Ryan Chartrand

The modern media seems to have a morbid fascination with the rising death toll in Iraq. It is paraded about in headlines and stories as if that is the only news worth reporting from the entire conflict. Even The Tribune, San Luis Obispo’s very own newspaper, continually updates a running death tally.

During previous conflicts, the media reported on the successes of the soldiers with casualties referred to as a tragic consequence. Now it seems, death tolls make the headlines and successes are portrayed as temporary and fragile. The number of American dead (2,875 as of Nov. 27, 2006) is often touted as one the main reasons that the war is going wrong.

This idea that the death count is an indication of the success of a war is completely absurd. If that were the case, then the Civil War and WWII would be our two biggest failures since the death tolls reported by CNN are 498,332 and 405,399, respectively.

We all know that death is a tragic consequence of war, but the success of war can only be measured by the degree to which we have achieved our goals. The Civil War saw the death of nearly a half of a million American soldiers, but those fallen heroes contributed to the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery. It took many years, but the South has completely embraced American freedom and democracy since the Reconstruction.

Then WWII saw tyrannical dictatorships attempt to conquer and subjugate their neighbors. America could have easily not committed any troops to the fight and over 400,000 Americans would not have died. Instead, Franklin D. Roosevelt led our forces against the evils of fascism and Nazism and turned our former enemies (Germany, Italy and Japan) into some of our closest allies. The Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe helped this process and finally ended in 1951, a full six years after the end of the war in 1945.

Measuring the success of these two wars based on death tolls is ridiculous. They are considered successful only because they each achieved their objectives of ending disunion, slavery, fascism and Nazism. Achieving those goals was the primary focus and sole measure of success.

Fast forward to October of 2002 when the US Senate and House of Representatives both overwhelmingly supported the Iraq war, 77-23 and 296-133 respectively. With that support, Bush attacked in March of 2003 in response to constant hostilities, non-compliance with many UN resolutions, crimes against humanity, terrorist connections and the past use of weapons of mass destruction.

Many of our initial objectives have already been achieved as Saddam has been removed from power and brought to justice by a fair trial that he wouldn’t have granted to his own citizens. A free, democratic government has been formed in the place of the Stalinist-fashioned Baath Party and is now working with the various sects to ensure a lasting peace. The vast majority of Iraqis live peaceful, productive lives in a recovering country, while a few hotspots of violence account for most of the news coverage.

With much of the work complete and Iraqi forces poised to take over the rest, it is not surprising that we may reduce troop numbers in the next couple of years. Make no mistake about it; this process has nothing to do with political elections at home or death toll abroad. Bush has learned from historical precedents that the only way we can lose is if we quit, and he has no intention of retreating. Pundits criticize him for ignoring media opinion and its portrayal of progress, but this is his greatest asset.

As the leader of this country, he needs to keep our focus on the overall objectives, not the individual tragedies. That is not to discount the life of any individual soldier, but to elevate the ideals for which they fought.

Lincoln understood what it took to win a war and we need to remember his immortal words, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.” If we can ignore the pessimism and remain committed to victory in Iraq, we will not fail.

Matt Bushman is a civil engineering senior and Mustang Daily political columnist.

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