On the corner of a downtown office building at 18th and K streets NW in Washington is a reminder of the war in Iraq. In large letters and numbers, stretching up the sides of the building, is a daily tally of the number of soldiers who have been killed and wounded. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union erected the sign in 2004.
As of today, 3,463 soldiers have died, and 25,549 have been been injured.
The statement below is from UFCW’s Web site, explaining the display, and the picture to the right is an old photo from ufcw.org.
For the families of those who have fallen, we mourn your loss. For those who have been crippled and maimed in the service of their country, we honor your heroism and support you in your struggle.
We have placed a display here at the corner of K St. NW and 18th St. NW in Washington D.C. Every day we will update the count of American losses in Iraq so that corporate lobbyists and the foreign policy think tanks that dominate the canyons of K St. NW as well as the leaders around the corner at the White House and up the hill in Congress will always remember the impact of the policies that they advocate and the decisions that they make.
In Washington, the war in Iraq may be a matter of policy and politics. In working America, the war in Iraq is a matter of life and death, human sacrifice and suffering.
The UFCW will never forget. We want to make sure that those in power never forget either.
I paused this afternoon for a few minutes to see how people reacted to the sign. Most hurried by it, talking away on mobile phones, while an occasional passerby stopped for a moment, perhaps to ponder the gravity of the two numbers.
While I’ve seen the sign numerous times before, today I found myself trying to quantify what exactly the numbers mean: more American men and women have died in Iraq than all the people who died on 9/11; looking out from the intersection of 18th and K, with the sidewalks packed with mid-day workers, I could probably only see a fraction of the 25,549 Americans who have been injured in Iraq.
But then another number came to mind, something I had seen the other day and re-checked just now as I write. According to iraqbodycount.org, as many as 71,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the war began.
Now I’m left here wondering what any of these numbers mean. 19 terrorists killed 2,974 people on 9/11, which, depending on your political leanings, led to 3,463 soldiers dead and 25,549 soldiers injured, and even more stunning, as many as 71,447 Iraqi civilians are dead as well.
These numbers — these losses of human lives — make no sense to me. The totals grow every day, and yet, when does it all stop? And can any one of these numbers justify the others?