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The Cost Of The War
In human terms. By the SF Chronicle's Joan Ryan:

He was 30 years old, the father of three young boys. He couldn't fathom, when he first saw the flat sheet where his legs should have been, how he would walk again. Now he looked down at his legs, the stumps tucked into the sockets of $50,000 prostheses with computer chips that made adjustments 50 times a second to replicate as closely as possible his natural gait. His sneakers looked enormous, like clown feet, at the ends of the thin titanium rods that served as his calves. He held a cane in each hand, steadying himself as he took one careful step after another. His physical therapist walked by his side.

"How's that?" the therapist asked.

The left leg's electronic knee had been vibrating and locking up. The therapist had just finished hooking it to his laptop and tapping in new commands to adjust the microprocessor.

"It seems OK now," Michael said, stopping at the metal folding chair where his wife, Carrie, sat.

She was 26, blond, pale-skinned and slight. She wore a T-shirt, capri pants and flip-flops. In the purse she clutched on her lap were her survival tools: her cell phone and her Marlboro Lights. She was up to a pack and a half a day. As soon as she had received the call on Christmas Eve, she dropped her boys off at her parents' mobile home up the road from hers and flew from the tiny Wenatchee airport in central Washington state directly to Washington, D.C.

She found out later that her husband had been conscious after the improvised explosive device blew him out of the Stryker. He was on his back, propped on his elbows, yelling for help. The Stryker's 19-year-old driver, bleeding but not seriously wounded, rushed to Michael. He couldn't be injured too seriously, the young soldier thought, if he was awake and talking. Then he saw Michael's legs.

Michael's first memory after the blast was of seeing Carrie standing over him. He wondered why she was in Iraq. His legs felt as if they were on fire. There were tubes snaking from his arms and an oxygen mask over his mouth. Every part of his body hurt, and later he would learn that the explosion had broken every rib on his left side, ruptured his spleen, collapsed his lungs, burned his hands and torso and cracked open his skull.

Carrie told him he was at Walter Reed in Washington, D.C. He had been in a coma for 12 days. He tried to say "pain," but he couldn't speak. He fell back to sleep.

When he woke again, he saw his father. He was in his red beret and Army jacket, the left sleeve loose over his atrophied arm. The elbow had been shattered in Vietnam. Michael thought he was dreaming. He couldn't feel his toes. He pulled the mask from his mouth.

"Are my legs OK?" he rasped.

"You're going to be fine."

When his father left and Carrie returned, he asked her the same question.

Carrie saw no reason to lie.

"Your legs are gone."

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Posted by aalkon at March 27, 2006 4:08 AM

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Comments

Yep, this new approach to foreign policy has brought more death and dismemberment to the warriors of the United States, and these are dear and precious people. On the other hand, there's no doubt that the actual amount of death and destruction from or within Iraq has gone down since Saddam was toppled.

But that's not important, right? You just want to keep trouble out of your own neighborhood and off of the front page.

I wish all these very daring (yet dickless) editorialists in the weekend LAT and elsewhere would cop to this. When they bemoan Bush's turn away from "realism," they're logically calling for a return to Kissingerian manipulation, subterfuge, and abject murder... To say nothing of the raw numbers.

Modern international political thinking is a grotesque inversion the moral clarity with which boomers brought an end to the Viet Nam war.

I love those kids and I wish they could all have their lives, limbs, and restful sleep back. But don't pretend that the alternative to this invasion would have had the United States in safer, kinder, less aggressive posture.

Posted by: Crid at March 28, 2006 1:36 AM

But, it seems Bush, too, advocated simply assassinating Hussein. The thing is, if Kissinger didn't have a conscience or much of a conscience about what he was doing, he clearly had a brain. This notion by Bush, that they'd repaint US planes in the UN colors to get the Iraqis to fire on them -- it doesn't even sound like the idea of a grown man.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 28, 2006 3:34 AM

> it doesn't even sound like the
> idea of a grown man.

A generation ago, there was talk of poisoning Fidel's cigar so that his 'charismatic' beard would fall out. Listen, there's no doubt that Bush was gunning for Saddam. But we don't expect candidates or presidents to be dispassionate avatars of the statistical average of broad American feeling. That would be the opposite of leadership. (Not that I think presidents are supposed to lead... IJS.)

Kissinger's 'brains' afford him no chits in my estimation. Nor do McNamara's. Chamberlain probably thought himself clever as well.

A woman who likes me said I need to take "the Quaker approach to 'concerns'"... ie, don't worry so much about this stuff, because nobody's asking you.

Seeing dear young people begin their lives without feet makes this difficult.

Posted by: Crid at March 28, 2006 7:30 AM

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