Published: June 1, 2011
One Tuesday morning in 2004, we decided almost at random to put the number of American military personnel killed in the “War on Terror” up to that date on the cover of the heading-for-press paper. The Nov. 9 issue featured four unannounced, unexplained digits just above the big city paper: 1,134. It was the issue after George W. Bush’s re-election, but there’s no lingering memory of it as a political decision. As with our modest attempt to document the slaughter on Baltimore’s streets through Murder Ink, it was a small thing but seemed worth doing. And we kept doing it. For years, we never explained what it was unless asked, and other than addressing it in the paper once in 2007, as the number topped 3,000, we still don’t as a rule. The number eventually branched into two numbers: one for Iraq, where the weekly toll was beginning to wane, and one for Afghanistan, where it was picking up steam. The numbers moved inside with the table of contents eventually, and they skipped a few weeks here and there when the usual sources of information proved unreliable, but they’re still there, six and a half years later. And still climbing.
We got to thinking about all this as another Memorial Day approached, and it made us grateful for the number. Not grateful that servicemen and -women die, but grateful that, at least once a week, we must reckon with their deaths as part of the still-mounting cost of these conflicts. We commonly rely on CNN’s elaborate web page devoted to remembering those killed, and some weeks, even with the mugshots of the deceased in their camo or dress blues right there, we’re just hurriedly compiling statistics. And then something will jump out—often a hometown, such as Frederick or Baltimore, or a week where the number of names added rises into double digits and keeps going—and we’re forced to think about the fact that each one of the entries, each one of these numbers, represents a life lost on behalf of this country as most of us sit at our computers and plot weekend barbecues, oblivious.
If nothing else, the numbers are supposed to be a mini-memorial, not just one weekend a year, but every week. In honor of this most recent Memorial Day, we rechecked the numbers and made sure they reflected the best available official figures. (As noted in this week’s Mail, some would proffer other numbers, but we try to stick to what we can rely on being updated regularly and accurately.) We’re calling attention to it now, but we won’t be making a habit of it. But we will keep posting it, week after week, as long as it keeps climbing.