An American Tragedy the Candidates Need to Address

An American Tragedy the Candidates Need to Address

By Carl M. Cannon - October 2, 2012

The total number of American dead in all our nation's armed conflicts going back to the Revolutionary War is estimated at 1.3 million. That's a lot of people -- a lot of heroes -- all of them with families and friends and comrades-in-arms who loved them and missed them and mourned them.

These citizens were in harm’s way, to use the modern expression, at the insistence of the federal government. And U.S. presidents, in particular, are called to account for seeming to take their sacrifice too lightly.

Yet those numbers are dwarfed by another scourge. It’s one we don’t talk about very much in presidential politics, an oversight I’d like to do my part to change.

The first victim was a New York City real estate agent with the appropriately ominous name of Henry H. Bliss. On Sept. 13, 1899, Mr. Bliss alighted from a New York City trolley car, then turned and offered his hand to assist a companion, identified in news reports only as “Miss Lee.”

In that instant, a speeding taxi cab hit the man and ran over him, crushing his chest and skull. He was taken to Roosevelt Hospital, where doctors said it was hopeless. Henry Bliss died the next day, the first known automobile fatality in U.S. history. Millions of his countrymen would follow him to the grave.

In the ensuing 113 years, vehicular traffic on the highways and byways of this country has taken a toll in human suffering that can be accurately described as a holocaust. The total number of dead from that September day in 1899 to this October day in 2012 is approximately 3,573,384.

That almost 3.6 million human beings, 32,310 last year alone -- with six or seven times that many injured each year, tens of thousands of them grievously. By my calculations, sometime in the early 1950s, the specter representing the number of Americans killed in traffic intersected with the number of war dead -- and never looked back.

With U.S. troops in the field in Afghanistan, the number of war fatalities is climbing every month. But it’s not climbing nearly as fast as the toll here at home on our roadways. Over the past weekend, a grim milestone was reached: 2,000 American soldiers and Marines have now perished in the 11 years the U.S. has been fighting the remnants of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Another 4,486 died in Iraq.

That’s a lot of people. I knew four of them personally, and I think of them every day, as I’m sure George W. Bush and Barack Obama do as well. But more Americans have died on U.S. highways since July 4, 2012, than in over a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

You might ask, what’s a president supposed to do about it? That’s a fair question, but before delving into it, let’s turn the clock back to 2000. That year, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush met three times to debate. Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman also faced off. In those four sessions, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda went unmentioned by the moderators and the candidates.

Obviously, is easier to focus on that oversight after the fact, but it’s not like bin Laden and his international terrorist network were keeping a low profile. By the time of the 2000 presidential debates, bin Laden had issued not one but two fatwas that were, essentially, declarations of war on the United States. To back up this threat, he orchestrated the bombing of the two U.S. embassies in Africa, at great loss of life, and -- between the second and third Gore-Bush debates, nearly sunk a U.S. Navy ship of war, the USS Cole.

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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