Surely being the 100th American to die unnecessarily is no greater tragedy than being, say, number 11 or 47 or even 99. The death in each case is as final, the waste as unspeakable and the agony of those left behind as pronounced.
Yet, round numbers speak to human beings in powerful, if illogical, ways. And today the number 100 shouts out like an atomic bomb blast.
A bomb ripped through a crowd of Shiite labourers, one of six attacks in Baghdad that killed at least 36 people, as the monthly death toll for American troops and civilian contractors in Iraq hit 101.
Four non-American coalition soldiers were also killed during the month.
The blasts came as Britain evacuated its large consulate in the southern city of Basra after it came under repeated mortar attack, and one day after 17 Iraqi police were murdered when they left a nearby British training base.
The US military said October had seen 96 US troops, four coalition soldiers from other countries and five American contractors killed, confirming it as the bloodiest month for the allies since January 2005
America has lost 100 people or more in a single month in Iraq before, of course, but I think in a way it’s worse this time. Futility makes it worse. And while the futility of the Iraq War has been clear for some time, it’s become so much more obvious lately, so open and notorious: Few people even bother denying it anymore. And those who do look increasingly deceitful, if not deranged.
Still, the dying goes on, every day and in the most horrific ways imaginable. And like anything else that goes on day after day far away, eventually it becomes wallpaper: You know it’s there, but you think about it less and less. The dull hum of the evening news — the stock market is up or down, rain is coming or going away and another 3 Americans have been killed in Iraq; or is it 6 or 11?
You still care, but life goes on — your life anyway.
That is the great power of round numbers, of course — they scrape away the wallpaper and rub a little salt into a wound that’s best not forgotten. And hopefully in this instance remind us that while the 100 plus deaths in October can never be undone, the hundreds that will come in the months ahead — if nothing changes — are still very much at issue.