While President Bush and other Republican politicians spent the day exploiting the memory of those we lost five years ago, the nation overlooked a grim milestone: More Americans have now died in Iraq than died on 9/11. Iraq didn't attack us on that day, and our misguided policy there has now taken more American lives than Al Qaeda.
Here are the numbers: 3,015 Americans have died in Iraq as of September 9. 2,666 of these were military deaths and 349 were civilians.
The Republicans are fond of playing cheap number games with Iraqi casualty figures, and one of the ways they do it is by listing the deaths of military personnel only. They're hoping that a lazy press and an indifferent public will overlook the civilian losses, and to a large extent they've been right so far.
A total of 2,973 people died on 9/11. Most, although not all, were Americans.
Another game Republicans play with the public involves their redefinition of the word "casualty," which has always meant (and still means) those who have been killed or injured in combat. The GOP leadership often use the word to mean only deaths, and the press usually lets them get away with that too.
So here's another figure, one that represents a group of too-often-forgotten American heroes: 20,000. That's the approximate number of non-fatal military casualties from the war in Iraq. This represents many more people than were wounded on 9/11, and consists of far more serious injuries than in any previous war.
Battlefield medicine can save the lives of the grievously wounded now in ways that were unthinkable in previous wars. Unfortunately it can't grow back limbs, or heal highly disfiguring burns, or repair gravely damaged brains and nervous systems.
Many experts feel that the Pentagon is seriously undercounting these non-fatal casualties, and some place the figure as high as 48,000. Official numbers are in the 20,000 range, however, so we'll accept this count for discussion purposes.
None of these figures counts Iraqi casualties, of course. After the cheap gamesmanship that was used to artificially lower August's Iraqi civilian death toll in Baghdad, it's very difficult to cite any figures with confidence. A count of Iraqi morgues put the total well above 40,000, but that was some time ago.
And as for the total number of wounded, including women and children - well, as Mr. Rumsfeld has so often reminded us, we're not counting.
Today President Bush and his fellow Republicans made another public spectacle out of 9/11, the anniversary of the gravest executive blunder in American history. It's been more than five years since President Bush told the CIA officer trying to warn him about the upcoming attacks that "you've covered your ass now," and then went off to enjoy his vacation day.
His other blunder - the wrong war, at the wrong time, with the wrong result for our nation's security - has now proven even more costly in American lives. Who will lay a wreath for these American victims?
"War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace," said Thomas Mann. The real struggle we face is preventing terrorism. The GOP's escapist distraction in Iraq has proven deadlier than the real business at hand.
A Night Light