In war, it’s often said truth is the first casualty. So how many American soldiers have actually been killed in Iraq? The Pentagon spits out numbers, but as the war rages into its fourth year, bloggers are now putting a human face on cold stats.
Digital Journal — While the U.S. government regularly updates the public on military casualties, independent bloggers are trying to add more depth to the death count. Tracking fatalities may not be the most engaging blogging activity, but these online journalists want to give public attention to fallen heroes.
Database designer Michael S. White, from Stone Mountain, GA, runs icasualties.org to track the specific details of each overseas death. For instance, White includes specifics on the cause of death, such as “hostile fire — small arms fire” listed for the late Sgt. Forrest D. Cauthorn who was killed on April 5, 2007. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, icasualties.org also reports on deaths by ethnicity and U.S. division, and wire releases on wounded soldiers.
Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. In an interview with the New York Times, White said his site has been criticized for being cold and passionless. “That’s what it is,” he countered. “It’s like you put gloves on and are going into an analytical room.”
It’s no surprise these casualty-tracking sites have surged in the past few months. But on these pages, stats don’t have to be seen as heartless; these sites immortalize the 20-year-old who was recently married, later killed by a suicide bomber, or the sergeant who lost her life in a Fallujah firefight. Online, they live even after they die.
Another popular blog of the same ilk is Spread the Word: Iraq-Nam, operated by Daniel K. Ropkin of Sacramento, CA, His site tracks military deaths and posts personal stories from local papers across the U.S. At first glance, it’s easy to categorize the blog as an anti-war site but several headlines run against that grain: Army Officials Praise Success of Reactive Armour and Marine Corps Surpasses February Recruiting Goals.
Acting as an “in memoriam” page, The Iraq Page honours military deaths by posting a single account of each U.S. state service member killed in combat, along with a photo and space for comments. A typical comment reads, “Because of you and others like you, America is free. You are a true hero and will not be forgotten.” Indiana resident Tom Willett runs the page, and told the Times 3,313 U.S. individuals have been honoured on his page. As of April 7, the Pentagon has tallied 29,447 U.S. military casualties in Iraq.
Willett said his site garners 2,000 to 3,000 unique visitors daily, with up to 30 comments posted per day.
Undoubtedly, the government should not be the sole reporter on who has fallen victim in Iraq. Like in any democracy, it’s encouraging to see empowered bloggers take the truth into their own hands. It’s even more impressive to witness the emotional outpouring for every dead soldier, who often receives only a three-second mention on national newscasts.
U.S. troop casualties have increased 21 per cent in Baghdad, compared with the previous two months. There is no end in sight for the conflict in Iraq. Sunni and Shiite militants continue to disrupt any possible peace-keeping missions set up by coalition forces. This means that the public will want to stay updated on soldier deaths, beyond the numbers.
Blogs can bring the truth to U.S. shores, but they can also humanize the very inhuman atrocities taking place overseas. Death tolls, or online tributes, are a necessary side effect of a war where anonymity has disappeared. Vietnam etched every fallen soldier’s name on a wall, but now the digital age is allowing a soldier’s story to reach a mass audience. Some call it patriotism at its finest while others call it citizen journalism.
Lest we forget.