Tallying the True Cost of War

Quick — how many American casualties have been taken during the war in Iraq? 500? 1,000?

You can be forgiven if that’s what you thought. The Administration has done an admirable job of spin control with the meaning of the word “casualty”. A “casualty” used to be a soldier who was killed, missing, or wounded severely enough to need evacuation from the battle area — essentially, anybody who could no longer stand and fight. However, for this little war, the Pentagon’s PR machine has insisted on including in their “casualty” reports only soldiers who are killed — the severely wounded aren’t casualties, no matter how bad their injuries are.

That’s why you may get a bit of a shock when you read Col. David Hackworth’s latest column at Soldiers for the Truth:

Lt. Col. Scott D. Ross of the U.S. military’s Transportation Command told me that as of Dec. 23, his outfit had evacuated 3,255 battle-injured casualties and 18,717 non-battle injuries…
Following are the major categories of the non-battle evacuations:
Orthopedic surgery — 3,907
General surgery — 1,995
Internal medicine — 1,291
Psychiatric — 1,167
Neurology — 1,002
Gynecological — 491

Don’t think a wounded soldier counts as a casualty? Tell that to Sergeant Jeremy Feldbusch, who went to Iraq an Army Ranger and came home a blind man:

On April 3, Sergeant Feldbusch, a 6-foot-2-inch, thickly built mortar man, heard the shriek. He and his platoon of Rangers were guarding the Haditha Dam, a strategic point northwest of Baghdad along the Euphrates River, when a shell burst 100 feet away and a piece of red hot shrapnel hit him in the face. The last thing he remembers was eating a pouch of chicken teriyaki.
The inchlong piece of steel, part of the artillery shell’s casing, sliced through his right eye, tumbled through his sinuses and lodged in the left side of his brain, severely damaging the optic nerve of his left eye and spraying bone splinters throughout his brain.
Two weeks later, at the Brooke Army Medical Center, doctors removed the shrapnel and reconstructed his face with titanium mesh and a lump of fat from his stomach in place of his missing eye, so the hole would not cave in.
For five weeks, Sergeant Feldbusch remained in a coma. When he came out, it was still black…
Two weeks after he came out of the coma, his parents broke the news. He was being awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. But there was very little chance he would see again.
“I thought there’s no way this is happening to me, there’s no way I’m going to go through life as a blind man,” Sergeant Feldbusch said.
One day, as he lay in bed with tubes and wires and needles sticking out of him like he was some sort of science project, his father looked at him and said, “Maybe God thought you had seen enough killing.”

So remember the next time that you hear that there have been “only” a few hundred “casualties” among our soldiers in Iraq, that for each one of those fallen men and women there are scores more in Army hospitals, hidden from the limelight, carrying scars that may never heal. And ask yourself if the cost of war is as low as it seems then as it does when you’re watching Fox News.