Iraq, of course.
It is arbitrary, assigning meaning to a number, but there is something about large round numbers that pulls on our imagination. We want to find something meaningful in it, make it a marker, a signifier, a signpost that points a way to more of the same or a different path. Why 2500 instead of 2000? It is simply that we have passed 2000 and are now taking aim at a number that starts with 3. The corporeal fact behind the abstraction is that we have lost 2500 of our countrymen forever to the beast that is Iraq.
Behind that 2500 stand other, larger figures. The tens of thousands of US troops wounded, maimed, disfigured. The tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds, of Iraqis who have been torn from this life. Certainly the hundreds of thousands of them who have been wounded, maimed, disfigured.
Two images keep coming back to me, two little girls. One is a child held in an older relative's arms, wounded from a bomb, and one of her feet is attached to her body only by a strip of skin, the foot itself flopping loosely as she is carried. The other is of a very young child caught in the glare of an American soldier's flashlight, spattered with the blood and gore of her now-dead parents killed in their car at an American road block, and she is screaming.
I can't help thinking about those girls.
I would probably think more about the dead and maimed US soldiers, except that the press strives so hard to keep such images away from US viewers. They keep the war sanitary, distant, free of the concept that being shot and blown up leaves limbs only partly attached and may make you scream. It increases the fetishization of soldiers while denying them their humanity.
When I say Iraq is a beast, I'm not speaking of the country. I mean the obsession the US has with this psychotic episode of state-sanctioned murder. There seems to be no end to how much it can consume of lives, fortunes, and other resources. Such as peace of mind. A working power grid. Effective response to natural disasters. Ability to feel compassion.
Make no mistake - Iraq is a US obsession, a creature of our own invention. Iraq the state was never a threat to the US. It was a nasty dictatorship, not much different than a dozen others, save that it caught the fancy of a group of people rich and ruthless enough to transform it into their own personal Fantasyland.
We seized it in a Gollum-like fit of loathing and desire. Our Preciouss. Now picked up, it is doubtful we will set it down again. We can't leave because of the incipient implosion of what is left of the state. We can't stay for precisely the same reason.
The US did this to Iraq. We had no reason to invade, save the whim and wants of the Cheneyites. We have reduced their nation to its current condition, claims of Iraqi fecklessness not withstanding. We have used their land and their bodies to conduct a vast experiment - What if we say there are no limits, and act accordingly?
The borders of the nation fell. Vital infrastructure was bombed to oblivion. Ranks of men trying to defend their people were gunned down. Others were rounded up and taken to Abu Ghraib, tortured to prove the point that George W. Bush has the power to do anything to anyone as it pleases him, and none may prevent it. A war purposefully conducted with under-staffed and under-supplied troops, because Rummy decided that was the kind of war he wanted to fight, not what those reality-bound generals told him would be needed. To bring about the condition where the NSA says they may listen to any conversation by any American at any time and do with that information whatever they wish.
That is, I think, the most difficult thing for most Americans to wrap their minds around. This isn't a war. This isn't anything so rational. It is a vast thought experiment made manifest, like a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life before our eyes, and it displays the inhuman perversity of its creators. "No, they can't be that mad. They must have meant for this other thing to happen, and it went wrong," you think to yourself.
No. What we see in Iraq is what the Cheneyites think "Iraq" should be. It is no mistake. This is the beast they intended to create - the bloodbath in the desert, but also the deconstruction of limits at home. There is no limit to its number.