FALLUJAH, where four Americans were killed and their bodies defiled in the most appalling manner, may become shorthand for the tragedy of the United States' involvement in Iraq.
The events at Fallujah Wednesday were not remarkable in the context of the overall number of American losses incurred in Iraq - a total of soldiers, civilian contractors, and even missionaries that now approaches 600. Nor is the Fallujah incident a reason in itself for America to cut its losses and bring this affair to an end.
The names of places where awful things happen sometimes become reference points for milestones or crossroads in wars and other historical events.
For instance, Srebrenica, the name of the town in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina where an estimated 8,000 Muslims were slaughtered while Dutch United Nations forces stood by, expresses in one word not only the cruelty of the post-Yugoslavia Balkan wars but also U.N. and European fecklessness in the face of threats and danger.
In Africa, Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, has become shorthand for the October, 1993, defeat of American forces in pursuit of Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed. Further, "Mogadishu" led shortly thereafter to the withdrawal of American forces from Somalia and is also used to refer to a gun-shyness on the part of the Clinton administration that led it to stand by while genocide was carried out in Rwanda the following year.
What the Iraqis did provides evidence, as if any was needed, of just how much some of them hate the United States as the conquering, occupying power.
A clear perception of that truth on the part of President Bush and his administration could serve as a sound basis for relinquishing nearly sole U.S. responsibility for the fate of Iraq, and turning it over to the world, including Iraq's neighbors, and then to elected - not U.S.-appointed - Iraqis as quickly as possible.
That can't be seen as an outgrowth of the Fallujah incident, but there is also no point in trying to pretend that what Americans saw happen at Fallujah doesn't matter.
For now, all that can be done is to extend deep condolences to the families of the four men from a security company in North Carolina who died in horrible circumstances Wednesday.
Their loss was no worse than that of other Americans who have died in Iraq. But Fallujah will be much harder to forget.