Have we grown numb to numbers?

Yes, we all wept on September 11, 2001, when we heardthat 2,973 people died in New York and Washington andPennsylvania terrorist attacks. But now, we just sipour coffee while reading that close to 3,000 American soldiershave died, to date, in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now wejust reach for the toast while reading that,officially, 20,000 American soldiers have beenwounded.

Truly, counting the wounded and the dead is littlemore than a monotonous drumbeat, thrumming in monthly,weekly, and daily notations on the evening news, justbefore we hear about the weekend weather. Really, howoften do we hear the newscaster say, “Another soldierdied in Iraq today” and then weep?

I don’t fault us. Not entirely, anyway. Making us numbto numbers is presumably part of a calculated publicrelations campaign sponsored by the White House or the U.S. Department of Defence. You just know that some younglawyer with a gift for political spin, sitting in somesmall basement office in downtown Washington D.C., haspolled the numbers about numbers and knows damn wellthat, over time, a steady sound of counting the deadbecomes nothing but wistful white noise, numbers that — even when they refer to murder — no longer have anyrelationship to people.

Just recently, I listened as CNN reported on theJohns Hopkins’ findings that clinically suggested654,000 Iraqis have died, to date, as a consequenceof the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Were we collectively moved to tears by this news? No.We patiently waited for more dirty revelations aboutCongressman Foley’s sex life.

Meantime, in that same CNN television report, somemulti-starred U.S. General was asked about the JohnsHopkins’ findings. He expressed moderate surprise atthe findings’ estimate of Iraqi dead — but he washardly nonplussed. He just shrugged and suggestedwithout emotion that he believed the actual number ofIraqi dead to be perhaps “only 50,000.”

Perhaps only 50,000?

I wasn’t sure which was more horrifying: themulti-starred U.S. General being so far off in hisestimate, or the multi-starred U.S. General saying thatperhaps “only 50,000” Iraqis were dead as aconsequence of U.S. actions, without throwing up behindthe podium.

Worse still, in the days that followed the JohnsHopkins announcement, as the story made the mediacircuit and then began its descent into dark trivia,hardly a ripple of revulsion appeared across America.

Have we become that numb to numbers?

Consider: because of the direct actions of the U.S. as a nation,654,000 pairs of eyes will no longer look with wonderat a sunrise. 654,000 pairs of ears will no longerhear the song of birds in spring. Because of thesedirect actions as a nation, 654,000 hearts will nolonger beat faster with the excitement of falling inlove.

Please spare me the letters and lectures about thesedead Iraqis being nothing more than muted terroristsand extremists who would have brought their Jihad toAmerica. And please spare me the letters and lecturesabout the living Iraqis now being better off. GOPgeopolitics and neo-con polemics be damned.

If 654,000people were killed in any other country as aconsequence of the actions of any other nation, itwould be called genocide. 800,000 people werekilled in Rwanda and we called it genocide. 400,000people have been killed so far in Darfur and we callit genocide.

Because of the direct actions of the U.S. as a nation, 654,000Iraqis are dead — so far. How can we accept thisAmerican-made meat grinder, this Iraqi genocide? Howcan we remain numb to these numbers?

In truth, as an American, I have to believe that wecannot. I have to believe that Americans must feelthe human consequences of these actions, that, asAmericans, we feel the loss we have rained down uponthe Iraqis — and that, as Americans, we feel we mustmake amends.

In just weeks, yet again, another election will beheld. And as with the elections before it, this one isyet another opportunity to stop enabling thisgenocide. This election is yet another opportunity toregain our sanity and our humanity.

At its best, despite its dark times and its dark acts,America has never been a nation that remained numb tonumbers. Rather, at its best, America was, and shouldbe again, a nation that looks upon the tired, thepoor, and the huddled masses of the world community,with compassion and empathy.

As such, as a nation, we must feel these numbers — theIraqi dead and the American dead. And then, as anation, we must make amends.