Late last month, Ted Koppel read the names of every American serviceman who was killed in Iraq. The airwaves have before and since been full of speculation as to whether this was an appropriate memorial for the dead, or a publicity stunt for "Nightline," or an anti-war statement.
I do not want to speculate about Koppel’s motives. My personal opinion is that it was not an appropriate memorial for the dead, and it was very much an anti-war or an anti-Bush statement, totally inappropriate for a news organization that purports to be objective.
I do, however, want to observe that if Koppel had undertaken to read the names of innocent people who had been murdered under the regime of Saddam Hussein, he would still be reading names today, weeks later, even if he had the endurance to read them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Let me also say that while I think we have made plenty of mistakes in Iraq, not least of which is the recent disaster involving the prison photos, it is still clear to me that we are doing a good thing in Iraq. And if Koppel can provide the names of the American servicemen who were killed, let me at least try to provide a very brief list of reasons why they died, reasons why we went there, and why their and our sacrifice is worth it.
*Hundreds of thousands of children who had not received proper medical care now have up-to-date immunizations and other medical care.
* School attendance, by some estimates, is up 80% from levels before the war. Among those being educated are young girls who previously may not have received proper education.
* Despite much publicity early in the war that power plants had been bombed or sabotaged, what hasn’t received wide publicity is that today Iraq now has more electrical power than it did before the war.
*Hundreds of thousands of people have telephones for the first time ever.
* Textbooks that don't mention Saddam are in the schools for the first time in 30 years.
Finally, by the way, Saddam Hussein himself, one of the most murderous despots of the 20th century, is in prison, awaiting trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. And evildoers the world over know that they cannot act with impunity. There is no calculating how many millions of lives, even tens of millions of lives, such a knowledge might save in the years and decades ahead.
My heart breaks for the families who have lost their brothers, fathers, sisters, sons and daughters in this war. But while Ted Koppel is making us aware of the names of the dead, let us also pause for a moment and remember what they have died for.