Today, I would like to talk about the death toll in Iraq, if that's OK with you.
But first, I have an apology to make. And some gratitude to express. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Badger Bob, for making sure this column got written for the past couple of issues. You are one wonderful human being for covering for me in my moment of weakness. Or my three weeks of weakness, as it were.
Which brings me to the apology part. I am not proud of the way I've been acting since I was named the best writer in Boise. I've behaved shamefully, and my deepest apologies go out to my regular readers. I don't deserve you. If from now on, you were to skip my column entirely, I wouldn't blame you.
I feel even worse about those poor, frightened strangers I waylaid at random on the street or in stores or in the sanctity of their homes as I made that pathetic attempt to call everybody in the phone book. I have no way of reaching them to say how sorry I am or explain my actions. Not that I could adequately explain myself even if I had the opportunity. There's simply no excuse for what I've done. Gad! And those innocent children! To think that I spent an entire day, rushing from one field trip bus to another in Julia Davis Park, shrieking "If you work real hard and don't waste your time screwing around with video games and iPods, someday you can grow up to be just like meeeeeee!" ... why, I can only pray they haven't been scarred for life.
Why I felt I had tell every person in Ada County I'd been named best writer, I don't know. It's like my brain went kerflooey. My wife thought it would help to spend a few days up in the quiet and solitude of the woods. You know, so that I might get things back in perspective. It didn't work. All I could think of was, "Hey, now I'm the best writer in Valley County, too, I bet!"
But that's all over now. I have come to my senses. I have come to realize that even if I am the best writer in Boise--which I'm probably not, anyway, but even if I were--that it means nothing. It's small potatoes. What we should be asking is who's the best person in Boise. Who is the kindest, most generous, most humble, most loving person in Boise. The Mother Teresa of Boise. The Most Wonderful Human Being in Boise. I wouldn't stand a chance of winning in that category.
Of course, it all depends on who the competition is.
Anyway ... on to the death toll in Iraq. In a recent column on the Bush Administration's many distortions of reality, Ted Rall wrote, "One of the curiouser traits of Fool and the Gang is their habit of lying about bad historical figures. Saddam Hussein, for example, killed about 100,000 people and started wars against Iran and Kuwait. The Bushies say he killed 400,000 and was seconds away from taking over the world. Isn't 100,000 and two wars bad enough? Why not leave it at that?"
I should tell you I met Ted Rall when he was in town about a month ago. Had dinner with him actually--I and about a dozen others. Now there's a real reporter, Ted Rall. Not just one of those "Here's what's on my mind today" hacks like me. Ted Rall actually goes places and reports on what he learns there. He knows about the dynamics of Central Asia because he's been to Central Asia. He forms his opinions from firsthand observation, rather than basing them on what he picks up from other reporters.
But being a real reporter has its limitations. As to the question quoted above, where Rall wonders why the Bush Administration feels compelled to exaggerate the crimes of Saddam Hussein, he likely feels it's not his place to interpret the intentions of "Fool and the Gang" because he wasn't there when they made those decisions to whopper-ize the facts. I'm guessing real reporters like Ted Rall would consider it to be unprofessional to presume to read the minds of the men and women they write about.
I, on the other hand, have no such qualms. I am more than happy to read minds. Especially the mind of George Bush. It's such light reading material, after all--like a Tom Clancy novel in big print--and it's so easy to guess where the plot is going. Honestly, has George Bush said or done anything in the last few years that came as a surprise?
As to the people surrounding Bush--those burrowing little vermin who work like trolls to turn all of America into a reflection of their own stunted selves--they're not that hard to anticipate, either. They have a talent for making things sound complex while at the same time insisting only they can lead the nation because only they can understand the complexity. But since they first took control of the government, basically they have been scrambling to accomplish one, not-so-complex goal: to cover their fannies from blame for the disaster this presidency has been since day one.
And their primary fanny-covering technique? To accuse, ceaselessly, the last guy--be it Clinton, Saddam, or Madeleine Albright--of being a bigger disaster than they are.
We should have guessed from the moment they sent our soldiers into Iraq that whenever the body count of civilians that have died either directly or indirectly as a result of us being there gets anywhere near to the body count of civilians that died as a result of Saddam Hussein's regime, they would rig the figures. It may be the one thing they're good at, rigging figures. No matter how many Iraqis our occupation has gotten killed, Saddam's occupation will always--as long as these fabricators are in power--top us by an impressive margin. That way, when all other excuses fail, they can always fall back on, "Those Iraqis are better off now than they were when Saddam ran the country."
The truth is, it's highly unlikely anyone will ever be able to say precisely how many Iraqis have died under either Saddam or our occupation. If anyone was keeping track under Saddam, Saddam probably had him killed. And the Bush regime has made a point of not counting. They weren't about to let a few bodies rotting along side the road--or a few hundred thousand bodies--get in the way of whatever they were trying to accomplish.
But there are a couple of figures that can never be rigged: 2,973--the final count of American dead from the 9/11 attack. And a number that grows daily--2,786 as I write this--of American men and women who die from ... what? Trying to make Bush look better? And as one number closes in on the other, we must ask ourselves how many more we are willing to lose, and how many more will it take until Bush is as guilty as al-Qaeda.