The Price of Death


(Zappala, a Pennsylvania native, teaches history at Fremont High School in Los Angeles)

Not long ago, $250,000 bought you a house, a car, started a college trust fundand still left you with enough for dinner at the Olive Garden. Today, $250,000gets you a dead soldier.

My brother, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, was killed in action in Baghdad last month.Before he left, he took out the maximum Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance:$250,000. His wife gets that money and a folded flag. It should come with note:"Thanks for doing business with Uncle Sam. The medals are on us." What I'm left with is a dead brother, a fatherless nephew and a giant voidwhere this giant man once stood.

For a guy who never made a lot of money in his life--he was a front linesoldier making $2500 a month--Sherwood paid the highest price in the war, whilecompanies and individuals in the war business are reaping maximum profits. Bush has dumped $149 billion into this war. In what reservoir does the all thismoney rain? Certainly not the bank accounts of widows! Who is truly rewardedfor their sacrifice? How about this: Halliburton has racked up billions ingovernment contracts since the start of the war.

And then there's Ahmed Chalabi and the INC. His organization received $39million in 'aid' along with a fat $340,000 a month stipend for the last 2years.

Sherwood had it all wrong. Maybe if he had helped to invent evidence to start awar, the Bush people would have been more rewarding. He certainly would havebeen on track to a safer and more profitable career path.

What exactly is false information worth to Uncle Sam? So long as you don'tbecome an Iranian spy, it seems, it keeps you in the Pentagon penthouse.

But that racket wouldn't suit Sherwood. He did what most patriotic Americansdo-he worked for a living. He knew he would never be rich from his job, but hewanted to help people. He was a county caseworker for the mentally handicapped.To supplement his income, he hired himself out as a DJ at local bars and clubs.Sherwood wasn't enough of an entrepreneur to make it into Harvard BusinessSchool. So, when George Bush told him to go to work with his Guard Unit inIraq, he went willingly.

Sherwood never did own a Hummer; he was a gunner on a Humvee. Today, he's notlying on the couch in his remolded living room with a Big Screen TV andsurround sound, playing video games with his son. He's lying alone in hisgrave.

Sherwood worked until the very end--he died pulling perimeter security for theIraqi Survey Group. This group has assumed the responsibility of finding thoseelusive weapons of mass destruction (WMD)--any WMD--with the high hopes ofmaking an honest man out of the President.

Sherwood's death presents an amazing irony. Find WMD, Sherwood? No, brother,if you wanted to make money and be alive, you should have told everybody that theyexisted and you knew where to find them.

Just before he died, Sherwood plainly illustrated where a life of hard work anddedication gets you--hungry and thirsty in the desert. In his last e-mail, heasked that we send him and his fellow soldiers food and water. As it turns out,the most powerful military machine in the world has its soldiers on rations.

How does this happen? I went to Halliburton's website to look for clues. Aftera dispute with the government over a few million dollars in overcharges,Halliburton stubbornly stated, "We may withhold all or a portion of thepayments to our subcontractors" who provide food services. Which basicallymeans that U.S. soldiers in Iraq don't eat. Despite its newfound billions inrevenue, Halliburton has failed to fulfill its most basic responsibility--feedour troops. Our soldiers, on the other hand, have to do their job, no matterhow hungry they are, or face courts-martial and time in Leavenworth. Just askCamilo Mejia, the conscientious objector who was sentenced to a year in jail.

I've come to believe that Sherwood died for everybody else. I've had countlesspeople tell me my brother is a hero and died defending our freedom. They may beright. In a country that promotes the virtues of the Free Market, he died forthe benefit of the war profiteers and for very little benefit to himself.

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