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Saturday, November 13, 2004

Faces of the Fallen

So I was reading through the Post's "Faces of the Fallen" section this morning, looking for the photo of my friend's boyfriend and thinking about history.

You look at the two-page layout of the last two months' dead in Iraq and you wonder what it contributes to in the end. We just don't know until we get there. Once we get there, we'll have to figure out where we were and why we took the path we did (and whether a different path may have been better). A white newspaper page doesn't carry as much information as one yellowed with time. The Nov. 13 "Faces of the Fallen" is a stop on the way to somewhere, but we don't know the destination.

I don't think there's any doubt the United States can "win" the Iraq War, if winning means a stable Iraq sometime in the foreseeable, or even nonforeseeable future. Countries simply don't stay unstable for all infinity -- even Israel and Palestine someday, somehow will be resolved. The questions will be whether the victory was worth the cost for the United States and whether or not the effort triggered greater losses. To a certain extent, those answers will always be unknowable.

Enter the historians. Unknowable or not, whether the death toll hits 1,163 (the current count) or 11,630 or 116,300, at some point the Iraq War will be "over" and ready for the history books. At first the narratives will be conflicting, fueled with the emotions of the times. Then a general narrative will settle, and inevitably, that narrative will take less and less space as it gets crowded out by more recent events. Hey -- 50 years from now, our grandchildren are going to be taught that Vietnam was just a bloody sidestep on the 40-year path of Victory in the Cold War. The vets will pass away, feeling redeemed. Belief in America's destiny will be reinforced. And every Memorial Day and Veterans Day we'll know the peace that yes, we're sad for the fallen, but really, thus it had to be.

I suppose it's inevitable. If you weren't there, you didn't feel it the same way, and you don't want to relive the passions that tore at people as it happened. If you're writing history, it's probably from the victors' view, and the wounds don't make the prettiest sight. And people read the books and learn the lessons, which they take to the next conflict, the next war.

And it's probably part of why we live in such an imperfect world.

So be it -- but I don't think that will mean anything to my friend today. It's been hard, with the funeral and the frustration and the conversations that weren't had, and this isn't going to help her out today. I'll call her later. She's probably starting her day about now, and I doubt she knows what's in the paper.