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On the eve of Memorial Day weekend, President Bush on Thursday said he regrets using tough talk in the early stages of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Appearing before reporters with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush was asked which mistakes and missteps in the war he most regrets.

“Sounds like kind of a familiar refrain here,” the president said, “saying ‘bring it on,’ kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people. I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner–you know, ‘wanted dead or alive,’ that kind of talk. I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted, and so I learned from that. And I think the biggest mistake that’s happened so far, at least from our country’s involvement in Iraq, is Abu Ghraib. We’ve been paying for that for a long period of time.”

But Bush said U.S. policy on remaining in Iraq hasn’t changed. “We’re going to work with our partners in Iraq, the new government, to determine the best way forward in achieving an objective, which is an Iraq that can govern itself and sustain itself and defend itself,” he said. “I have said to the American people, as the Iraqis stand up, we’ll stand down.”

A human rights group said Friday that about 34 civilians were killed in a U.S. air attack Monday on a village in southern Afghanistan, more than double the number previously cited.

As of May 25, the Department of Defense counted 2,465 U.S. casualties since the invasion of Iraq three years ago. A total of 17,869 have been wounded in action

Another 292 have died in Operation Enduring Freedom, including casualties occurring in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan, Guantanamo Bay (Cuba), Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, Seychelles, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Yemen.

A Web site monitoring civilian deaths from military intervention in Iraq estimates the number between 37,918 and 42,288. There have been 332 deaths of non-military contractors and 90 journalists have died.

There are various claims about the origins of Memorial Day, but most involve widows or townspeople gathering to place flowers on the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers.

The holiday became official in 1868 by the declaration of Major General John A. Logan, head of a veterans organization for Union soldiers. Eventually it was broadened to commemorate the dead in all American wars.

Memorial Day was originally on May 30, but in 1971 an act of Congress moved it to the last Monday in May, creating the current three-day weekend.

In an effort to recapture the holiday’s patriotic roots, President Clinton and Congress in 2000 passed “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” asking all Americans to pause at 3 p.m. in a silent moment of reflection to honor our soldiers.

Launched March 20, 2003, “Operation Iraqi Freedom” is now the fifth-longest U.S. war. While still a small war when compared to other principal wars in which the U.S. has participated, casualties in Iraq have now surpassed the 2,260 battle deaths in the War of 1812.

More than 47,000 Americans died in battle in Vietnam; 33,000 in Korea; 291,000 during World War II and 53,000 in World War I.

The bloodiest American war was the Civil War, which killed 364,511 Union forces alone. Estimates including both sides range from 618,000 to 700,000. The most-often quoted number is 620,000.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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