands. Due to the Department of Defense’s refusal to calculate Iraqi deaths, we know very little of who they were and exactly what happened. Maybe this is one of the most tragic aspects of this war. The people we came to “liberate” and “protect” have become little more than collateral damage–a part of the landscape and a “natural part of the war”. I refuse to believe nearly 50,000 dead Iraqis can be counted as “collateral damage”. And what of the invisible insurgency? The warring factions we just group together into a nameless, faceless mass of “evil-doers”? How many have been killed in their own struggle for liberation?
What is most difficult for me as I read these numbers is to remember that these are not just numbers. These are people. These are communities and families and young souls who have been forever changed by these events.
Even in the unlikely chance that the War in Iraq were to end tomorrow, there would be thousands of US Troops who did not come alive and many more who will—and still do—need emotional and spiritual healing. I am saddened by the news today of the 4000th American death. But I am also saddened by the thousands more—American, Coalition, and Iraqi forces alike—who will need support and healing in the years to come.
As a Unitarian Universalist, I know my spiritual home is one where we can bring healing into the world. For more information on how to support our troops and their families in a spiritually liberal manner, please visit our website and download our guide on welcoming home our children in uniform.