A curious game you can play to remind yourself of just how many wars America has fought during its short existence goes like this: take today's date and start subtracting years from it - in short order you will bump into numerous military entanglements. The precise date is not too important, just the month and year will do.
Take 200 years off of today's date and we were fighting the British in the War of 1812. Take 150 years off today's date and we were fighting the Civil War. Or more recently, take 10 years off today's date and we were fighting the Iraq War - sort of. Since May 1st marked the ten-year anniversary of King George II's now infamous "Mission Accomplished Speech," the "war" as such was supposedly over ten years ago today, and a time machine would place us in a relaxed occupation, right?
In looking over the speech, that is certainly what we were told. It was brimming with poorly written (and hyperbolically delivered) lines like: "my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended," and "our nation is more secure," and "By seeking to turn our cities into killing fields, terrorists and their allies believed that they could destroy this nation's resolve, and force our retreat from the world. They have failed." It is likely that most people reading this article were suspicious of such grandiosity at the time, but recall just how many Americans were both bursting with pride at our handy-work - and relieved that the fighting was now essentially over.
If a pack of Neoconservatives out there really felt like skewing the numbers to prove that Bush was right, or at least "had a point", they could do so on a superficial level. The casualties look like this: in March of 2003, 65 Americans were killed and 202 were wounded, in April, 73 were killed and 340 were wounded. May did see a meaningful drop in these numbers - 37 dead and 52 wounded. The numbers follow a similar trend in terms of casualties among coalition forces and Iraqi civilian casualties. The coalition as a whole suffered 92 fatalities in March, 80 fatalities in April, and only 42 in May. Deaths among Iraqi civilians were 3,977 in March, 3,436 in April, and 545 in May. Examined in these strict, narrow, and cold-hearted terms victory did seem to have blossomed in May of 2003 - but such good news comes only from looking at those numbers by themselves. If other figures were not lurking about, Bush probably never would have tried to re-write history years later when he lamented that the speech "conveyed the wrong message" because it made people feel that "'Bush thinks the war in Iraq is over', when I didn't think that." So, let us examine some other numbers from the month of Mission Accomplished.
In his speech, Bush claimed that, "The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror", but soon two deadly terrorist attacks far from the streets of Baghdad were carried out. On the 12th, in the Saudi Arabian city of Riyadh, three suicide bombers struck three separate housing complexes for Westerners - apparently ordered by Osama bin Laden's son. Excluding the suicidal terrorists, 26 people died, of which 9 were American - and almost 200 people were injured, of which at least 40 were American. Four days later, five coordinated suicide attacks struck Western targets in Casablanca - targeting Jewish centers, the Belgian consulate, and a Spanish club. Again, excluding the terrorists themselves, 33 people died and over 100 were injured. In response to such barbarity, the Homeland Security Advisory System was raised from yellow to orange on the 20th, and was then seemingly arbitrarily lowered again to yellow on the 30th. The month of Mission Accomplished was not a good month for the West in terms of its "War on Terror".
Meanwhile, things back in America during the month of Mission Accomplished were far from well. Despite the ancient claim that "war is good for the economy", unemployment stood at 6.1% nationally - the highest it had been in almost ten years. The numbers on crime prove even more distressing. According to the FBI there were 16,528 homicides across America in 2003, of which 8.7% (they admit to rounding) occurred in the month of May. This places the number of Americans murdered in the United States during the month of Mission Accomplished at about 1,438. Yes, you are reading the numbers right - the number of Americans killed in Iraq that month was 37, in the US it was 1,438 - a ratio of about 1 to 38.
Granted, there were more Americans in America than Iraq that month. But ask yourself, if the numbers were available, do you think a single month of American casualties during WWII would be dwarfed by that month's homicides stateside? Want to contest that? Fine, than answer a few other questions. What should the government be more focused on - domestic crime or foreign governments? Why should anyone believe that a government incapable of keeping domestic crime down and domestic employment up would be capable of "building" a stable government abroad? What would be the perfect distraction from domestic troubles that a government could start?
One could claim that it is excessively cynical to tout the tragedies that shortly followed Bush's speech in order to defame him - but month of Mission Accomplished's one year anniversary show how deep all these troubles ran. May of 2004 saw 80 Americans killed in Iraq. Not only is that double the May of '03 figure, it is higher than the figure for either of the two "invasion months". The same can be said for the number of Americans wounded in Iraq in May of '04 - 757. Not kidding.
Almost everything else got worse in one year's time as well. Total coalition fatalities in May of '04 sat at 84, Iraqi civilian casualties sat at 656. The murder rate shrank ever so slightly though. As a whole, 2004 saw 391 fewer murders than 2003, and the number of May murders falls as well - to about 1,420. But here is the catch - add the number of murders in May of '03 to the number of combat casualties in May of '03 - that would be 1,438 plus 37 which is 1,475; now do the same for the May of '04 figures - 1,420 plus 80 is 1,500. The difference is slim, but in the end more Americans were murdered in May of '04 than May of '03. The one truly positive thing that can be said in comparing the month itself to its one-year anniversary is that the unemployment rate fell - half a percentage point.
We are now almost done with the month of Mission Accomplished's tenth anniversary. Much of the data needed to compare today to nine or ten years ago cannot be had, such as figures on crime and unemployment - but were someone to express hope, I would accuse them of naïveté. Unemployment rates have not been less than 6.1% in years, Iraq is quite far from well, deaths in Afghanistan have skyrocketed since Obama took office, and an American veteran commits suicide almost once an hour.
As Mother Courage sang:
its luck and all its danger
The war is dragging on a bit
Another hundred years or longer
The common man won't benefit.
Filthy his food, no soap to shave him
The regiment steals half his pay.
But still a miracle may save him:
Tomorrow is another day!
year's come. The watchmen shout.
The thaw sets in. The dead remain.
Wherever life has not died out
It staggers to its feet again.