George Carlin used to do a bit about a newscaster reporting on the holiday traffic death toll. "And the number of people who have died on our highways this weekend is down substantially from last year... C'mon America! You're not trying!"
This is essentially how I viewed the news today that American troop deaths in Iraq have met and reached the two thousand mark. Is this a sense of pride I feel at the sacrifice the families of those soldiers have endured? Is this a continued sense of outrage at our continued need to show the world just how much Iraq is not like Viet Nam? Is this a number that will continue to grow as we have been assured that our presence will be required for at least another two years? I can answer "yes" to all of these.
The next is an exercise that fourth grade teachers really love. Try to imagine two thousand of any one thing. It's easy enough if you picture a theater or stadium, with every seat filled (big theater, small stadium). Two thousand pennies? That's twenty dollars. Close your eyes and visualize two thousand metal boxes. How about two thousand carefully folded American flags? It puts me in mind of one of my mommy friends who suggested that video games should include virtual attendance to all the funerals of the cyber-deaths that occurred while playing.
Many years ago, while visiting Muskogee, Oklahoma, a group of us young college types were rambling around the outskirts of town in search of a place to flop around on the grass and drink beer. We settled on a tranquil little spot, with a duck pond and a picnic table. The six of us consumed a case of beer, and we were ready to move on to our next destination. On the way out of the park, we saw a sign identifying our surroundings as the Veterans Hospital. The marquee below carried this message: "The price of freedom is visible here."
Back in 2005: "We owe them a deep debt of gratitude for their courage, for their valor, for their strength, for their commitment to our country," said Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist.
"Our armed forces are serving ably in Iraq under enormously difficult circumstances, and the policy of our government must be worthy of their sacrifice. Unfortunately, it is not, and the American people know it," said Sen. Edward Kennedy.
In an e-mail statement to Baghdad-based journalists, command spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Boylan said media attention on the 2,000 figure was misguided and "set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives." He described the grim statistic as an "artificial mark on the wall" and urged news organizations to focus more on the accomplishments of the U.S. military mission in Iraq.
Try counting to two thousand out loud. It takes a long time.