In a solemn ceremony in the US Capital today, following prayers, a moment of silence, and the playing of bagpipes, President Obama and members of congress began reading the names of the 1,455,590 Iraqi citizens killed so far during the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, the 4,801 US soldiers killed there, the 3,173 US-led coalition soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and the 12,008 known names of the estimated 20,000 Afghans civilians killed by our war against their country.
"As much as we grieve our own, those American citizens killed in the Twin Towers who we honored yesterday, their numbers pale in comparison to the victims of the military aggression we have carried out in their names," President Obama said after reading the first 2,737 names, the number he and each of 536 members of the house of representatives and the senate will read. In all, 1,467,131 names will be read.
House Majority Leader John Boehner followed the president. Before taking his turn Boehner told the estimated 1,200 members of the news media covering the ceremony that members of congress have spent weeks practicing the correct pronunciation of the mostly Arab names they will read. "We feel a special responsibility to get the names right," he said. "Each one of these people was an individual, with a family, a home, a complete life, a life that we, the American people, the congress and the president, ended. To honor them in this way is the least we can do."
Inside the capital building are several thousand Iraqis and Afghans, special guests of the president and congress, who are the latest group of people to have been flown to the US to receive free medical treatment for the injuries and disabilities they suffered as a result of the two wars. They are hearing the readings in person, while outside the capital a crowd estimated at between 25 and 30 million is hearing the names over loudspeakers. Real time TV ratings are showing a US television audience for the reading of the names of just over 250 million.
Allowing for five seconds to read each name it will take 2,037 hours to read all the names, or 84 days, or 12 weeks, or 3 months. At roughly the same pace it took 3 hours and 25 minutes to read the names of the 2,753 victims of 9/11.