Come you masters of war: You that build the big guns. You that build the death planes, You that build all the bombs. You that hide behind walls, You that hide behind desks. I just want you to know I can see through your masks.
-- Bob Dylan
For the nation's military leaders, its politicians looking to get their sound bites to the media, and the spin doctors who are paid to make chicken salad from that proverbial ... well, you know the product ... war is a numbers game.
Representatives of the aforementioned groups affect their most solemn voices, dredge up their most compassionate platitudes and remind us often of the "price of freedom" as they dispatch the latest numbers to a country more than willing to buy into their cliches and accept those numbers at way less than face value.
Right now, the numbers are sobering: Accounts vary, but different sources show 6,051 Americans dead, 56,900 more injured, 192,114 suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, 1,621 with missing limbs, 195,547 with traumatic brain injuries, 2,129 military suicides and $1.8 trillion and counting spent on the latest war, a war waged based on lies and prolonged on more of the same.
For the people of Southwest Georgia, though, particularly the people of Lee County and specifically the family of Lance Cpl. Steven Sutton, all those numbers are of secondary importance. The number that haunts them now each new day is the No. 1. That's the number of sons, of husbands, of dads, of friends, of heroes they lost in a country half a world away.
The outpouring of community love has no doubt helped Lance Cpl. Sutton's family try and cope with the fact that while he gave his life in the most noble of pursuits, he did so in a campaign with no clear plan for victory and no real timetable for strategic withdrawal.
Certainly even those of us who never knew Lance Cpl. Sutton were touched by his story, each in our own personal way. And each of us feels a tiny fraction of the loss that his family, friends and loved ones cope with on a daily basis.
Our collective community loss has also helped us to understand a little better that, despite the spin and self-serving condolences coming from places like Washington, all over America there are families, friends and loved ones who are grieving for their own lost sons and daughters. And, like our community, their loss is more than a part of the collective 6,000 soldiers lost in combat. They have their own 1 to deal with.
Throughout recorded history, mankind has engaged in warfare as if the act were some kind of deranged birthright. Whether defending sullied honor, protecting property or fulfilling some megalomaniacal quest for power, there have always been those willing to risk the lives of others to achieve some ideological end. In all such battles, opposing sides have never doubted that right was on their side, that they were wearing the white hats in the struggle of good vs. evil.
Warriors who engage in such battles often do so with no clear understanding of ideologies or causes. They are trained to embody the motto, "Ours not to question why, ours but to do or die." There's an honor and a bravery in such combatants that only they and their comrades in arms can understand.
The rest of us are left to put our faith in the causes that drew these warriors to combat, to believe that their leaders have indeed placed them on the side of good in the fight against evil. And while we honor each of them for their service, for facing enemies we know only from sketchy -- and often propoganda-laced -- intelligence offered by our media, many of us are angered by the justification for the loss of these good and brave soldiers.
Our anger today is not just over what we see as senseless sacrifice. It's over the fact that our sons and daughters have been asked to put their lives on the line for missions based on the lies of one presidential administration and perpetuated by another that promised to bring them home.
Which, I guess, is easy enough to do when your numbers game is filled with such horrific wartime strategy as "acceptable loss." We're not privy to the kind of planning that uses such gruesome strategic numbers. But it's a safe bet that for families and communities who send their soldiers off to war, the number that will always matter to them is that precious 1.
Email Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.