Wearing War's Numbers

The now famous black shirt with white lettering that I was wearing on Jan. 31 to the State of the Union Address originally read: 2,000 dead. How many more? That shirt was made by Veterans for Peace on the occasion of the 2,000th U.S. soldier killed in Iraq. That tragic number was reached on Sept. 25, 2005.

About four months later, on the morning of Jan. 31, before my fellow peace activist and partner in patriotic dissent, Ann Wright, and I set out for our day's adventures, Ann put masking tape over the zeroes in the 2,000 and wrote: 242. Thus changing the number to 2,242, which was the upsetting casualty total for that day.

Before I set out for my fateful trip to the Capitol building, we discovered that the number had sorrowfully risen to 2,245. While Ann and I were giving the People's State of the Union Address that afternoon with Rep. John Conyers, courageous Rep. Lynn Woolsey and Katrina rights activist Malik Rahim, three more American families were sent into a tailspin of loss, grief and despair from which they will never fully recover.

The number on my shirt was changed to 2,245. Two thousand, two hundred and forty-five dead. How many more?

As of Jan. 31, at least 2,245 North American families had paid the ultimate price for this administration's stupid and careless policies in Iraq. Thousands upon thousands of our young men and women have been wounded, some grievously, for the arrogance of empire. Innumerable Iraqis have been slaughtered for just going about their lives that day and for the heartless and supercilious policy of "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here."

On Sunday in Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love, I attended an awards ceremony for the Shalom Peace Center where I was given an award for being a prophetic voice. But, that's not the important thing. The important thing is that one of my friends and biggest supporters brought some masking tape and a marker, and many of the attendees were wearing about four inches of tape with the number 2,250.

That means five more angels were sent to an early grave since Tuesday, five more mothers were unjustly and needlessly given a life's sentence of pain, five more fathers will be beginning an odyssey of mostly silent heartache: countless families ruined for our country's preemptive foreign policy against imaginary enemies. I believe that whether one supports the wars of aggression of the malicious empire that is taking away our civil liberties as it is sending our young people off to kill and be killed, or whether one opposes preemptive murder, we should all be honoring our children who have given their lives nobly for such an ignoble cause.

Numbers frighten people.

The number of crosses that the Veterans for Peace put up each Sunday on some California beaches scares the living daylights out of the people who support George and his murderous policies. These people claim that the VFP are making a political statement and want the numbers to go away and not disturb them. Being confronted with numbers, faces and reality is too much for some people. As a former math teacher, I know that many people have an unreasonable fear of numbers. The number of our war dead in Iraq is very fear-inducing. I know numbers are very alarming, especially when there is no logical reason for them.

We know George Bush went AWOL from his dangerous 'Nam duty in the Alabama Air National Guard. I suppose he was fighting them in Alabama so they wouldn't have to fight them in Massachusetts. We know George Bush did not have the tiniest bit of the courage of our troops when he wouldn't meet me face to face on his adoptive turf of Crawford, Texas. Now the world knows that he doesn't even have the fortitude to face a T-shirt.

As humans, we all know that it is very hard to face one's mistakes, especially when undeserving people have paid a horrible toll for that foolishness. But what am I talking about? From failures in his business life to compound harmful and inexcusable failures in his public life, George Bush has never even admitted a mistake, let alone faced one.

Well, it's time George faced this mistake and is somehow made to feel intense shame for the biggest mistake of his miserable mistake-filled life. I call on people that are for peace and justice to wear the number on their chests every day … near their hearts. To honor our dead, but to also confront the ones who are waging this war, and supporting the wagers of death, but who won't risk their own flesh and blood for the crimes against humanity that are perpetrated on a daily basis.

I implore everyone in the United States to remember that each number in the grisly count represents a living, breathing, wonderful, loving and indispensable member of a family, community and our nation. They are not just numbers. They were human beings before they were exploited for oil and greed.

Wear the number for our dead. Wear the number for their families. Wear the number for our wounded. Wear the number for our children still in harm's way whose confusion about the mission is growing and who only want to come home. Wear the number for people who will be in the way of the future wars of aggression that the war criminals in D.C. are already planning. Wear it for the people of Iraq who only want us to go away. Wear the number for peace.

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