As many of us celebrate, or at least mark, Father's Day today, feel free to spend at least a moment to ponder the countless children left fatherless by our war in Iraq. The numbers in Iraq, of course, are staggering but for now let's just consider the nearly forgotten here in the U.S.
American fatalities are listed in our newspapers, and I write several times a week about how families react to the individual deaths, particularly of the non-combat variety. Ceremonies are held, flags presented, tributes published. But there (even for me, I confess) the stories always end.
As has been asked in so many other contexts: What about the children? Especially on Father's Day.
One of the most haunting news stories I have ever posted at our site over at E&P arrived more than three years ago. If anyone has updated this approach, I do not know. Two reporters for the Scripps chain of newspapers, Lisa Hoffman and Annette Rainville, probed the number of American children made fatherless by the war, via printed obits and interviews.
In early December 2004 the story was published when the death toll for our troops had just hit 1000. They identified nearly 900 children who had lost a parent, father or mother, in the war, and the number could have been higher.
If that ratio held up in years after, that would mean that this number is now close to 4000. That would represent about 70 school buses packed with kids.
At the time, the two reporters wrote: "At least half are under the age of ten. More than 40 troops died without ever seeing their newly born children. At least 60 children lost parents last month."
This is what I wrote back then:
Although precise comparable data is not available for other U.S. conflicts, military experts told Scripps reporters Lisa Hoffman and Annette Rainville that the number of American children left bereaved or made orphans by the Iraq war is unprecedented in scope.
It represents, as Scripps put it in a graphic, about 18 large school buses fully packed with kids.
"This is a new state of affairs we have to confront," said Charles Moskos, a leading military sociologist and a Northwestern University professor. "As much as we are concerned about veterans' programs, we now have to be concerned about orphan programs. This is the first time we have crossed this threshold."
Among the parents who died, according to Scripps, were six female soldiers who had borne a total of 10 children, which Hoffman and Rainville termed "another historic first for females in the U.S. military."
I went on: "One reason for the high rate of dead parents is the reliance by the U.S. military on reserves, who tend to be older and have more children."
Nothing has changed today. So on this Father's Day: Remember the children.
Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.