On the radio one morning, defending our internal spying program, a U.S. senator reminded us that "we are a nation at war." Sobering news. I know I had forgotten. However, particularly since it is Memorial Day, it started me thinking about the sacrifices Americans have made over the past six years and are continuing to make to bring peace, freedom and democracy to Iraq and the Middle East.
The sacrifices are quantified, seemingly, with decreasing frequency as the war plods on, as we are presented with the counts of dead and wounded men and women. In an accounting directed at our more materialistic side, we are occasionally updated with disparate estimates of the out-of-pocket costs of our nation’s unflagging determination to defeat terrorism.
Still, it occurred to me that something very important is missing from our sacrificial balance sheet. That is the incremental cost of life for each day spent by those who labor to conduct our military expeditions.
Primarily, this cost is being paid by those military personnel in the danger zones. We understand that they number about 150,000 and are generally young, perhaps averaging 25 years old. (The actual numbers are probably classified since, if the enemy knew, it might endanger the lives of our troops.) If we trust that most of these young people will not be killed in this war, but live to an average of 75 years, then they have 50 years (or 18,250 days) of life to look forward to in the comfort, safety and security of their American homes.
Still, loss of life can be measured in days. For every day that 150,000 American troops remain at war, this equals the consumption of 150,000/18,250 or 8.2 of their residual life expectancies. Over six years, this grinding daily consumption would total 18,000.
As painful as that number appears, I suspect our national sacrifice has been far greater. Many more people than most of us can fully appreciate are engaged in supporting our war effort. The efforts of the vital medical personnel are most evident, but hundreds of thousands more Americans are involved in training, supporting, transporting and supplying our troops. While not as glamorous, even those involved in manufacturing munitions, materiel and Hummers are devoting substantial portions of their lives to an international war effort seemingly with no discernible end.
Not to disparage their gratuitous contributions, it sometimes appears that innumerable news reporters, freelance writers, filmmakers, war tourists and politicians can be found "on the ground" in the war zones. In total, the gross consumption of human life, energy resources and material are, perhaps thankfully, incalculable.
Calculator cleared, on this Memorial Day, I can’t erase the most searing images of the sacrifices made to war; the unbridled tears and pain of those who have lost their loved ones. How much are the remaining days of one’s life diminished when war has brought death to one’s threshold? Of what diminished value are days filled with mourning, regret and sadness?
Maybe next year.