More death in the news

The death toll in Iraq has quietly risen over the weekend. In Friday's "WAR ON IRAQ" pull-out section of the San Francisco Chronicle - which has included a "Casualties" box for at least a week - the number of US dead since March 19 was listed at 55. Two days later that number has ballooned to 80, and we have yet to take Baghdad.

At least 18 were killed today in the war's bloodiest friendly-fire incident. It appears that US aircraft bombed a convoy of Kurdish fighters and U.S. special operations forces in northern Iraq. Fratricide is still an unavoidable part of warfare, even despite the impressive technology which is at the disposal of the modern military. A story on MSNBC points out that "Thirty-five of the 146 Americans killed in action during the 1991 Gulf War were killed by their own comrades; U.S. soldiers killed more British than the Iraqis did in that conflict." Whatever technical improvements the last 12 years have brought, the Army still can't avoid killing its own, not to mention unlucky innocents.

There is little mention of Iraqi casualty totals in the American press. One web site is offering web banners to track the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed. Iraqi casualties are estimated between 877 and 1050.

As for the number of dead Iraqi soldiers, there are no official counts, as far as I can tell. We never did get good counts from Gulf War I or Vietnam, so there is no reason to expect this war to be any different. The military claims that its not in the "body count" business anyway, so I guess we shouldn't ask. And don't even mention that thousands of US servicemen have died from "Gulf War Syndrome" illnesses since 1991.

Some journalists, sensing that Americans are losing interest in the war, have moved on to discuss how post-war Iraq will be governed. Experts estimate that US troops may occupy Iraq anywhere from two to ten years. I'm sure there were similar estimates when we stationed troops in Germany and Japan after World War II, or Korea after that war was put on hold by a truce that still tenuously stands 50 years later.

NBC correspondent David Bloom died in Iraq from "natural causes," an apparent pulmonary embolism. This is the same condition that can afflict airline passengers. He was just 39 years old.

SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, has killed at least 90 worldwide. Dr. James Hughes, CDC director for infectious diseases, believes, "This is a good example of many of the issues that we will face when the next influenza pandemic begins. . . . This has many similarities to the way the next influenza pandemic might begin."

Most Americans, myself included, are too young to remember the "great Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918, where perhaps one of five died of flu or its complications. At least 20 million around the globe perished." I've heard stories of my great grandfather logging months of endless days to treat patients who were stricken. Only time will tell how the world community deals with this new killer.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan passed away last week. Moynihan was an intellectual and a statesman who was equally respected by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

My sense is that Moynihan wasn't an anomaly in American politics forty or fifty years ago, although he is now. At some point liberal intellectuals decided that politics was distasteful, and granted political power to the less intelligent, right-wing faithful such as Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Its a shame, and the country has suffered greatly as a result.

Here is to the hope that these troubling times might produce the likes of Moynihan, because Lord knows we need someone like him today.