While Congress debates target dates for withdrawal and President Bush wields his veto bravado, the casualties from a no-longer-admired, quagmired war in Iraq continue to mount. For Operation Iraqi Freedom 3,345 American military personnel have lost their lives; for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan the number is a far more modest 381, yielding a total of 3,726 total fatalities overall. Then there are the Iraqi civilians and insurgents who have died, usually in bloody and terror-damned ways, reaching between 63,000 and 69,000 according to Iraq Body Count, but with estimates well above 100,000. Figures for Afghanistan are harder to come by. The initial bombing campaign four years ago took an estimated 3000-3400 civilian lives, with more every passing year. The sheer numbers, although not catastrophic when compared to big bloody wars of the past, are still numbing. But listing names is the easy way out; looking at the faces of the fallen takes more courage.

The Washington Post has an updated, searchable webpage dedicated to Faces of the Fallen. Rather than read more about the ongoing stalemate between politically motivated politicians, I suggest you take a few moments to look at these faces, note the ages of the military victims (some of whom are barely eligible to vote) and remember that each of these have families who mourn them and potential families which will never know them. As they died in the service of their country, no matter how bogus the rationale of their neconmander in chief, their heroism is not at issue. But, as in Vietnam, the nagging questions remain why these individuals were sacrificed and why the president’s men who sent them there (but were lucky enough not to be sent to Vietnam) are not held accountable. Indeed Paul Wolfowitz, one of the major architects of the botched campaign, was rewarded with the leadership of the World Bank. He promptly rewarded his girlfriend with an ethically mandated transfer cushioned by an astronomical salary raise in the Department of State (doing exactly what is not specified). It seems Mr. Wolfowitz may finally be canned, but for a reason that is far more trivial than the death toll he in essence helped authorize. Ironically the man who was not sheepish in his crusade against developing world corruption has been caught with holes in his socks as well his alibis.

In death all faces should look the same. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust: genetic differences only affect the living. Iraqi or American, soldier or insurgent, woman or child: we cannot always tell who the person was because the face has been blown into so many fragments. There are also pages showing the faces of Iraqi victims, but these are not for the squeamish. But if you mourn the one set, you must not avoid the other, no matter how painful. The tragedy of those who face death everyday demand that we look into the faces of death and not fail to see ourselves.

Daniel Martin Varisco