Walking By The Wounded

What the hell is wrong with us?

Why do we keep acting as though only the dead in Iraq matter? (And, sadly, I must pass over the literally countless Iraqi and Afghan dead and wounded, who are only known to their loved ones, and will never be listed in any document or abstract, as if their lives did not matter).

Oh, the dead matter quite a lot, but they don’t matter nearly as much as the living, the wounded, the maimed. But you wouldn’t know it to listen to the rhetoric. The obsession has been with the number of dead — as if this were a sporting event.

As I write this, the grisly “official” scoreboard lights up this number: 3,398.

(And you can check icasualties.org for a more credible breakdown of the various statistics.)

We have grown so used to the satanic majesty of our own government’s propaganda that we are continually sucked into this phony figure. Phony, why? Because, as we have known from the beginning, the numbers are cooked.

Only soldiers actually killed at the SCENE are considered war dead, while suicides, soldiers who die of their wounds, or ANY OTHER DODGE to minimalize the casualty figures are — admittedly — kept off the books, so that we can pretend that this sanitized war isn’t a real war, but is, in fact, a Saturday Morning Kiddie Cartoon: bloodless, safe, comforting and bland.


As William Tecumseh Sherman noted: War is hell. And, as we ought to know by now, Hell is ruled by the Prince of Lies (in this case George W. Bush).

It is not the dead that matter, kiddies. It is the LIVING. The dead are beyond our poor ability to add or detract. They are beyond human ken. In a very real sense they ARE just numbers. Only the grief of the living is real: the sorrow, the pain and the loss that their friends and relatives will feel, like a phantom limb, will go on, but, as a matter of cold, hard calculation, the dead are dead, and they are buried.

Our connection with them is severed.

But the wounded will be with us for the rest of our lives. We will see them in their wheelchairs, with their artificial limbs, their scarred and ravaged faces in the shopping malls, the fast food joints, in the crowd at baseball games and football games, on the freeways, from sea to shining sea.

And we will be paying for their disabilities for the rest of our lives.

Why do we not speak of them? Why do we pretend that dying is the great problem?

As the Australian anti-war masterpiece, “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” goes (by Eric Bogle in 1972: the finest anti-war song I’ve ever heard)

Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head,
And when I woke up in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead —
Never knew there was worse things than dying.

It is not the dead who must live with the horror: it is the living, and we do the wounded a profound disservice every time that we ignore their ongoing, living suffering in favor of quoting the FALSE death statistic, as though that were all that mattered.

Certainly it matters, but not nearly as much as the ongoing hell, the “worse than dying” hell that the wounded of this hellspawn’s war will live with every day for the rest of their lives.

My great-great grandfather returned from three years’ service in the Civil War and was never able to do a full day’s work, although he was a farmer, and managed to continue in that profession with the help of his family. Even though he was never listed as a casualty, and never wounded in battle, he was never quite “right.” He was sickly for the next 25 years. He died in his fifties, a mere four years after his own father, who had lived to 81, and his widow had to carry on without him for another thirty years.

Were they not casualties of that war as well?


So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed,
And they shipped us back home to Australia.
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane,
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla.
And as our ship sailed into Circular Quay, (key)
I looked at the place where me legs used to be,

So, too, the officially wounded, and the wounded, like my grandfather, who will never be listed in any statistical abstract, and whose application for veterans’ benefits will get the classic bureaucratic runaround, perhaps admitted, but likely denied, years and decades hence. (Think of Agent Orange or Gulf War Syndrome.)

And their pain and grief, if history is any indication, will be consciously forgotten and denied, as the nation seeks to pretend that the horrors of war are behind it.

Again, as Bogle’s masterwork notes:

And the old men march slowly, all bones stiff and sore,
They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask “What are they marching for?”
And I ask meself the same question.

(You can hear the whole song sung by Eric Bogle at this official Australian government website.)

War is less about the dead than the living, and we perform an obscene rite in ignoring them.

As of this day, that hidden “official” number stands at: 24,645 (even though it is over 25,000 without jiggering the books).


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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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4 Responses to Walking By The Wounded

  1. A few days ago marked four years ago that my husband was flown into “Post War Iraq” to do Humanitarian Demining. He landed four hours after the “Mission Accomplished Speech”. There was no financial incentive beyond his regular wages as he normally went to post war countries to do this work.
    Another few days, after the “Bring it On” speech, he was blown up working in a red zone (he later found out) with no security or weapon of his own. It was more important to his superiors that he continue working to present a false image of progress and security in Iraq.
    My husband is permanently disabled, disfigured, contaminated, certainly will never do EOD work again. He was nearly killed again when he was put on highly toxic drugs to kill the Acinetobacter Baumannii that the military gave him in their evacuation chain. The spread of this bacteria was due to unsanitary conditions which was due to a lack of everything they should have been provided.
    He lives with a blood borne parasite that is potentially deadly and has no sterile cure as do thousands of soldiers. The parasite is transmittable sexually, congenitally, and by blood transfusion. Think of the possibilities.
    My husbands future was taken from him to make it look like things were better than they were in Iraq.
    The government mandated DBA insurance which all employees working under government contracts are covered under, and which will be reimbursed by the government under the War Hazards Act, will fight to be sure that he stays a beaten down broken man until he dies. It is required by our government that they do so, http://www.dbacomp.com. Even a contractor with PTSD must first prove in court that he has PTSD before treatment will be paid for. Think again of the possiblities.
    Our wounded soldiers and the wounded contractors will never be properly compensated or counted. You can add at least 25% to the “official” and unofficial government counts of dead and wounded in Iraq when you include the contractors.
    These wounded soldiers and contractors have lost their potential futures, their potential “net worth”, while the rest of the country goes on without sacrificing a thing, yet…..

  2. Darrell Prows says:

    There was a time that I knew the incarceration and homelessness rates for our Nam vets. This was quite some time ago but the numbers were staggering. More than this, though, is the fact that all of us of that generation were touched by these things even if not more directly hurt.

    One supposes that it’s a blessing that this side effect of Iraq will be more limited, but the “causalties” of Nam clearly played a role in making us more peceful than we would have been. And then, it seems, the change is decreasing.

    For my part I’ve convinced myself that it’s possible for humans to learn the lessons without having to go through the experiences. And then you look at the red necks and wonder if it really is possible for our species to even learn anything.

  3. Bill Clark says:

    There is another song, “The Green Fields of France” which I have become fond of playing on guitar. (the lyrics are at http://www.songfacts.com/lyrics.php?findsong=5388). If first heard the song listening to a Clancy Brothers tape in the car and had to pull over because my eyes teared up. I said to myself, at least we have learned. Now, when I sing this song, tears well up because we have not learned. The last verse:

    and i can’t help but wonder oh willy mcbride
    do all those who lie here know why they died
    did you really believe them when they told
    you the cause
    did you really believe that this war would
    end wars
    well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory,
    the shame
    the killing and dying it was all done in vain
    oh willy mcbride it all happened again
    and again, and again, and again, and again

    Someday, maybe we will learn.

    Excellent article. We must remember the wounded – physical and mental – and the survivors (and those who, because of wounds, and lack of care, cannot survive).


    A liberal Democratic Veteran.

  4. harto says:

    Thank you all for your profound comments. We have a long history of welshing on our blood debt to our veterans, and it needs to stop here and now.