Pick a Number

To the congressional winners of Campaign 2006: as you savor your victory and prepare to take office in January, consider this bit of free advice on how to make those tough decisions you’ll soon face on the war: pick a number.

It’s simple.  Pick a number.  Any number.  It doesn’t much matter which number, as long as it’s greater than 47,615 — the number of U.S. troops killed and wounded so far in Iraq.  Now pick another number, something over 650,000 — the latest estimate of how many Iraqis have died in the war.  But, I suppose we should keep it simple, so let’s just stick to the only number that really matters politically, the one for U.S. casualties.

Got your number?

OK.  That’s all there is to it.  That’s the only tough decision you’ll have to make on the war.

Until U.S. casualties reach that number you can continue to proclaim you support the troops and hate the terrorists; that you won’t let America lose a war on your watch; that you refuse to let our soldiers die in vain.  You’ll be free to use any of the tried and true bullshit slung through the halls of Congress that passes for debate.  Then, when the War Department announces that casualties exceed your number, you’ll know when to stop voting money for our national orgy of madness and mayhem.  With a straight face you can announce you’ve always had your doubts about this war, and now it has finally gone too far!  You’ll be able to jump out in front of the protesters and provide the kind of leadership the American people have been waiting for.

When you really think about it, you have to admit this strategy makes sense.  You know we will eventually pull out our troops.  This occupation will end as do all foreign occupations.  It’s just a matter of how much bloodletting the leaders of empire feel their citizens will tolerate.  Put simply, it’s a number.  So pick one.

It’s too late to join that small band of your congressional colleagues who four years ago said their number was zero; that the imperial plans of Bush, Inc. weren’t worth the arms or legs or sight or sanity or life of a single person — ours or theirs — and who have continually voted against money for the slaughter.  Since then a few more of your colleagues have come to that same conclusion.  The casualty count exceeded some number they could politically abide.  All I’m suggesting is that you save yourself the needless anxiety and political pressure you’re sure to get from both sides, and pick your number now.

Think of the time you’ll save yourself — and us too, for that matter.  Once you pick a number you’ll be able to focus on the really important issues confronting our nation, like whether gay marriage will destroy society’s morals, or if flag burning will devastate democracy as we know it.  And meanwhile we can get back to what good citizens of this republic have been told to do — consume.

You know you’ll eventually do it . . . so pick a number . . . any number.

Mike Ferner is a freelance writer and a former member of Toledo City Council.  His book, Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq, is just out from Praeger Publishers.  He can be reached at mike.ferner@sbcglobal.net.

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